Yesterday was a bad day in both chambers of the Lege. We'll start with the Senate, where a bill to block the City of Houston's effort to enforce clean air regulations on plants outside its city limits was passed.
Mayor Bill White's plans to clean up Houston's air were dealt a blow Tuesday when the Senate tentatively passed a measure that would prohibit local governments from regulating pollution coming from outside their boundaries.
"This isn't over air quality. It's over city sovereignty," said Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, who carried the bill. "This is a policy issue, not an environmental bill."
Jackson also acknowledged the bill had become a partisan issue. It was passed along party lines, in a 20-11 vote.
Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, just back from a liver transplant, attempted to filibuster the bill but gave up his efforts to talk the bill to death after less than 30 minutes.
Until now, the city had successfully blocked legislative attempts to limit its power to clean Houston's air.
White wants to be able to bring nuisance charges against industrial plants outside Houston that send unhealthy concentrations of certain pollutants inside the city.
White said he would prefer not to use nuisance laws to crack down on air pollution from elsewhere, but he proposed that approach because the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has failed to adopt strong-enough standards limiting pollutants.
"For years, we have urged Texas state regulators to set maximum levels for the concentration of carcinogens, such as benzene. They should adopt the city's detailed plan to reduce benzene or develop their own plan," White said after Tuesday's vote.
"Cleaning our region's air is good for public health and our economy. We are not interested in reducing excessive emissions of air (toxics) placed in the air outside our city so long as folks keep it out of the lungs of people inside the city."
Houston doesn't have the right to regulate air quality in another city, said Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston.
"Houston is creating regulations other people have to live by. This is bad policy," Janek said of White's plan, adding that TCEQ ought to set tougher standards, not the city of Houston.
"We tried to leave it to the state for 15 years, and nothing's happening," Gallegos said. "TCEQ is not going to do anything. They will leave it as it is. You have the same fox guarding the hen house. Another two years will go by with no regulation."
While many lawmakers bear responsibility, Rep. Dennis Bonnen's lack of leadership has been particularly disappointing.
Last month, the Angleton Republican, who leads the Environmental Regulation Committee, spoke of long-term strategies and clean energy. He scheduled hearings for 18 bills that would protect the air we breathe. We called it an "air quality extravaganza."
While the pronouncements from the statehouse steps and the much-heralded hearings were dramatic statements, they've yet to yield substantive change.
Now, Mr. Bonnen is pledging to pass comprehensive reforms - in 2009.
Two years is too long to wait. Policies that would make polluting less profitable and would bolster urban areas' efforts to meet federal air quality standards are urgently needed.
A years-long delay is a dangerous prospect for Dallas and other smog-choked cities.
Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, has filed an identical measure in the House. That bill still is in committee. Once Jackson's bill receives final passage, it is expected to substitute Smith's measure for swifter passage.
One last thing: This bill didn't have to come up for a vote at all. While all eleven Democrats voted against the bill once it came to the floor, Sen. Eddie Lucio abstained on the matter of suspending the rules to allow it to come up. This is exactly the sort of crap that got Frank Madla primaried out in 2006. I don't mind if Lucio or anyone agrees with Jackson on the merits of the bill, but be a grownup about it if so. This sort of thing is - pardon my French - chickenshit. Shame on you, Sen. Lucio.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 02, 2007 to That's our Lege