,-.statement accurate AS” “” protect human health and the 11;4 for Texans to breathe….” Despite one hurdle after another, All Neighbors United won/ : its right to a public hearing contesting the issuance of a permit:, Members obtained and scrutinized every document in the O’Hair Shutters’ permit file, consulted lawyers and experts across the countrycompiled enough information to fill four three-inch binders–and visited literally for hours with a TNRCC permit engineer regarding the permit application. But even before the first phase of a public hearing could be held, the TNRCC granted O’Hair a standard exemption so that it could begin burning without delay. The exemption allows them to burn 1,000 hours a year, with virtually no supervision by the TNRCC. Normally, the public has a thirty-day period in which to protest such a decision. Not in this case. Despite persistent phone calls to the TNRCC, with numerous questions about the incinerator issue, not a word about the standard exemption was leaked to the public by agency staffuntil the protest period had safely passed. How did the TNRCC circumvent public participation? By creating a new and separate file for the standard exemption. Our group was “burned” for not asking, “By the way, have you created any new files for O’Hair Shutters lately?” Under this administration, the TNRCC seems to invent new policies at whimpolicies which undercut the public in order to oblige would-be polluters. What kind of a democracy is Texaswhere state employees work against the very people they are hired to serve? Kathryn Suchy President All Neighbors United, Lubbock an afternoon in Washington. At the end of the afternoon, he said, `I’d like you to be the deputy [commissioner] of the department.’ After a lot of thought and a lot of prayer, I decided to take him up on the offer.” McBee was charged with transforming the TDA from its activist version under Hightowera populist Democrat who delighted in taking on the chemical industry and promoted organic farminginto the agribusiness and pesticide industryfriendly deregulator promised by Rick Perry. For example, among the changes instituted by Perry and carried out by McBee was a successful attack on “right-to-know” laws, which had protected farmworkers from unannounced pesticide application. Under Perry and McBee, spraying was back in style. In 1995, newly-elected Governor George Bush offered McBee an appointment to the TNRCC, and McBee jumped at the opportunity. At TDA, he had played second fiddle to Perry in an agency with 500 employees and a $23 million budget. The TNRCC employs 3,000 employees, with a budget of $395 million \(including received a tidy $12,000 salary increase, to his current $90,000 .. Having taken over from John Hall \(under a provisional appointment that would not be confirmed by the Legislature until the 1997 states’-rights slogan of “letting Texans run Texas.” As an environmental policy, this Republican “devolution” approach to regulation is most evident in the agency’s air quality programs. McBee and Bush have persistently fought the Clinton Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency over the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act, fearing the potential financial impact they might have on Dallas and Houston, two cities already out of compliance with federal clean-air mandates. Moreover, McBee has opposed any attempt to strengthen national air-quality standards on ozone or particulate matter, arguing both that Texas’ own standards are sufficient and that a change would move more Texas local industry subject to more stringent regulation. McBee has consistently broadcast the states’-rights environmental message, and is not above grandstanding to make his point. In a speech last August to an audience that included Assistant Attorney General Lois Schiffer, who heads the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Justice Department, McBee directly attacked Schiffer and other federal officials. At one point, he handed Schiffer a bottle of Pepto Bismol, saying, “We in Texas, at my agency, are also frustrated with the E.P.A. and with the federal government as a whole because we, too, feel as if we are being treated like children.” A bit later he handed her some Anacin, saying that it might help cure some of the headaches that Texans like him have been giving the Feds. Afterward, told that Schiffer was not amused at what seemed McBee’s condescension, he described his props as simply “rhetorical flourishes.” McBee may be right when he argues that the TNRCC couldin theoryhandle many of the programs now administered by E.P.A. But in frank historical practice, the TNRCC and its several Texas predecessors have never performed as tough environmental enforcers. After years of lax enforcement by the long-defunct Texas to clean up the Houston Ship Channel; and toxic waste sites, such as the French Limited site in eastern Harris County TECO PCB pit in Robstown were only shut down and cleaned up under the terms of the federal Superfund Act. The state of Texas had done nothing. Under McBee, TNRCC enforcement of federal and state environ mental laws and regulations has become even more lax. Since McBee became chairman, for example, the agency has begun to notify regu lated facilities before any TNRCC inspectors arriveroughly akin to giving bank robbers a police patrol schedule. And the agency’s re sponse to citizen complaints is now handled by the Office of Public Assistancewhich has no inspectors of its own, cannot issue cita tions to polluters, and is notoriously slow to respond to complaints. Field offices that do issue citations have reduced their enforcement DECEMBER 5, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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