Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Not Bad For a White Guy .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Not Bad For a White Guy

Mayor unveils first specific actions on air toxics issue

I like this Bill White guy. As soon as he took office as Houston’s Mayor, he started throwing off the chains of mediocrity and changing things for the better. For the people, that is, not just his cronies. I first took notice of this when he synchronized the traffic lights downtown in order to relieve congestion. His detractors claimed this was a cheap stunt to gain approval, and that it was too easy. Yeah, it was cheap – it cost the taxpayers virtually nothing, and showed immediate results. Apparently it was easy also, which made me wonder why none of his predecessors did it.

Of course he was also instrumental in the Safe Clear program fiasco, in which broken down vehicles on the freeway are immediately towed, again to relieve congestion. But when the debris hit the fan, he didn’t cancel the program, or maintain a hard line, or blame someone else. He jumped in with both feet and vowed to solve the program’s problems without scrapping it, and asked for the public’s opinions on how to do it.

Now he’s opened another can of worms, and is showing a lot of cojones in doing so. He’s vowed to crack down on polluters who are dumping excessive toxins into our air.

"We will begin to place air quality monitors outside the plant gates of those firms most likely identified as the source of these excess levels of air toxics," White said in his second annual State of the City address.

"I don't want to wait two or three years," the mayor later said in a briefing. "I don't care who does it, but if somebody doesn't do it quick, we are going to do it."

White didn’t just pull this crusade out of thin air (au contraire!). Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued a report stating that levels of 1,3-butadiene in an East End public park were high enough to increase cancer risks. The Houston Chronicle also published results of its own monitoring program, showing high levels of several chemicals on Houston’s east side.

Anyone who has driven state highway 225 through Pasadena, or down Bay Area Blvd along the Armand Bayou Nature Center would not be surprised at these findings. I’ve often wondered how the wildlife in that nature center could flourish, likewise the residents of Pasadena, Deer Park, La Porte and other areas. Of course, White’s authority only reaches as far as the city limits, so who knows how this will affect those residents anyway.

One thing’s certain, though. The refining and petrochemical industries won’t take this lying down. The cost of monitoring alone is prohibitive – that’s why the TCEQ doesn’t do it, and why very little enforcement is done. A single monitoring station can cost a quarter of a million dollars, and up to $80,000 annually to maintain. One of the big questions for this initiative is who will pay for monitoring, and I’m sure the industry won’t be volunteering. It’ll be much more economical for them to push their lobbyists to persuade state legislators to put a kibosh on the whole affair, especially if monitoring demonstrates that there are leaks which will need to be abated.

I can see the controversy now – the industry won’t pay for it because it’s bad for the economy, and if the city pays for it, it’s those damn “tax and spend librulls” at it again!

Wake up, y’all! This is the air that we breathe! Once it’s ruined, we can’t just import more from the Middle East (assuming there’s any left when we get done over there). Where’s the fun in making smokers into second class citizens if we’re going to be breathing in toxins anyway?

For too long, emphasis has been put on motorists to minimize their vehicle emissions, while industry continues to spew smoke and toxic particles into the air. Hopefully the Mayor can get them to change their way of doing business. And also, hopefully, before it’s too late.


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