Molly Ivins February 16
AUSTIN, Texas — Thank heavens, now that impeachment is out of the way, we can begin discussing truly important matters. I personally think Tinky-Winky, the purple Teletubby, probably is gay, and I'd like to thank the Rev. Jerry Falwell for bringing this to our attention.
On the other hand, it's sort of hard to tell since all the Teletubbies are quite strange, really. I mean, if Tinky-Winky's the gay one, who's the straight one? And which side of the culture war are they on, anyway? In any case, better Teletubbies than that purple dinosaur — that's what I say.
Now here's what sounds like a typical snorer in the halls of government: House Bill 801 by Tom Uher is being promoted by the Texas Chemical Council to eliminate "contested case proceedings" before the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC).
What a lovely sentence that is — some government org you've never heard of identified by its unpronounceable initials (TNRCC), concerning some process you've never heard of, and even if you understood what it meant, who would care?
During a recent panel on the numerous failures of American journalism, I proposed that almost all stories about government should begin: "Look out! They're about to smack you around again!"
Actually, for them as knows their onions, there's a big hint in here about where we're going; finding the Texas Chemical Council behind a bill is like finding DNA on Monica Lewinsky's dress. If the Texas Chemical Council is for it, it's bad news for people.
Sorry to be so cynical about an organization that employs so many nice lobbyists. However, keep in mind that, according to a 1996 Mother Jones article, the Texas Gulf Coast already accounts for more than half of the nation's petrochemical production, one-quarter of its oil refining and a fourth of the nation's toxic waste. And what this handy-dandy little bill will do is make it ever so much easier for chemical companies, oil refineries and all the other polluters to pollute away merrily without even giving the public a chance to be heard. Neat, eh?
A contested case proceeding before the TNRCC is the major opportunity that the public and local governments have to oppose permits for pollution. Not that this commission is what you could call a tiger for the environment — it's not even a puddy tat for the environment.
Now see if you can follow the nifty new wrinkle in this game: According to a statement by Ken Kramer, state director of the Sierra Club, "The Texas Chemical Council has unsuccessfully pushed legislation to eliminate the public's opportunity for contested case proceedings at TNRCC for the past two legislative sessions. This time, the Chemical Council is trying to sell this attempt to take away citizen rights as an effort to achieve 'enhanced public participation.' The Chemical folks are claiming that more people would be able to participate in the public hearings which might be held on proposed permits under this legislation."
Do you love it? Take away people's right to be heard and call it "enhanced public participation." It's so creative.
Speaking of the TNRCC, according to its latest report, 36 percent of all our industrial air pollution comes from plants that were "grandfathered in" 27 years ago — in other words, given exemptions from clean air laws on the splendid grounds that they'd already been polluting a long time, so they should be allowed to keep right on. In theory, these industries are voluntarily cleaning themselves up. Ha-ha-ha. And now that we've all had a good laugh over that one, note that their share of pollution is 1.8 billion pounds a year — about 100 pounds per Texan.
Those who have an interest in air pollution — on account of you breathe or something — will be interested to learn that an apparently unrelated bill is apt to jack up the pollution even higher (Houston trails only Los Angeles in air pollution).
According to the TNRCC, utilities deregulation — which is a perfectly terrible idea for many other reasons — will bump up the production of nitrous oxides (smog creators) by as much as 8.3 percent. That's because under dereg, the utilities are likely to increase their use of older, already-paid-for coal-fired plants.
But fear not: Our legislators are on the case and can be counted upon to foil these villainous plots. Let's see what they've introduced that will save the day ... here's a bill to give a $45 million tax break to owners of small oil and gas wells (not big oil and gas wells), and here's one that says gay people can't adopt children (does that include Tinky-Winky?) ...
Oh, well. Forget it.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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