THE BACK PAGE Municipal Waste With his red face and that orange blazer he wears on Orange County Day, he looks more like a Cheeto than a man.” The House sartorial critic who compared Ron Lewis to a cheesy confection is gone but the Vidor Democrat is still here after twelve years settled into the role of a second-tier legislator doing the bidding of the highest bidder lt Last session developers wrote the . checks and Lewis delivered, carrying a Freeport-McMoran Barton Creek development bill that freed the company’s Hill Country subdivision from Austin’s water-quality protection standards. And all Lewis had to do was eliminate the extraterritorial jurisdiction his Southeast Texas district. “He never spoke to us,” said a member of the Travis County delegation. “There was just no dealing with him on that stuff. It was his deal and he was going to get it done.” The deal was done because Lewis was working for Freeport lobbyist Dick Brown and Hill Country developer Gary Bradley. Barton Creek watershed developers are now exempt from Austin’s water-quality protections. Lewis was also sponsor of a bill that would have restricted Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission authority to adopt any policy more stringent than federal environmental lawwhich sounds reasonable when described as an attempt to make the state’s environmental regs uniform with those of other states. But the oil, chemical, and hazardous-waste lobbyists who backed the bill know that many EPA standards are only broad baseline guides to protect ecosystems as diverse as the fifty states the federal government regulates. Individual states apply their own laws to protect their own environments. Even in the most antigreen session in memory, Lewis’ bill failed. This session Lewis is determined to do to all cities what he did to Austin. In the place of the graduated scale, allowing cities of 5,000 inhabitants one mile of ETJ, while cities with populations larger than 100,000 get five miles \(to protect against fly-bynight developers, sub-standard septic systems, and other potential threats to municiLewis would give every city equal footing. Neither Houston nor Vidor will have more than two-and-one-half miles of jurisdiction beyond their city limits. So the Austin-only provision the developers’ lobby devised last session \(restricting any municipality “with a population of more than 450,000, that owns an electric utility, that has a charter provision allowing for limited purpose annexation, and that has annexed territory House Bill 925 covers all. “Instant colonias,” said one city lobbyist, referring to the unregulated subdivisions along the border. “Red flag subdivisions surrounding every city.” And high-dollar developments north and west of Austin and San. Antonio will escape municipal restrictions enacted to protect the Edwards Aquifer. Also hidden in the details is a scheme that would move a Gulf States’ electric plant away from the ETJ of Port Arthur, where the utility pays fees in lieu of taxation, and closer to Bridge City, which would like to have the utility in its tax base. But even here the numbers might not work. Lewis’ bill includes an odd arithmetical alternative to his two-and-a-half-mile ETJ limit, which might keep the Gulf States’ plant out of the city Lewis intends to give it over to. Lewis got his largest 1994 election cycle contribution from Austin developer Bradleywho also had his subdivision liberated from Austin’s environmental restrictions. And Bradley lobbyist Bob Johnson was, as they say in L.A., “there for” Ron Lewis with $1,000. Freeport-McMoran lobbyist Stan Schlueter was also a $1,000 guy, and Freeport’s PAC added $600. After all Lewis did for Freeport-McMoran last session, FM CEO Jim Bob Moffett’s 1996 contribution of $750 seems almost niggardly. \(Four other $250 checks from New Orleans, Metairie, and Norco, Louisiana, were recorded at the Ethics Commission on PAC provided only $1,500. Lobbyist Bob Johnson, who represents Bradley, contributed $1,000 to Lewis’ $133,196 total. As did Bradley himself, along with Austin subdivision hustler Darrell Royal. And if Tom Ferguson’s investment theory of campaign finance has any validity, watch Lewis scramble for the tort reformers. His largest single contributor this election cycle is Texans For Lawsuit Reform, whose $7,000 has probably made Lewis an indentured servant of interests now dismantling the state’s civil justice system. If you have a cause of action, file your suit now. 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 28, 1997
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.