LaNell Anderson grew up in North Shore and Channelview near the Houston Ship Channel \(she recently moved to of her mother from bone cancer, and her father from emphysema, were the results of breathing toxic pollution from neighboring industries. A few years ago, she suffered a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disease; she says cancer is now commonplace in her former Channelview neighborhood; and she attributes numerous illnesses among her family and close friends at least in part to the same pollution. “Myself and my neighbors are the perfect example we have been forced to live in a living laboratory, an uncontrolled experiment: 70,000 chemicals loose in our environment. Two thousand new ones every year, with no con-. troll…. And we are being forced, in an uncontrolled situation, to breathe those chemicals. We are given no choice. [Corporations] are coming in and buying property and putting poison in the air and saying, ‘If you don’t like it, leave.'” Anderson testified before the April 2 House subcommittee hearing, where she joined several other witnesses in speaking out against the Governor’s voluntary CARE program. In addition to Anderson, representatives of the Sierra Club, the SEED Coalition, the American Lung Association, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, Houston’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and neighborhood and community groups argued that twenty-seven years of corporate voluntarism had been quite enough, and that the Legislature needed to mandate serious controls of grandfathered emissions. They were followed by several representatives of industry, who praised the voluntary program but warned that it should not be made too punitive there should be amnesty for prior pollution violations, for example in order to persuade companies to join. Subcommittee Chairman Ray Allen did not share LaNell Anderson’s worries over the consequences of air pollution, and he reproved her and several other witnesses for questioning the sincerity of the Governor’s and industry’s promises to reduce emissions, and their descriptions of industry behavior as “criminal.” “Do not ascribe evil motives to those you disagree with,” he told Anderson and others. “It is counterproductive and inflammatory.” He was particularly offended that environmental groups had issued a press release attacking the CARE program as deceptive “smoke and mirrors.” After the hearing, I waited while Allen and TU’s Wade Stansell congratulated each other on the morning’s work. “It’s foolish to waste money on regulation and litigation,” Allen told Stansell, “that could be used on pollution research and reduction.” I asked Allen why he seemed so skeptical of environmentalist research and citizen testimony, yet so eager to credit the companies’ promises to reduce pollution. “It is important, in the course of our discourse,” he answered, “that we separate facts from opinions, and that we recognize that emotions that are expressed by individuals are just that…. All three have an appropriate place. But it’s the legislator’s duty to respond in different ways to different stimulus. When my son is afraid of the dark, I treat that differently when my son comes in and says, `There’s a snake under my bed, and I’m afraid of the snake.’ He added that he didn’t mean that citizens’ fears of pollution weren’t real, but that “we need to establish whether their fears are a response to some fact … or an overreaction.” He criticized the environmental 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER ists’ insistence on the necessity of mandatory controls. “Here’s where I think the environmentalists are off-track,” Allen said. “They are committed to measuring the success by forcing companies to comply with the process. What we’re trying to say is, we’re willing to ignore the process if you’ll guarantee us the product. And the product is cleaner air. Now what do you want? Do you want slavish adherence to a process, without regard to the product, or would you like to have the product, now, and quit worrying so much about the process?” Later, the TNRCC’s Jeff Saitas defended the voluntary program as already showing significant improvements in air quality, insisting that the 1 or 2 percent of promised reductions achieved thus far would certainly increase, to the 10 percent he predicted at the hear ing, or “even as high as 20 percent.” And it’s important to remember, he added, that whatever the actual reductions, the plan was to get “100 percent of the emissions out of the grandfathered category.” Asked if he thought that citizens should be grateful that after twentyseven years they would be 20 percent less poisoned than they had been but the poisons would now have a new official name Saitas answered coldly, “Poisoning is a rather strong word.” John Hirschi, reflecting on the aftermath of the hearing, said that while he is glad for any reductions the CARE program might produce, it wasn’t nearly enough. He was skeptical of the prospect of the next Legislature providing any further progress on air pollution. “Not unless the citizens of Texas wake up to the fact that over fifty percent of us are breathing bad air now, and several other cities will fall into that category as time goes on and the population grows,” Hirschi said. “That’s what upsets me about this matter we’ve got this problem today, and unless we are aggressive now in trying to cure it, what’s it going to be like twenty or thirty years from now?… The big problem is alerting the citizens to what’s going on. Because eventually there are going to be some major economic costs to not complying with the E.P.A. standards in addition to the health costs of breathing dirty air.” This is the first of a two-part series on air pollution in Texas. Part Two will discuss in more detail the solutions proposed by the state, industry, and citizens. Photographic portraits are by Alan Pogue. APRIL 24, 1998 “Ith just criminal what these companies have gotten away with since 1971” John Hirschi gm.mosseirepoomiwwww.proviroponorommowswommomomorairmselk
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