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EDITORIALS Wild About Barry This is of record. Where slept then your lightning? Loafed your torque. John Berryman he legislative process is a pre dictable affair, and were the print medium allowed to print only what accurately can be called “news,” our already downsized Capitol bureaus would long since have been reassigned to the police beat. For example, just as those of us who are paid to watch the Lege know to never split an infinitive, we also know that whenever the unctuous and dapper Senator Eddie Lucio gets close to anyone with any real economic or political power, the Senator’s going to violate the state’s sodomy statute. So we all knew what to expect when Lucio stopped by Senate Nominations’ confirmation hearing for Texas Natural Resources Commission Chair Barry McBeejust long enough to tell McBee what a great job he has done since the Governor appointed him, and that the Senate would be with him when his nomination got to the floor, and by the way how about that channel dam on the Rio Grande, and aren’t rivers important to all of us and isn’t it wonderful that McBee is keeping them clean. McBee is the chief regulator of what government professors call a “captured regulatory agency”that is, a regulatory agency controlled by the interests it was created to regulate. In this case, those industries represent one of the greatest concentrations of economic power in this state, and like his randy Republican colleague Drew Nixon, in certain situations Eddie Lucio just can’t help himself. His unseemly public embrace of Barry McBee was hardly news. What follows is. For two hours, in a hearing room thirty feet below the rosebeds on the north lawn of the Capitol, Democratic Senators Gonzalo Barrientos, Mario Gallegos, and Carlos Truanthree of the most steadfast defenders of our state’s beleaguered environmentbehaved as if they were TNRCC factotum in the service of McBee. For weeks, representatives of the state’s environmental organizations had provided the senators’ staffs with information about McBee’s eighteen months’ tenure at the agency charged with protecting the state’s natural resources. The studies, position papers, and lists of questions about TNRCC practices provide a fact-based case against McBee. And although Republicans control the Senate, it was assumed that the Democratsor at least these three Democratswould use the nomination process to extract a few promises from McBee. The Republicans’ protracted examination of WHEN MCBEE RESPONDED THAT BECAUSE THERE WAS NO FEDERAL MANDATE PROTECTING FARM-WORKERS, HE HAD ELIMINATED THEIR STATE PROTECTION TO MAKE THE REGULATIONS UNIFORM, GALLEGOS DIDN’T EVEN WINCE. Ann Richards’ pro-consumer Public Insurance Counsel Amy Johnson, at a time when the Senate was controlled by Democrats, might have served as a model for the new Senate minority. It didn’t. Truan, a Senator whose reckless courage often provides the pretext for his colleagues to dismiss him, asked a few insider’s questions about inter-basin water transfersand the permitting process for shrimp farms. Then he gently reminded McBee \(and TNRCC board member John their authority is sanctioned by the advice and consent of the Senate. Barrientos, who in an exhausting filibuster two years ago, at least attempted to throw his body in the path of Senator Teel Bivins’ “takings” bill, postured, sputtered and at one time even asked in his most stentorian voice: “Mr. McBee, do you recyAnd Gallegos, a solid vote on environmental issues despite the fact that his district is owned by the Texas Chemical Council, asked McBee about his dismantling of pesticide protection rules designed to protect farmworkers, while McBee was working for Rick Perry at the Texas Department of Agri culture. When McBee responded that because there was no federal mandate protecting farmworkers, he had eliminated their state protection to make the regulations uniform, Gallegos didn’t even wince. And when McBee claimed that he had ordered his inspectors to provide advance notice before all on-site inspections because inspectors frequently found that the person they needed to speak to when they arrived unannounced was not available, or that gates were lockednot one of the three tenors even slowed him down. It was a bravura performance. But all bravura. The only tense moment occurred when Barrientos took off his gloves and went after Clean Water Action director Sparky Anderson, who for just a moment must have thought that he had been nominated for something. Barrientos demanded from him a full accounting of Clean Water Action’s ethnic breakdown, then condescendingly dismissed Andersonwho tried to explain that such statistics are not available, but that his organization works in all urban neighborhoods. If all of this were not on tape somewhere in the bowels of the Capitol, I would expect readers to challenge even this brief recapitulation. Some four hours after they began, the seven members of the Nominations Committee voted to endorse the nominations of both McBee and Baker, giving a green light to an agency that in a rare moment of candor Senator Truan had compared to Chairman Hugh Yantis’ infamous and oxymoronic Texas Water Quality Boarda predecessor of the TNRCC. By the time that 7-0 vote was cast, Senator Lucio’s cameo performance two hours earlier seemed like a sweet Gulf breeze.L.D. One week after McBee’s hearing, Democratic Representatives John Hirschi, Robert Puente, Elliott Naishtat, and Lon Burnam announced that they are co-sponsoringwith the support of 113 environmental and consumer groupseleven bills to restore public access to TNRCC decision-making processes affecting the environment and public health. FEBRUARY 28, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5