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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE WATER RUSTLERS. Fort Worth’s Bass brothers, who built their $7 billion empire on oil and real estate, are diversifying moving into water. According to the Wall Street Journal, several years ago the Basses quietly began buying up $80 million in farmland in southern California’s Imperial Valley, saying they were moving into the region to raise cattle. But area farmers, and then San Diego’s Metropolitan Water District, quickly realized that the Basses were actually after “the perpetual federal water rights conferred with the 40,000 acres they acquired.” The Journal describes it as “arbitraging” water: eventually, the water supply for Southern California’s urban sprawl will be exhausted, and whoever owns the water rights will be positioned to make big money. The Basses aren’t the only believers in selling water as a commodity. “Without water markets, we can’t solve the problem of meeting the future water needs of the West,” Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has said. The Basses have begun their marketing strategy by attempting to sell pooled surplus agricultural water \(with rights proof San Diego, at rates 40 percent less than they currently pay from the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to a number of regions in far southern California. Farmers and ranchers who have been assured that water dealers won’t draw all of their water off for profitable sales in urban markets might consult Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner’s account of how the diversion of water into Los Angeles from regions north of the Imperial Valley turned once green and prosperous agricultural lands into a manufactured desert. SON OF A BEACH. Land Commissioner Garry Mauro’s tour to promote his book Beaches, Bureaucrats, and Big Oil: One Man’s Fight For Texas ran aground in Brownsville. There is strong local opposition to a drilling permit the Commissioner’s office awarded to Baker Exploration Company, which will be exploring for natural gas off Brownsville’s Boca Chica Beach. The Cameron County Commissioners Court had unanimously rejected the oil company’s construction permit. Mauro, when confronted by opponents of the permit who showed up at a Brownsville 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER booksigning, said he will meet with the commissioners. “I’m going to have to sit down and talk to them about it,” Mauro said. “Dual use of that beach is the reasonable thing to do. I think there is probably some kind of compromise we can come to.” Mauro also told the Brownsville Herald that the Land. Commission permit is consistent with his own beach-protection program, because the “Land Commissioner has a constitutional duty to protect the School Fund.” A percentage from oil and gas leases goes into the Permanent School Fund, which provides funding for public schools in Texas. AGAINST THE CROWN. A coalition of environmental groups and Pasadena families filed suit in federal court July 21 against Crown Central Petroleum, for what are described as “thousands of violations” of Clean Air Act standards at Crown’s Pasadena refinery. The coalition includes Texans United, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resource Defense Council, and is represented by Trial Lawyers .for Public Justice. The lawsuit charges Crown with repeatedly violating federal air pollution limits for sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. Crown has claimed improvements in its record, but was cited for a violation by the TNRCC as recently as June 10. The lawsuit calls for fines, an injunction against future violations, and attorney’s fees and costs. DON’T BREATHE, DON’T TELL. Texas prisoners joined unpaid college workers July 7, as the only two groups exempted from the Texas Hazard Communication Act of the Health and Safety Code. The Act, which requires that employers inform their workers of hazardous chemicals at their workplaces and train employees to use the chemicals properly, was the subject of a ruling by Attorney General Dan Morales. Prison workers “are not ’employees’ for the purposes of [the Act],” according to the AG’s legal opinion. For the TDCJ, the ruling is sure to produce sighs of relief, since even minimal hazard informationsuch as materials safety data sheets and basic education, both of which consume resources and timewill no longer be required. Perhaps the prisoners, on the other hand, will qualify as walking toxic experiments. MISS THE NEA? The far right assault on the National Endowment for the Arts was revived in the U.S. House last month, when the NEA was all but de-funded by a onevote margin. Two Texas’ Democrats, Charles Stenholm of Stamford and Ralph Hall of Rockwall, split with their Texas colleagues and voted to kill the arts organization. If the NEA survives a budget vote in the Senate, as is expected, the House will be required to vote on defundirig once again. Texas supporters of the fine arts may want to drop Stenholm and Hall a pointed Hallmark card. El Wk$31\\1 Labor intensive Radio Radio of the union, by the union and for the union. Hosted and produced by union members dedicated to bringing the voice of labor to the Austin airwaves. Tuesdays 6:30-7:00 p.m. K0.01′ 9t7 FM P.O. Box 49340 Austin, TX 78765 AUGUST 1, 1997