Sierra Club Blames Bush for Legislature's Failure to Close the Loophole for Grandfathered Polluters

Environmental Group Commends Speaker Laney and House Members for Making Progress Toward the Goal

(Austin)-The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has blamed Governor Bush for the failure of the Texas Legislature to end the loophole for dirty old industrial plants that allows them to escape the permitting and pollution control technology requirements of the Texas Clean Air Act.  The conference committee on S.B. 766, the bill on "grandfathered" air polluters, produced a last-minute compromise between Texas House and Senate conferees that provides a mechanism to push the largest grandfathered polluters into permitted status but that retains for the time being the grandfather loophole for other polluters. The conference report is expected to be adopted by the House and Senate today.

Ken Kramer, state director for Sierra Club, said that the compromise on S.B. 766 produced by the conference committee is disappointing in that it does not end the grandfather loophole once and for all.  "The Governor's intense opposition to mandating closing the loophole made it impossible to achieve that goal in the conference committee," said Kramer.

 "On the other hand," Kramer said, "The Texas Legislature this session adopted provisions in a separate bill, the electric industry restructuring bill (S.B. 7), that will close the loophole for electric power plants, which account for over a third of grandfathered air emissions.  Through S.B. 766, fees imposed by the state on the largest non-utility grandfathered sources are being structured to push those air polluting plants into the permitting system.  The Legislature has begun to use the 'polluter pay' principle to promote pollution prevention.  How much in the way of reductions will be achieved by these new laws will depend upon specific control technology required of grandfathered sources in implementing the laws."

"The progress that was made this session on grandfathered emissions is due largely to the public and editorial pressure brought to bear on the Legislature to end the grandfathering and to the leadership exercised by several House members to make sure that Texas was not left only with the Governor's voluntary approach to grandfathered air polluters," said Kramer. "Reps. Glen Maxey, Zeb Zbranek, Ruth McClendon, Robert Puente, and numerous others led the effort on S.B. 766 on the House floor.  Rep. Steve Wolens and other members of the House State Affairs Committee successfully pushed the electric power plant provisions of S.B. 7.  Speaker Pete Laney appointed a fair set of House conferees on S.B. 766.  Rep. Pete Gallego, as one of those conferees, helped to mediate a compromise on S.B. 766."

"The Texas House moved the ball forward on closing the grandfather loophole for air polluters," said Kramer.  "Unfortunately, the Governor's interference prevented the proponents of closing the loophole from reaching the final goal this session."

"The responsibility for the failure of the Texas Legislature to pass legislation closing the grandfather loophole and achieving necessary clean air benefits for Texas rests with George W. Bush," said Kramer.
"The Governor apparently decided that his commitment to polluters was more important than his responsibility to do what was in the public interest: end once and for all a three-decade old exemption for polluters."

"That exemption," continued Kramer, "has complicated  efforts of Texas cities to achieve compliance with national air quality standards for the protection of human health and avoidance of federal sanctions. The Governor chose to placate his polluter friends and contributors rather than move more aggressively against grandfathered polluters.  As a result, small businesses and average citizens in Texas cities and suburbs are going to have to do more than their fair share to cut air pollution in an effort to protect children's health and avoid loss of federal funds due to nonattainment with clean air standards."

"We have developed momentum for closing the loophole for the rest of the grandfathered polluters," concluded Kramer, "and we will work to assure that closing the loophole is an issue in next year's state legislative elections.  We will push closing the loophole as part of the sunset review for TNRCC over the next two years.  We'll be back in the next legislative session to close the loophole completely, effective September 1, 2001."