March 07, 2007
Area mayors complain about White's environment plan

Mayor White's plan to take action against some area polluters has caused some noses to get out of joint.

The mayors of LaPorte, Baytown, Pasadena and Deer Park say White has no business invading their turf and feel snubbed because they weren't consulted prior to the plan's unveiling three weeks ago.

"Mayor White is over Houston," LaPorte Mayor Alton Porter said. "He's not the mayor over all Harris County."

The mayors also say White's plan could hurt their cities' economy. They contend cars -- more than industry -- are responsible for creating the benzene problem.

To hash out any differences, Pasadena Mayor John Manlove has organized a closed-door summit meeting March 15 for White and the mayors of 13 cities in the Houston port region. State and county pollution regulators and industry representatives will also be included.

"We want to all sit down in one room and put everything on the table," Manlove said.

But Porter is not sure he will attend.

"I think it's a little late to be engaging the effective parties now," he said.

Deer Park Mayor Wayne Riddle said he probably will attend but he also feels sidestepped: "If it's a regional effort, they should have invited all the area mayors for discussions in the beginning."

White's staff says the benzene-reduction plan has been presented only as a "starting point" and that White is looking for feedback.

"Mayor White has been talking about reducing pollution for two years," said Paulette Wolfson, an assistant city attorney for Houston. " But in the past, cities have wanted to know exactly how he plans to do it before they comment. That is why we developed this specific plan and now asking for comment. It seems that we're damned if we do and damned if we don't."

I think Ms. Wolfson's response is spot on, but let's go through a few points here. First, as is the case with the cement plants of Ellis County, pollution does not respect boundaries. We in Houston are breathing the air that's being fouled elsewhere. I for one applaud the Mayor's efforts to do something about that, since nobody else in a leadership position seems inclined to do so.

Second, this is not an either/or choice between chemical plants and cars. We can reduce emissions from both sources. Indeed, we have to.

Third, Mayor White isn't ignoring the problem of auto emissions. In his State of the City speech, White called for a 5% cut in Houston's consumption of motor fuels in the next five years, which among other things would reduce those emissions.

I'm sorry that these mayors felt left out, but honestly, where were they all along? Mayor White has talked about air quality since his first campaign, and started talking specifics about stuff like benzene last June. This didn't come out of nowhere. Did none of them take any action on their own initiative?

One more thing:

[T]he east Harris County mayors fear that industry may soon grow weary of regulatory controls and decide to relocate.

"This plan could drive them away if it gets too expensive," Manlove said.

Several chambers of commerce in east Harris County, such as Baytown, have passed resolutions stating White's plan could have a "devastating" impact on the area's big employers.

But [Karl Pepple, an environmental expert for the city of Houston] notes dirty air can also hinder job growth, pointing to the Toyota manufacturing plant that was recently built in San Antonio instead of Houston. Pepple said Toyota officials cited Houston's poor air quality as a key reason.

Does anybody believe that it would make financial sense to relocate a chemical plant instead of doing benzene abatement? Where would they go, and how likely would they be to get EPA approval (to say nothing of the local residents' blessing) to build a new plant?

These guys are welcome to join the conversation if they want. But it's time to act.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 07, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

Pasa-"git down!"-dena elected Mayor Manlove? That's happily open minded.

I'd like to get a hold of some of his electoral material.

"Vote for Manlove for Pasadena" bumper-stickers would be amusing.

Posted by: Michael on March 7, 2007 2:45 PM