March 23, 2004
Smokey Joe and the cement plants

Byron points to this article about "Smokey Joe" Barton and his efforts to exempt a couple of cement plants from stricter EPA rules. I'll leave most of the story for you to read - it's worth your while - but I want to take a look at the money involved.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton's push to exempt Ellis County from the toughest smog rules could directly benefit two corporations linked to Barton campaign donations corporations now seeking state permits to boost allowed emissions of smog-causing pollution.

Mr. Barton's effort, if successful, would help cement makers Holcim (U.S.) Inc. and Texas Industries Inc. avoid stricter permit requirements and possibly much higher pollution-control costs that would come if Ellis County is designated a smog-violation area, documents and interviews show.

Mr. Barton, R-Ennis, has been working for at least five months to block that listing, saying it is not scientifically justified or economically sensible. The Environmental Protection Agency, which has backed including Ellis County and its heavy industries, is to decide on nationwide listings by April 15.

The EPA's final ruling will determine whether Holcim and TXI must meet the lesser environmental requirements that now apply in Ellis County or the tougher ones that would come with a smog-violator designation, according to a technical review prepared by the EPA.

The ruling would affect any Ellis County industry that seeks an air-pollution permit in the future.

Although most of Ellis County is rural, it is North Texas' center of heavy industry, accounting for about 40 percent of the region's industrial emissions. Altogether, 94 percent of Ellis County's industrial emissions come from a half-dozen cement, manufacturing, energy or waste-disposal corporations whose political action committees have contributed to Mr. Barton's campaigns, a Dallas Morning News comparison of Texas environmental records and federal campaign files shows.

Their donations to Mr. Barton since the 1998 election cycle total $74,500, according to Federal Election Commission reports. That includes $26,500 in either PAC or individual donations from TXI executives and $6,500 from Holcim's PAC.

Mr. Barton also got $27,500 during that period from cement industry PACs to which Holcim's or TXI's political committees donated.

Mr. Barton, a nine-term congressman and the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement that campaign donations from Ellis County industries played no role in his drive to limit smog rules there. Spokesmen for Holcim and TXI also denied any link and said they haven't discussed their permits with Mr. Barton.

"There is no amount of money that any group, corporation or individual could contribute that would influence any of my votes on any subject at any time," Mr. Barton said in his statement.

"It is completely absurd to suggest that I would allow any campaign donation whatsoever to impact my ability to ensure that my own children and grandchildren are breathing the cleanest possible air," he said.

Do you believe that? Because in all honesty, I don't. Oh, I could believe that Barton would vote for Holcim and TXI regardless because that's the way he thinks, and I could believe that they would support Barton because they think, as one of their spokesbeings put it later on in the article, that Barton "tends to support reasonable taxes on businesses and individuals that can keep our economy prosperous". But does anyone truly believe that there is "no amount of money that any group, corporation or individual could contribute that would influence any of [his] votes on any subject at any time"? Even a little bit?

I've brought this point up before, and I'll say it again: If what Barton says is really true, then why should any rational, profit-maximizing, accountable-to-the-shareholders corporation give him money? If he's going to vote their way anyway, isn't it just a waste of their funds? You could make a case for their generosity if he were going to be in a close election with an opponent who is sure to vote against them and the marginal value of their donations could help him win, but he's in a strongly Republican district and he's got a million dollars more than Morris Meyer does. So what's the point? How else can their contributions be explained?

I think there's only one conclusion that you can draw, and that's that Holcim and TXI expect to benefit from their donations. Whether you believe that's of consequence or not is the real question.

UPDATE: The Blue Skies Alliance has a ton of stuff on Smokey Joe - check out this report (PDF) (summarized here) for all of the dirty details. Thanks to JD for the catch.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 23, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

I have been wanting to inform the people of Midlothian of this. I don't want to believe that a city of informed people could possibly allow this to pass with no argument whatsoever. My 7 year old son played soccer in Midlothian last year, and you can see the Holcim plant from the soccer field. I spoke with the parents about my concern...the kids are running and breathing deeper than we are....does anyone see a problem but me?? They seem completely oblivious!! This has been bothering me for quite sometime. I want to make banner, posters and fliers telling Ellis county folk that Barton ties the hands of the EPA. We need to get him out of office! We need cleaner air!
There needs to be more media coverage of this! Am I dreaming? Have people tried this already? I would love to help in any way possible, feel free to email me at anytime.

Posted by: Tonia on April 14, 2004 10:19 AM