Page 2


EDITORIAL Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The TNRCC has engaged in an outrageous manipulation of the regulatory process and a denial of basic rights of democratic government Professor John Barkdull, Texas Tech University, April 3, 1997 Since last year, residents of north Lubbock, acting through a community organization known as All Neighbors United, have been battling the installation of an incinerator by a company called O’Hair Shutters, Inc. O’Hair had been burying its production wastes \(more than ten tons per day, hauled away by city at no charge. When the city council moved to end this extraordinary subsidy, the company decided that although public land had become expensive, public air was still cheap. \(Can anySo the company built an incinerator and applied for an incineration permit from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission \(if you think that sequence is ass-backwards, you’re not familiar with the permit, the TNRCC generously and expedi= tiously granted it a “standard exemption” for. a “trench-burner”that is, a temporary incinerator designed to burn untreated woodnot the sort of permanent installation burning formaldehyde-glued waste that has, since spring, been spewing potentially toxic smoke over the surrounding neighborhood \(including Neil Wright Elementary The TNRCC later admitted it had overlooked the location of the school, and it had neglected to inform residents of the pending standard exemptiondespite persistent and diligent inquiries by Neighbors Unitedbecause, well, Oops! \(“I’m sure I too would be aggrayated,” wrote TNRCC General Counsel, Geoffrey S. Connor, “if I were in [their] pointthe well-paid suits who make these decisions are never in the place where such decisions have their often poisonous effects. In the latest twist, the residents were stunned to learn that under a new state law \(sponsored by the so-called people’s lawyer, state experts will be forbidden to help their cause \(or indeed any similar cause anywhere now forbids state employees to act as “expert witnesses or consultants” in litigation against the state. That presumably means that Texas Tech Law Professor Frank Skillern, who has given free legal advice to All Neighbors United in their pending suit against the TNRCC, is risking his job if he continues to do so. A U.S. district judge recently enjoined the law in a case involving a Texas A&M faculty memberbut Skillern said the injunction is not binding on the comptroller, who pays faculty salaries. Skillern described the law as probably unconstitutional, but said that until it is overturned he must end all contact with All Neighbors United. The law might also have forbidden or intimidated the August testimony of Cyndi Simpson, a public health officer with the Lubbock office of the Texas Department of Health \(also, as it happens, doWnwind of preliminary hearingconcerning the incinerator. We suppose if Dan Morales has his way, no Texan would have the benefit of Simpson’s moving and astute commentary, which convincingly demonstrates that at least someone in state government still believes in the public interest. We are proud to excerpt Simpson’s testimony here, for the benefit of our readers. –M.K. The main point I wish to make, as a zen of Lubbock and as a state employee, is that I have been appalled at how this entire process has been handled by the TNRCC. At the Texas Department of Health, we imple ment continuous quality improvement in all our systems and operations. The most im portant aspects of continuous quality im provement are knowing who your customers are, and committing to putting their needs first. I know that my primary customers in this region are the citizens of the region, first and foremost. Certainly I deal with agen cies, institutions and corporationsbut the bottom line is that agencies, institutions and corporations are things, not people. These things cannot be hurt, do not feel pain, and cannot suffer health problems. Apparently, TNRCC has a different notion of who their primary customers are, and they are not the citizens of West Texas. Rather, TNRCC seems to be solely at the beck and call of the monied interests of private corporations. The impression I have, of this entire process, is that the permitting of the incinerator was not a decision to be made by examining the facts, values, and opinions of all parties involved. Rather, it’s been as if the whole process has revolved around a commitment to awarding the permit from the beginning. That is, each step of the process has been twisted and warped, to justify a decision already made from the outset. Were there misstatements of fact in 0 ‘Hair’s original application? Doesn’t matter. Did the TNRCC break its promise to the neighborhood to keep them fully informed of the process? Doesn’t matter. Does holding public hearings during working hours pose an inconvenience to the citizens who should be TNRCC’s primary customers? Doesn’t matter. Apparently nothing mattersexcept appeasing and placating things whose interests are more politically and financially powerful than those of people. As a citizen of Texas, I’m appalled by the disregard for the welfare of people and the environment shown by TNRCC. As a state employee, I’m ashamed of TNRCC’s weaseling to justify an apparently foregone conclusion. It’s very difficult to be part of government in an area such as Lubbock, where strong anti-government sentiments prevail. The TNRCC’s actions have, in my opinion, made it much harder for me and all other state employees to do our jobs effectively. \(Readers interested in supporting the work of All Neighbors United can contact them c/o Kathryn Suchy, 2605 N. Cypress 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 12, 1997