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It’s still Christmastime for polluters

Why is it that polluters have such an easy time of it? They can always count on a little help from their friends in the Legislature.

The majority of Houston-area lawmakers in the Texas House voted against legislation intended to protect the public from toxic air pollution, a Houston Chronicle analysis of 2005 voting records has found.

The five rejected amendments would have made the state’s health screening levels for pollution more strict, required companies to continuously monitor emissions and set fines for the periodic releases known as “upsets” that plague fence-line neighborhoods.

Yet 20 of 34 representatives in the eight-county region, where toxic pollution problems have been well-documented, particularly along the Houston Ship Channel, voted to table these actions.

All 20 of the dissenters are Republicans, some of them representing industrial districts such as Pasadena, Baytown and Seabrook, where people and industry exist side by side.

Typically, a party-line vote on legislation to increase regulations on industry would not be surprising. However, legislators during this year’s regular session were presented with increasing evidence that toxic pollution was a problem locally and that Houston residents were more concerned than ever about its impact on health.

“These numbers are shocking when you consider the myriad of air issues facing the Houston area,” said Colin Leyden, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters. The League recently reviewed votes on three of the amendments as part of its annual Scorecard; the Chronicle analysis revisited and expanded upon the group’s effort.

[…]

Democrats who backed the amendments were banking on that momentum continuing into the session. It didn’t.

The issue “was certainly brought to the forefront for Houston legislators, especially. I was hoping that there might be enough pressure building that there would be some support behind these efforts,” said Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, the only Democrat to not vote to keep all five amendments in House Bill 1900, legislation that streamlines the reporting of pollution.

“You are still having to overcome industry opposition,” Eiland said. “Industry still has a lot of say-so, even in areas like this, where public health and quality of life are at issue.”

Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, whose tabled amendment would have lowered the levels the state uses to screen pollution’s health effects, agreed.

“I didn’t need many more votes. I am a mainstream Republican member and a lot of mainstream Republicans follow me,” Goodman said. “I get closer than anyone else, but I still don’t win. Industry is the reason you don’t win, the mindset of the members of the House against further regulation, and the misguided perception that if you vote for an amendment to clean up the air and water you are some sort of liberal activist.”

[…]

The lack of support by the Houston delegation for pollution-cutting measures this year could crimp plans by Mayor Bill White, who has said he will use the Legislature as a means to improve air quality in the region.

Elena Marks, the mayor’s health policy director, said the administration will work next session to change some minds.

“Ultimately, I don’t think it will cut along party lines. For those for whom it is not a top priority, we have to work that much harder to educate them,” she said. “I’m just not sure they have been educated on balancing out need for regulations and need for public health.”

Changing minds is nice. Changing out a few legislators would also be a good idea.

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2 Comments

  1. Marie says:

    Bonnen refused to give HB 2792 a hearing in committee and tabled all the amendments based on that legislation. He said we may as well hang a sign that says “Texas is closed for business.” The truth is industry donates very well to his campaign. Bo Pilgrim of Pilgrim’s Pride is one of his biggest contributors. All that chicken poop is pretty bad for our air quality, so as chair of Environmental Regulation, he makes sure that bills designed to put teeth into TCEQ or mandate fines on industry are dead on arrival.
    We need to find an opponent for Bonnen. It would be VERY nice to unseat that guy.

  2. While this vote was widely reported at the time, there are some very interesting quotes here. I don’t know what to make of Rep. Craig Eiland’s comment. Most of the Houston area Democratic delegation participated in the strategizing for getting this bill heard. (There was some limited, quiet Republican participation.) However, I don’t remember Eiland or his staff participating – there may have been one or two other Houston-area Democrats who were also completely absent from the effort.

    Ultimately, as noted in the comment above, Rep. Joe Moreno’s bill was not heard in the House. It was heard in a Senate committee after his passing, but never voted on there. So that is why the bill was brought up as a series of amendments in the House.

    It is curious that this story does not mention Rep. Moreno, Rep. Farrar, Rep. Noreiga or Rep. Gallegos, who carried the legislation. It is important that Rep. Goodman, R-Arlington’s, role is featured. He deserves a lot of credit for standing up on this issue.

    John D. Wilson