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YTS CWS April 8 2004 1976 WELL, THE ADMINISTRATION’S POLICY CERTAINLY SEEMS TO BE WORKING… POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Mercury Rising, Starr Gazing FROM USURYTO USEFUL Lately times have been tough for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, formally known as Texas Rural Legal Aid. Funding has been cut back while the ranks of the poor who need legal representation continue to grow. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid had to lay off about so employees and scale back its services. That’s why Executive Director David Hall was thrilled to learn recently that the organization would receive an unexpected influx of slightly more than $441,000. Even better was the provenance of the moneytwo companies whom critics accuse of predatory lending. TRLA is one of three nonprofits and the only Texas organization to receive the money. It is the unclaimed part of an $11 million settlement, the result of almost three years of litigation against Dallas-based ACE Cash Express and the California-based Goleta National Bank. ACE is in the business of small, high-interest loans. It offers a service whereby customers can take out loans against a future paycheck. Remarkably enough, Texas has a law that sets a cap on how much interest can be charged for such loans. In California, there is no such limit. So ACE bypassed the law by contracting with Goleta so it could offer the loans in Texas at higher interest rates. “We looked at the relationship with Goleta and concluded that it was a phony relationship,” says Steve Gardner, a Dallas lawyer who represented consumers in the case and who contends that ACE and Goleta conspired to violate the usury law in Texas. While the two companies did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, they forgave about $50 million in outstanding consumer debt, vowed to stop the practice, and wiped out adverse credit reports that resulted from customers who could not pay the onerous interest. Despite widespread advertising of the settlement, a relatively small number of people made claims on it. The court then allowed the lawyers to give the remaining money to a few consumer-related nonprofits. “There is no better organization that helps low-income people than [Texas RioGrande Legal Aid],” says Gardner. WHO WAS THAT MASKED OP-ED WRITER? On April 5, the Dallas Morning News published a piece on mercury emissions by Michael Williams, identified as the “chairman of the Texas Clean Coal Technology Council” \(raise your hand if you know what that Williams was responding to an editorial criticizing the exceedingly lax mercury pollution regulations proposed by the Bush administration. He noted that the state’s output is less than 1 percent of all mercury pollution worldwide, and that cutting power plant mercury emissions in half would reduce the toxin’s presence in the nation’s rivers by an average of only 3 percent. But there are a few things that Williams forgot to say. He didn’t mention, for example, that Texas power plants lead the nation in mercury pollution. Nor did he mention the fact that mercury is a highly localized pollutant that tends to settle in rivers and streams near its source. His misleading use of a national average masks the impact that reducing pollution would have in a mercury-saturated place like Texas. But Williams also failed to tell us something about himself: He servesas one of three commissioners on the state’s Railroad Commission. That’s the entity in this state that’s supposed to regulate the energy sector \(as opposed to cheerlead for regulations written No sooner had Williams’ piece appeared in the News, then the Austin American-Statesman published a commentary by Margaret N. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/23/04