About Air and Water

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Environmental groups try to push out head of environmental agency

Billboard, Web site, letter-writing campaign dedicated to effort.
By Asher Price - AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF - Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Environmental groups have launched a $20,000 campaign to topple the chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, including renting a billboard near the commission's headquarters demanding that the governor appoint a new chairperson.

The billboard, which rents for $8,000 a month, faces south near the intersection of Braker Lane and Interstate 35 and asks the governor to replace Chairwoman Kathleen Hartnett White. It has a picture of a coal-fired power plant with the word APPROVED stamped over it.

Government watchdog and environmental group Public Citizen said it used membership money to pay for the campaign, which includes a Web site (www.getwhiteout.com), a letter-writing effort addressed to Gov. Rick Perry, and a 10,000-piece mailing.

Last month, over the objections of the agency's own public interest counsel and state administrative law judges, she approved an air permit for a coal-fired power plant in Robertson County that critics contend could harm Austin's air quality.

A commission spokesman, Andy Saenz, says White planned months ago to leave office by the time her term ends at the end of August.

The billboard is a "tremendous waste of space and money," Saenz said.
Read more in the Austin American Statesman

Read Bio of Cathleen Hartnett White on TEQC website.


FOLLOWUP - A pricey victory for environmental groups

By Asher Price - Austin American Statesman - Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Can environmentalists rightfully claim their day-old Get-White-Out campaign has been a rousing success, or are they just trying to spin their way out of a costly, ineffective exercise?

In a scuttlebutt item in today’s paper we wrote that environmental group and government watchdog Public Citizen had launched a $20,000 campaign to push Kathleen Hartnett White, the chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, out of office. The campaign includes a Web site and a billboard near TCEQ headquarters warning that her decisions have endangered public health.

White had angered environmentalists by approving a coal-fired power plant about 100 miles from Austin. Last April she had written the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to oppose stricter caps on ozone, a lung-damaging pollutant. And her agency has been criticized for not exacting harsher penalties from polluters. (Among the critics was the state auditor’s office, in a 2003 report.)

Well, a spokesman for White told us that for months she had planned to leave by the end of her term, which falls on Aug. 31; he called the campaign a waste of time and money.

When I asked Tom “Smitty” Smith, the head of Public Citizen about that, he said he had heard rumors about White’s departure for a while, but never anything official. He also said that the campaign serves notice that political appointees will face close scrutiny and that Gov. Perry should appoint a “tough visionary” to be chair of the commission.

This afternoon I received a statement from Public Citizen, which said that White’s departure “is a victory for those in the environmental community who recently began calling for her ouster. Although state officials claim they were aware of her impending departure, it wasn’t until Public Citizen put up a billboard calling for her to be replaced that state representatives told the public of White’s plans.”

At $20,000 to learn that your target was leaving office in any case (and without any sense that her replacement will be any more sympathetic to environmentalists), this might be a bit of a pyrrhic victory.

Read more in the Austin American Statesman

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