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Waiting to Inhale “There’s nobody in our area, I don’t think, that’s more environmentally conscious than I am.” So says Maurice Osborn, the mayor of Midlothian, a small town about thirty miles southwest of Dallas. Midlothian happens to be home to a huge cement plant, owned by Texas Industries, that bums hazardous waste as fuel. It is the single largest source of industrial air pollution in North Texas. And on the strength of a new permit recently granted by the state, the facility is poised to become the largest burner of hazardous waste in the United States, annually emitting as much as fiftytwo tons of toxic metals alone. During his twelve years in office, Osborn has been one of TXI’s biggest supporters. The relationship became official a couple of years ago, when he became a vice-president with the Brookhollow Corporation, a TXI subsidiary. In October of last year, Osborn became TXI’s Community Relations Manager. And among TXI’s most recent lobbyist filings at the state Ethics Commission is none other than Maurice Osborn, with a compensation level “less than $10,000.” Osborn says he registered not on behalf of TXI’s Midlothian operations \(“the law allows elected officials to lobby withVirginia Kilgore of Downwinders, on a hunger strike against the TXI permit Jana Birchum times defends TXI’s interests elsewhere. He’s not paid directly for that lobbying, which is just part of his job; the compensation note is strictly to comply with the law. He doesn’t want anybody to think he’s concealing anything. That could well be a suspicion, since Osborn has been less than frank in the past. In 1997, he testified before a House environmental committee for a TXI-supported anti-regulation bill, and somehow neglected to tell his audience he was employed by the company. He dismisses the notion that his job causes any conflict of mayor. “No, when I took this position, the first thing I did, I had an understanding with the company I would not allow that to happen.” He says he abstains from any city council discussion or votes on matters which involve TXI. Midlothian resident Mary Risinger dismisses Osborn’s claims of independence with a bitter laugh: “That’s hogwash.” Risinger lives three miles northeast of the TXI plant, is often confined to her house by its noxious fumes, and is a board member of Downwinders at Risk, an environmental organization which has been fighting TXI’s waste burning for years. Of the company’s influence, she says bluntly, “I think TXI owns the town. That’s just my opinion.” \(Downwinders’ organizer Jim Schermbeck describes Midlothian as “the closest thing to a company town as you’ll find in Texas,” and says that environmentalists have found more support literally downwind, in the small communities north of the town and in Dallas and Fort think he was put in office to run the town for He was hand-picked.” But, she added, he is hardly alone. “The mayor pro tem works at Chaparral Steel [also owned by TM] , and the real estate people on the council, they don’t want anything said about the problems, either.” Risinger says many of her neighbors are concerned about the pollution, but are afraid to oppose the company. “Most people believe there is a problem, but they don’t think we can do anything about it. too big, they think, and you can’t fight big industry.” As for Osborn’s insistence that regulatory agencies have declared the plant safe, Risinger responded, “The T.N.R.C.C. and the E.P.A. have both been wrong in the past, and they’re wrong about this, and time will prove them wrong…. Everywhere you turn, you run into people who have respiratory problems, who didn’t have it until they came here.” She and her husband are looking for a new home, at least thirty miles away and upwind of TXI. “I’ve had people tell me, well, you just need to stay in the house with the windows closed. That’s no way to live but I have neighbors who live that way.” TXI’s new ten-year permit will allow it to double its on-site storage of hazardous waste, and increase dramatically its emissions of such toxins as arsenic, mercury, lead, and dioxin. Maurice Osborn says it’s not a problem. “Until somebody can show clearly that it’s a problem, then I don’t have a problem with it.” + Business Communication 101 orkers for Titan Tire Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa, and Natchez, Mississippi, have accused Titan C.E.O. Morry Taylor, Jr of building a “$30million junkyard in Brownsville” claiming that Titan is not making any tires at its new Brownsville facility \(built with the help of $30 million in tax breaks and other “incenmembers at other plant, by reminding them their jobs could go south. In response, Taylor assured a Natchez reporter that 75 percent of the plant “is filled with equipment that is in good condition, and it’s currently being used to produce tires.” Union members have visited the Brownsville location and seen employees outside cutting weeds, but have failed to observe any trucks taking tires away. So they challenged Taylor to open up the plant and show them the tires. Taylor sent the union the following reply: March 22, 1999 Mr. John Peno United Steelworkers of America Local Union No. 164 2727 East Market Des Moines, IA. 50317 Dear John: Thank you for your letter of March 22, 1999. As you may or may not know, I am not going to be in ahead on Wednesday, March 24. We have already given the media a tour year, when it was of the plant [last mostly empty], so once a are late. Why does the USWA want to tour a n you onunion plant? You guys are truly brain dead. sunny Bro I am not surprised that you all want to travel to wnsville using the dues of your union members. Your membership might appreciate your to them. using their dues on something that will be of benefit Sincerely, Morry APRIL 16, 1999