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Environmentalists say Legislature

Friday, June 1, 2001 by

Made great strides this session

Efforts to clean air of particular importance, advocates say

“We won,” proclaims Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, director of Texas Public Citizen. It’s a rare pleasure for environmentalists to come away from a legislative session feeling that they gained more than they lost. But that’s the story this year, following the renewal and strengthening of the operational backbone of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and passage of measures to reduce air pollution and encourage energy conservation.

“We scored some big victories with the TNRCC sunset bill and the air pollution incentives measure. These measures give us tools to make real headway in cleaning up the air in our cities. This will help Texas get ahead of the coming air pollution crises which will require deeper cuts in ozone and soot,” Smith noted.

Ken Kramer of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club called the 77th session “one of the most positive sessions for the environment in a decade.” He noted that the presidential campaign showed the nation “that Texas has failed to protect our water and air quality, and lawmakers responded by taking steps to correct some of the damage. We need to build on that momentum because we still have a long way to go to cure our state’s environmental problems and fully protect people in their homes and communities.”

Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment crowed, “For 30 years Texans have waited for this day—when all major air polluters would be required to use modern pollution controls. That day has finally come.” Actually, that day has been scheduled for 2007, when grandfathered plants in East Texas will have to install pollution control equipment.

Smith says environmentalists got about 60 percent of what they wanted through the sunset process on TNRCC. Frustrated environmentalists have for years pointed out inadequacies in the agency’s powers to deal with polluters and vowed to get rid of loopholes in the law.

There are about 92 tons of NOx (nitrogen oxide) per day coming from what is called the East Texas airshed, the area east of I-35 and north of I-37. Roughly 70 percent of that comes from grandfathered pipeline compressors and other outdated equipment. One such compressor in Luling, just outside the Austin non-attainment area, puts out about three tons per day, or 1100 tons of NOx per year, Smith said.

The first big change in the TNRCC bill, Smith said, is that oil and gas pipelines must reduce emissions by 50 percent and other facilities must use the “best available control technology” from the time they apply for the permit. The majority of the facilities have to reduce emissions by 50 percent. “That’s the first big win from the TNRCC sunset bill. That’s important because in the summer the winds blow from the south southeast about three-fourths of the time and bring emissions from the area between Corpus Christi and Houston where a lot of those pipelines cross the coastal planes. They contribute to our high ozone levels.”

“The second big win,” he said, is granting the agency the authority to control accidents, which are known as “upsets.” He said there were about 12,000 such accidents in the past two years, with chemical plants and refineries accounting for the vast majority of them.

Some plants had “upsets” with the same equipment 25 to 30 times per year. “TNRCC’s never had the authority to make them to fix it. This will give them the authority to tell them—to compel them—to fix it, and to penalize them if they don’t.”

Power plants start up and shut down frequently. The emissions upon start-up are particularly polluting. For the first time, the TNRCC will be able to require that those large emissions be included in the permitted amounts coming from the plants. Up until now, the permits have not counted start-up and shutdown emissions. Smith says this could make a big difference because if plants are ordered to make reductions of 80 percent, the reduction will be from the permitted amount. All power plants and other polluting factories may be required to modify their permits, he said. The agency will have to go through the rule-making procedure in order to put those requirements in effect, he said.

Other environmental protection wins involve rules for allowing certain polluters to locate in particular sites. Such a rule would not have much effect in San Angelo, where the air is relatively clean, Smith said, but it might have a big impact in Austin or San Antonio, which are in “stressed air sheds,” or areas that are already burdened with air pollution.

The agency will also be required to give greater credence to citizen-generated evidence of pollution, Smith said. In the past, only TNRCC’s own employees could gather such evidence. Even a videotape showing clear violations of the law were not permitted to enter into the decision-making process. Again, Smith said, the agency would be required to rewrite its rules to include the new provision.

To be continued on Monday.

Neighborhood activists ask Council

To change Austin transportation plan

Complaints center on South Lamar, Manor Road

The Austin City Council heard from neighborhood activists and environmentalists last week at the second of two required public hearings on the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan (AMATP), but postponed any action on the plan until at least June 7th.

The last major update to the AMATP came in 1995, when it was amended to match the long-range transportation plan of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). The CAMPO plan was updated in June of last year. Now, neighborhood groups and environmental organizations are urging the City Council to make several deviations from the CAMPO plan when approving the update to the AMATP.

Representatives of the Zilker Neighborhood Association submitted a letter to Council Members expressing their concern about the possible expansion of South Lamar to six lanes, saying it would require destroying several local businesses and altering the character of the neighborhood. “Our neighborhoods should be preserved and enhanced, not simply treated as thoroughfares for sprawl traffic,” wrote ZNA Vice President Lorraine Atherton. Several people from the neighborhood also attended the public hearing to express similar sentiments. “I don’t think it’s right that the homeowners and business owners there lose their homes and businesses to make it more convenient for a relatively small number of motorists to have an easier commute," said Jeff Carmack. The city’s Environmental Board also recommended against reclassifying this stretch of South Lamar between Town Lake and Oltorf.

Eastside residents also came to request changes in the city’s plan to prevent the possibility of streets being widened in their neighborhoods, specifically E. 38 1/2th and Manor Rd. “It’s time to move away from this disease of ‘asphaltitis’ that CAMPO seems to have acquired from the Texas highway department,” said Barry Myrick with the Blackland Neighborhood Association told Council Members. “The proposal does not adhere to the principles of Smart Growth.”

Both the Save Barton Creek Association and the Save Our Springs Alliance went on record against parts of the plan, encouraging certain changes. Steve Beers with the Save Barton Creek Association presented a statement on behalf of the group that “Our association is concerned primarily with the CAMPO plan’s effects on Barton Creek and Barton Springs.” SBCA specifically asked for changes in the plan to remove the proposed linking of S. MoPac to I-35 with a new outer loop ( SH-45). SOS encouraged its members to ask the Council to call for comprehensive environmental reviews of all of the proposed road expansions in the Drinking Water Protection Zone before voting to include the proposed expansions in the AMATP.

The Council did not vote on adopting the plan, but Mayor Kirk Watson did send out some signals to those who came to call for changes. “Many of you here saying ‘don’t do this’ have also probably complained about traffic,” Watson said.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

People are becoming suspicious about SB 2 . . . What’s really in Senate Bill 2, this session’s omnibus water bill, since we can’t get a copy of it? Speculation is that someone is looking at the bill very carefully before letting it go out to the public, or that the bill is fatally flawed and won’t pass constitutional muster. How long before the water wars make battles over energy look like kids playing marbles? . . Gotham/Mirabeau postponed . . . John McKinnerney of Simmons-Vedder & Co. says the condominium project at the southwest corner of the Congress Avenue Bridge, known originally as Gotham, but renamed Mirabeau, will not be built anytime soon. McKinnerney says the project became too small after the City Council lowered the height to 60 feet, so it’s not feasible to develop right now. However, he said his company does have two other lakeside projects under study, one on the north side of Town Lake and one on the south side . . . Death in the family . . . Council Member Beverly Griffith’s mother died yesterday. Rojean Dodgen of Temple had been ill for some time. Our condolences to Council Member Griffith and her family.Her office number is 499-2258.

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