Today, groups of angry El Pasoans will venture down to the state's capital, Austin, for tomorrow's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) decision that will directly affect the air all El Pasoans may be breathing in the near future.
TCEQ is one of those agencies former governor George Bush and his successor, governor Rick Perry, just love because the name implies concern for the public and its environment but whose decisions are often the exact antithesis of that, serving instead the interest of industry without a modicum of regard for public health or safety.
A prime example is the decision of another great named Texas agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. (Ooh, it just gives me the "willies" knowing these Texas agencies exist out of concern for me and my environment. )
Shortly after assuming office as governor, George W. Bush, in political payoff to large campaign contributors, began staffing (or should I say "stacking") that commission's board of directors. Bush's first appointment was Ralph Marquez, a 30 year employee of Monsanto and former consultant for Texas Industries and vice president of environmental affairs for industry's Texas Chemical Council. Two other Bush appointees were eventually made with the result wolves were now in charge of security for the hens in the chicken coup.
Hence, there was little surprise when the controversial approval of a cement company's furnace 30 miles southwest of Dallas which had been incinerating a 100,000 tons of hazardous wastes per year, including large volumes of it from gulf area refineries and chemical plants, was cleared to up the public's annual dosage to 270,000 tons. Texas' Natural Resource Conservation Commission determined no additional risks to people would result.
Another fine example of Bush/Perry environmentalism came from our public guardian, the Texas Water Commission, which in 23 just days - without public process, a chance to question, or environmental impact statement - gave its approval to a company named Merc to dump 250 tons of raw New York City sewage per week (!) on a 102,000+ acre "ranch" just three miles outside the small (poor) town of Sierra Blanca, Texas.
This was waste formerly dumped in the ocean by NYC until outlawed by congress. And in trying to find a new home for its toxic sludge, the state of Oklahoma listened to its citizens protests and rejected it as did Arizona after samples revealed it contained high levels of petroleum and infectious disease.
But Texas has gained a reputation as "A pay toilet for industry".* And while some other states may listen to their citizen's concerns or reject shit because of its high toxicity, in Texas, water, environmental and resource conservation commissions are total misnomers. Such commissions are "open for business." It's an operating procedure George W. Bush proudly took with him to Washington, slashing his way through agencies like Environment Protection, Food and Drug, the FCC, FTC, etc, staffing their leadership with industry cronies who give not a fuck for the public interest.
And so today, a band of determined, upset El Paso citizens trek to Austin. Denied a hearing by the TCEQ last week, they will travel to a city 500 miles distant, to visit an "environmental quality" commission that will decide if the air we may be breathing in the future (air the TCEQ and Austin won't be breathing) shall once more contain the lead and arsenic particle excrement passed from the stacks of Superfund polluter American Smelting and Refining Company with a permit allowing them to reopen copper refining operations within the city limits of El Paso that have been closed down since 1999.
I don't know why I have a bad feeling about the decision that will be rendered tomorrow. Maybe it's because of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality leader's warning to El Pasoans about Wednesday's meeting. It will "be conducted just like any other agenda hearing of this commission, with respect and civility, and so I ask that you all prepare for that and remember that," reminded chairman Buddy Garcia.
I guess you have to say something like that when rendering what will likely be a very unpopular populace decision; to avoid an uprising and save your ass. That, plus Texas' well earned reputation for being "a pay toilet for industry."
* "Pay toilet for industry" as coined by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility