June 06, 2002

RIP, 55 MPH The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) has voted to shelve the new 55 MPH speed limit for in and around Harris County. TNRCC has bowed to pressure from people who've said all along that it won't do squat to help air pollution. Don't mean to say "I told you so" but...

Naturally, Governor Goodhair is trying to make political hay out of this:

With his effort to help restore higher speed limits on Houston highways, Gov. Rick Perry stepped on the gas in his own race to remain in the Governor's Mansion.

And while Perry can expect to face scrutiny about his dedication to clean the air, political analysts say he scored with voters on an issue that will be difficult for Democratic opponent Tony Sanchez to oppose.

"It doesn't take much imagination to understand that almost every Texan wants to drive faster," said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. "The candidate who can deliver a 70-mph speed limit to the people of Harris County will have, if not their votes, their gratitude."

I have a lot of respect for Bob Stein, but why in the world should people be grateful to the governor for this? I mean, on whose watch was this stoopid plan conceived? On whose watch do we have to pay for the 55 MPH signs to go up and then come back down again? And as the other story notes, it'll be awhile - maybe not until 2003 - before most of these signs come down, and until they do, the 55 MPH limit is in effect. If so, there may be a backlash instead of a reward.

And how is it that Perry got to the front of this parade? The main people fighting the lower speed limit have been the counties surrounding Houston, who had threatened a lawsuit to exempt themselves. And according to the EPA, it was in part to "the leadership of Governor Rick Perry" and others that the TNRCC plan, including the lower speed limit, was enacted in the first place. Here's Rick Perry and that noted environmental activist Tom DeLay joining EPA Regional Administrator Greg Cooke for the October 15 signing of the State Implementation Plan (SIP) that imposed the lower speed limit. Here's a TV sound bite from March 25 in which Perry says "everyone is a part of the solution". Only in April, a good six months after implementation, do we see Perry ask the TNRCC to "consider" alternatives to the 55 MPH limit. The man has no shame.

(Oh, and how nice it would be if Houston's Leading Information Source could have pointed this out as a counter to Perry's shameless politicking. How nice it would be if I didn't have to go Googling for this information. How nice it would be if we had some of that famous liberal bias in our daily fishwrap.)

Of course, our Democratic leadership seems to want to insist on handing Perry the victory:

Some Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Ken Bentsen, Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, have complained about the lower speed. But it has been largely a Republican effort.

"I'm sure that Democrats are more concerned with the environment, and the 55-mph speed limit is part of the effort of cleaning up the air," said Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Schechter.

Earth to Sue: The lower speed limit was a loser with a capital L. It put a lot of time and money into a low-return effort and pissed people off in the process. The new emissions testing, and the long-overdue proposed new rules for refineries will have a real effect. Had any of our previous governors (like, oh, say, the last one) done anything about the fact that in 1999, a bunch of refineries were still allowed to pollute at 1970 levels thanks to a 28-year-old long-outdated grandfather clause in the state's environmental regulations, maybe this whole lower speed limit fiasco could have been avoided. Why not act like you have two brain cells to rub together and talk about the wasted effort and Bush's oh-so-strict call for "voluntary" emissions reductions instead?

I'd feel much better about the Democrats' chances in this year's election if I saw actual evidence that they had an idea about how to win. Sheesh.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 06, 2002 to The great state of Texas