Clean air or stone wall?

ARLINGTON, Tex. – Concerned North Texans found out how the state’s environmental regulatory agency manages to continue giveaways to corporate polluters while the proof piles in that we are slowly suffocating: they just pretend the data doesn’t exist! The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality let it be known that they would hold a public hearing in Arlington on Dec. 5, but the convenor let it be known from the outset that the state would not be providing any information at all.

In fact, they revealed that the company-provided computer that is supposed to monitor emissions from the TXI Cement Company had not functioned since August – coincidentally the same time that they conducted a test run of a new procedure to burn automobile tires in their kilns!

Outraged citizens asked if even the slightest information about the test run would be available. Agency panelists responded: “We did not confirm any of the complaints.” They asked if TXI and another cement company would be allowed to burn tires without any new permit or approval: “We do not know at this time.” They asked why a new agreement with the cement companies is going through without any emissions information: “I cannot answer your question.” Citizens asked if TXI is not presently out of compliance, since the monitor is down and they are required to report emission levels: “We’re investigating that at this time.”

A woman asked if TXI, which already has a subsidy from the state to burn hazardous wastes and is expected to receive another $2,000,000 subsidy to start burning automobile tires, will also burn other solid waste: “I do not know.”

Exasperated, a woman asked for the purpose of the hearing: “The hearing is a courtesy.” By this time, a woman in the audience was heard to comment, “This is like watching cartoons!”

Since the state would provide no information, witnesses began to provide it themselves. Some of their testimony came from the state’s own web site. They told the conveners that Ellis County, where three waste-burning cement companies operate, and that the entire Dallas area was already out of compliance with federal clean air standards. They told them that the cement plants account for half of all industrial pollution in the area. They told them that emissions had doubled when tires were burned. They said that the state had lowered emission standards for the polluters and was in the process of doing away with them entirely. They said that the state’s new deal was a “complete caving in to TXI!”

In case the agency’s representatives were still not clear on the opinions of the citizens of North Texas, a housewife told them that their “public hearing” was “just a smokescreen and just a sham!”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org