House Passes Provisions to Require Pollution Cleanup and Close the Grandfather Loophole, Governor and SB 766 Sponsors to fight the Measures in Conference Committee
Most grandfathered industrial plants are not going for a voluntary program promoted by Governor George W. Bush and industry, despite the intense public pressure and efforts by Governor Bush to find volunteers, according to TNRCC data analyzed by the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. According to the data, just 12.5% of the 828 plants with grandfathered emissions have pledged to participate in the Governors program, which started November of 1997. The participation rate in areas that fail or are expected to soon national safe air standards is slightly higher, with 18% of the grandfathered plants in such areas agreeing to reduce pollution under the voluntary guidelines.
Grandfathered plants have been exempted from the states permitting process since it was established in 1971. These plants emit at higher rates and often higher volumes than their modern counterparts and have never been evaluated for their effect on surrounding neighborhoods.
The Texas House just amended the Governors weak voluntary pollution plan with provisions that will close the loophole and rid Texas of this dirty problem, but voluntary plan backers and the Governor have pledged to strip out these clean air amendments in conference committee, said Peter Altman, director of the SEED Coalition. The Governor has an opportunity to do the right thing for Texans but he seems determined to throw it away by backing a program that has only persuaded 12% of the plants to join.
SEED found that the voluntary program has failed most in areas of Texas with the worst
air pollution problems. Fewer than twenty percent of grandfathered plants in areas
that fail national safe air standards or are expected to fail them have volunteered to
reduce emissions. Many grandfathered plants are near schools and neighborhoods and are
refusing to reduce emissions. Governor Bush doesnt seem to have much compassion for
the people who are stuck near these plants. If Bush succeeds in pushing a voluntary
program most counties with this air pollution problem wont see any relief from bad
The Texas House of Representatives passed SB 766 late Tuesday night with several amendments supported by environmental and consumer groups. The bill, known as the Governors Voluntary bill on Grandfathering, already passed the Senate in April as a purely voluntary program designed to encourage companies to reduce grandfathered emission. The House transformed SB 766 to require clean up instead of just encouraging it by adding amendments that close the grandfather air pollution loophole by 2003 and require strict pollution controls, as well as other clean air measures.
Representative Ray Allen accepted the amendments because they had widespread support and Allen did not want to risk an extended debate with deadline for passing bills fast approaching. The bill will go to a conference committee to reconcile the House version with the Senate, which was passed without any language that required pollution reductions. . However, Allen and Governor Bushs aide Terral Smith told the press they would try to remove the amendments.
We know that grandfathering is a statewide concern because the 828 exempted older industry sites are located in 163 counties (64% of Texas counties), but its the most serious for public health in the smog-riddled eastern airshed (I-35 corridor on east) with over 500 grandfathered plants polluting the regional area of 88 Texas Clean Air Strategy counties, stated Dr. Neil Carman, clean air director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. We can not clean up the rising ozone levels in eastern cities like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Longview without requiring big reductions from grandfathered smoke stacks Carman added.
The amendments that require pollution reductions and otherwise strengthen SB 766
establish a "date certain" for closing the grandfather loophole by 9/1/2001;
require current Best Available Control Technology on plants,
require clean-up within two miles of schools, nursing homes and day care centers;
require environmental mitigation projects to clean up the local airshed;
end the volume discount on fees paid by polluters.
The conference committee is expected to be appointed by Thursday, May 27, 1999. They will have until Saturday to work out the differences in the bills and distribute the reports. Both houses would have to vote on the committees version no later than Sunday at midnight.
Proponents of a voluntary program argue that the program has not really begun and it is too early to judge. The voluntary program has been open since November of 1997 and the Bush people have been struggling to get polluters to join, but it just isnt working. Most grandfathered plants arent cleaning up by themselves and even if those who promise to clean up make good it will only reduce grandfathered pollution by 11%, compared to a 50% reduction which would result from simply closing the loophole, said Altman. Twelve and a half participation rate shows a program that has failed to work after a year and a half and a lot of nice asking by the Governor.
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