|BUSH'S ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD|
August 22, 2000
In the second of a two-part look at the major candidates' positions on the environment, Tom Bearden examines George W. Bush's record in Texas
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: (taking oath of office) I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear...
PERSON ADMINISTERING OATH: ...that I will faithfully execute...
TOM BEARDEN: George W. Bush took the oath of office as Texas governor in 1995, inheriting a state with serious environmental problems. (Gun fires) Repeatedly declaring himself an outdoorsman and pro-environmental governor, Bush said he wanted to leave Texas cleaner than he found it. Vance McMahon is Bush's top policy adviser. He says the governor has made good on his promise.
VANCE McMAHON: In Texas, by most environmental... by most key environmental measures, environmental quality is improving. We have a good story to tell in Texas. We're proud of the fact that we've reduced toxic pollutants by more than any other state, that industrial pollution is down by 11%. And so we recognize that challenges remain, but we're proud of the progress that we've made.
TOM BEARDEN: The governor says it's his style to negotiate instead of confront.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know this, though, you can't sue your way to clean air and clean water. We can't have the lawyers try to sue our way. We've got to have a leader lead our way by using technologies that work, by saying to industry if you're polluting, we're not going to accept it anymore. But let's work together to achieve a standard.
VANCE McMAHON: He does not believe in the Washington-based philosophy of command and control environmental policy as kind of a heavy-handed, top-down approach. His approach is based on flexibility, on local control, allowing local solutions wherever those are possible on basing environmental decisions on sound science; of course, enforcing the existing laws, and putting enough flexibility in the system to focus on results and not just process.
IN COMMERCIAL: Texas has a world-class pollution problem.
TOM BEARDEN: But some environmental groups have a very different view of the Bush record.
SPOKESPERSON IN COMMERCIAL: Call George W. Bush. Tell him to clean up the air and water for our families, for our future.
|Dirtiest air in America|
TOM BEARDEN: Environmentalists point to the fact that during Bush's tenure, Texas has achieved the dubious distinction, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, of having the dirtiest air in America, of ranking 47th in water quality, and having the seventh-highest rate of release of toxic industrial byproducts onto its land. Ken Kramer is the Sierra Club's Texas state director.
KEN KRAMER: Our assessment of Governor Bush on the environment is that basically he's shown a great deal of indifference to the environment, and his indifference to the environment has allowed people such as those in industry to really call the shots on environmental policy. As a result, we haven't seen any real progress in Texas in the last five years on the environment.
PROTESTORS: We want clean air!
TOM BEARDEN: But even Bush's most ardent opponents concede that many of these problems also plagued his predecessors, Democrat and Republican alike.
PROTESTORS: Governor Bush, get off your tush!
TOM BEARDEN: They fault him on what they consider his lack of progress. Bush lost little time in implementing his local control philosophy. Shortly after his inauguration, Texas was poised to initiate a state-operated, centralized automobile inspection program. The governor killed it, mandating instead a decentralized tailpipe test that can be done at local gas stations.
KEN KRAMER: He helped to scuttle an effective, strong inspection and maintenance program for automobile emissions and replaced it with what he called the Texas Motorist Choice program, which was deemed later to be inadequate. And even his own state environmental agency now has said we need a stronger program for inspection maintenance in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth in order to achieve air quality standards.
TOM BEARDEN: The Governor's aides say they switched plans because a majority of drivers wouldn't want to go to centralized inspection sites, and thus, the program would be ineffective. The inspection issue was only a part of the overall air pollution problem. Factories, refineries and electrical generating plants are major contributors -- particularly old facilities. As in every other state, refineries and chemical and power plants built before 1971 were grandfathered, exempted from compliance with federal and state clean air regulations. The idea was that it didn't make sense to force expensive new pollution controls on plants that would fairly quickly be replaced by newer, cleaner facilities. But nearly 30 years later, Texas still has more than 700 such plants. The state environmental agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or TNRCC, says grandfathered plants account for more than a third of all air pollution in the state.
PROTESTORS: Close the loophole!
TOM BEARDEN: For years, environmentalists have been pressing a succession of Texas governors to force the plants to come into compliance. In 1997, Bush responded, directing the TNRCC to develop a policy to reduce pollution from grandfathered facilities. Ralph Marquez is one of three Bush-appointed commissioners.
RALPH MARQUEZ: In 1997, I think Governor Bush surprised perhaps very many of those people when the governor brought up the issue of grandfathered facilities, and his desire to address that issue.
TOM BEARDEN: The TNRCC proposed a program allowing industry to voluntarily reduce emissions at their own pace. The legislature passed a bill making the program state law.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: First and foremost, we are committed to clean air in the state of Texas.
TOM BEARDEN: Surrounded by oil and chemical industry executives, Governor Bush announced what he called an historic first step.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: These companies have volunteered to install pollution reduction equipment and take the necessary action to reduce emissions and become permitted by our state. Their combined efforts will greatly reduce air pollution in the state of Texas.
TOM BEARDEN: But how that agreement was reached is a matter of considerable dispute. Tom Smith is the head of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, a national advocacy group. He says the governor sold out to industry.
TOM SMITH: He held a series of secret meetings with the polluters and asked them to write the policy, brought a bunch of the other industries together and said, "This is what we'd like to suggest we do to solve this problem. What do you think?" They put together a lobby team and went out and flooded the Texas legislature and got it adopted. And that's what we're seeing time and time again as his solution to environmental problems is, "let's just do it voluntarily."
RALPH MARQUEZ: That is a misconception. What... The governor did ask a couple of executives that came to see him about an unrelated issue. He said, "I will do something about grandfathered facilities. I want your cooperation in doing it." And they said, "Yes, we will cooperate." They did come up with some proposals. But if anyone took the time to look at what they had proposed and what this agency eventually adopted, it's not the same document.
TOM BEARDEN: However, an environmental coalition points to memos exchanged between oil company executives and the Governor's office. They say the documents prove there were detailed discussions regarding the development of the new policy. But Texas Oil and Gas Association Vice President Ben Sebree says the industry did not have an undue influence in developing the legislation.
BEN SEBREE: We had input it, as well as... So did the Sierra Club, Ken Kramer, Public Citizen. Lots of people had input.
TOM BEARDEN: So it was not a document that the industry presented to the governor as a fait accompli.
BEN SEBREE: Absolutely not. I've reviewed several drafts of the legislation myself as it was filed in the House and in the Senate. There were several drafts that we had severe problems with. We made our comments and testimony before the committees, as did others.
TOM BEARDEN: Since the Governor proposed the program three years ago, 104 facilities have volunteered to participate; 19 have begun to meet clean air standards.
TOM SMITH: Well, the voluntary emissions program has been a predictable failure. And what we see is across the spectrum of all the plants, maybe 3% of the emissions have been reduced as a result of these voluntary programs.
TOM BEARDEN: Sebree says it is too early to judge, and thinks most of the oil and gas companies he represents will eventually comply with the governor's policy.
BEN SEBREE: Right now there's a window of opportunity where facilities, whether you're a tiny one well operator, or whether you're a refinery, you can go to the TNRCC, and you can work out a reasonable, flexible approach. You can clean up the air. But you can do it in a way that works for your facility. We are advising our members to take advantage of it, and we've seen a pretty enthusiastic response.
TOM BEARDEN: But environmentalists say the Governor's cooperative approach has failed, and blame him for the fact that last year Houston passed Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in America, and for serious pollution problems in other Texas cities.
TOM SMITH: Not only does Texas have the smoggiest city in the nation and lead the nation in the emissions of those cancerous... chemicals causing cancer and birth defects, we're also number one in the emissions of the gases causing global warming, and we're one of the worst states in terms of potential impacts.
PROTESTORS: We've had enough! We've had enough!
TOM BEARDEN: Some community activists believe the Governor favors economic development at the expense of the environment when it comes to allowing new industrial construction.
|Running on empty|
LANELL ANDERSON: Bush is running on empty when it comes to his environmental record in Texas.
TOM BEARDEN: Lanell Anderson and Tamara Moshino live in the town of Clear Lake, just south of Houston. The area is surrounded by chemical plants. Both are Republicans, and they say the Governor has ignored their plea to stop the building of still another plant.
TAMARA MOSHINO: Under his administration, the air has gotten consistently worse here. We're unable to breathe. We have had more ozone warning days since the past three years, five years, than we have ever had. And it's come under his watch as Governor of the State of Texas.
LANELL ANDERSON: Houston leads the nation in ozone pollution. Houston leads the nation in carcinogenic air emissions by the... to the tune of 5.2 million pounds a year. We lead the nation in childhood asthma. We lead the nation in childhood cancer. It's -- enough is enough. Our cup runneth over.
TOM BEARDEN: But aides say Governor Bush has been able to balance economic growth with environmental policy. They say Texas has seen a 30% growth in its economy over the last five years while showing much improvement in its environmental quality.
VANCE McMAHON: The Governor shouldn't be getting criticism. He ought to be given credit for the steps we've made to improve the environment in Texas. We've cut toxic pollution, we have reduced industrial air pollution by 11%, we've got a great grandfather program in place that deals with pollution from older plants. And by most environmental measures-- most key environmental measures-- environmental quality is improving in Texas.
TOM BEARDEN: Governor Bush has also had to deal with major water quality problems. The EPA has listed the state near last in the quality of its lakes and streams.
KEN RAMER: In water quality, which has not received as much visibility as the air concerns, we are still in a very problematic situation. We have over 140 streams or lakes in the state that are considered impaired. In other words, they don't meet water quality standards that have been set for them, and that means that they may be closed, or are harmful for swimming, or sometimes problematic for aquatic life.
TOM BEARDEN: TNRCC's Ralph Marquez says one has to look at the size of Texas' water systems to make a fair comparison.
RALPH MARQUEZ: If you look at one benchmark which some of the critics love to use how many areas, or segments of rivers and lakes may not meet one or more water quality standards, yes, there's a relatively large number. When you look at the number of miles of rivers and lakes that we have in Texas relative to many other states, when you look at an average... at a percentage of those segments to a total, it's a... it's a small number compared to many other states. So I think that is an unfair statement to make.
|TOM BEARDEN: On the toxic waste issue, Governor Bush boasts
about his brownfields initiative, which reformed state standards for hazardous
waste cleanups. Brownfield's refers to the cleanup and redevelopment of
old industrial sites. The federal Superfund program has long been criticized
for consuming billions of dollars in litigation costs without actually
cleaning up very many sites. The Texas initiative brought more flexibility
to the $660,000 program and allows landowners to clean up property without
the risk of future lawsuits.
VANCE McMAHON: Well, in the old law, it wasn't getting cleaned up at all, because the... The way the law worked, people were afraid to go in and clean up a brownfield site for the fear that they would be liable in the -- if a suit was ever brought for cleanup of that site. Now we've made it so that those people, who are willing to risk and put capital on the line to clean up brownfield sites, who are owners and investors who had nothing to do with the original contamination, are enabled to go ahead and do that.
TOM BEARDEN: More than 500 brownfield sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped in the last five years; sites like this one in Houston, which will eventually contain housing for the elderly. Houston's new state-of-the-art baseball stadium is also built on a brownfield. But environmentalists say the program is seriously flawed.
KEN KRAMER: The cleanups are done according to so-called risk reduction standards that actually allow you to retain some pollution in place. It's not a cleanup to the original conditions in terms of groundwater quality, for example. Secondly, there's really no public involvement in that program, so there's really no scrutiny of the cleanup measures or how effective they are, or whether or not they meet the goals of the neighborhood or community in which those sites may be located.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Vote for me. I'm for clean air and clean water. I'm for setting high standards based upon science, based upon reality, based upon making sure that the decision-making, that the decisions we make is based upon what works and what's real. I believe the federal government has a role to set high standards, but the federal government must work with local stakeholders, must work with folks to achieve those standards. And so, for example...
TOM BEARDEN: The State Oil and Gas Association's Ben Sebree says the Bush philosophy would actually accomplish positive things for the environment much more quickly and effectively than government regulation.
BEN SEBREE: We think that his approach is a much more intelligent approach because he gets away from the traditional command and control strategy of lots of regulators who say, "we know what's best and we know what's the best way to do it," and the truth is that's not true. And the Governor's legislation takes a different philosophy. He sets the same goal, which is a clean environment and clean air, but he sets up a program where industry and the regulators can work together without the heavy hand of the government, but rather a more of a carrot and a stick approach.
TOM BEARDEN: But Tom Smith of Public Citizen believes that, if elected, President Bush would always favor big business over the environment.
TOM SMITH: Well, the Governor... every time he's had a chance to take an action on the environment, he stood up for the polluters rather than the people. And that's the kind of leadership we see here is that when the going gets tough, the Governor tends to stand up for the biggest industries in Texas, and not the people.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you all for coming.
TOM BEARDEN: Both Bush supporters and critics say that come November, Americans will have a very clear choice between the candidates on their approach to environmental matters.
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