About Air and Water

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jim Marston: What's missing is a commitment to healthy air

By Jim Marston - Dallas Morning News - Friday, June 18, 2010
The public spat between Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA has been an irresistible sound-bite war for the media. A rogue governor pitted against an aggressive federal agency threatening a takeover perfectly fits the national storyline of states'-rights conservatives vs. big-government liberals. Dim the lights, and get the popcorn
What this story and the last decade have in common, unfortunately, is the absence of an honest commitment to healthy air in Texas.

For the last decade, Texas' official protectors of air quality, TCEQ, have put business interests ahead of their mission to protect human health. TCEQ's past performance and Perry's present rhetoric demonstrate that air quality and the effects it has on our health and economy are simply not a priority in Texas. Period.

TCEQ's official mission is to "protect our state's human and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development." But its unwritten mission is to minimize the impact of environmental regulation on Texas businesses. There's an inside joke about TCEQ: Its job is to grant pollution permits to industry, and that's exactly what it does. It doesn't punish violators. It doesn't enforce standards.

First and foremost, it issues permits. Environmental protection is a secondary activity, at best.

Enter the EPA. Individual states can assume responsibility for enforcing compliance with the federal Clean Air Act within their borders. But the EPA must oversee the enforcement, and if a state fails to comply with the act, the EPA is supposed to step in. That's what's happening right now.

For years – first under Gov. George W. Bush and then for a decade under Perry – TCEQ has, in effect, served as a pro-industry buffer between Texas polluters and the Clean Air Act. After multiple strongly worded warnings dating well back into Perry's governorship, the EPA has finally had enough and stepped in to handle permitting for facilities in Corpus Christi, Houston and Garland.

Perry's and TCEQ's willful stonewalling has finally caught up with them, and they're squealing like stuck pigs. They are calling the Clean Air Act a job killer – a 20-year-old argument that can't be proved with any credible study. On the contrary, recent studies have shown that in the new economy, regions that embrace cleaner air and water create jobs and attract better talent than those that reject it.

Make no mistake. This is not a battle of jobs or state's rights, as Perry would have us think. It is Texas telling the EPA it doesn't have to follow federal laws that protect public health. And after a decade of asking nicely, the EPA is finally – and rightfully – acting.

Of all 50 states, only Texas has been singled out this way for especially flagrant noncompliance with the Clean Air Act. Yet the governor seems to think Texas industry should have some sort of special exemption. Likewise, our governor must think Texans aren't entitled to the same health protections as the residents of other states. I suspect a lot of Texans would disagree.

Fortunately for all of us, the current spat and ridiculous rhetoric are shining a light on TCEQ's "performance" just as the agency is facing scrutiny by the state's Sunset Advisory Commission. As that sunset review proceeds, let's hope the Texas Legislature will order substantial changes in the way TCEQ does business – and make it clear to the agency's three governor-appointed commissioners that Texans' health needs to move to the top of their priority list.

If it does, I am confident they will avoid being asked to step aside by the EPA, and this bluster-fest will go away. If they don't, the sound-bite saga will continue. And so will Texas' polluter-friendly, lackluster commitment to air quality.

Jim Marston is director of the energy program and Texas regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund. His e-mail address is jmarston@edf.org.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.

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