March 4, 1999
Houston Soft on Grandpa Polluters

Austin — Two top lobbyists for filthy old “grandfathered” polluter plants are shaping the City of Houston’s minimalist response to the problem.

Peak smog levels in the Houston-Galveston area in 1997 surpassed even those of Los Angeles. The Houston area is classified as an ozone non-attainment level, which means if it continues to flunk federal smog standards it could lose $200 million in federal road funds.

Early this year, Houston Mayor Lee Brown, Harris County Judge Robert Echols and the Houston Partnership (Houston’s business cheerleader) unveiled principles to guide their Houston Galveston Area Council’s (HGAC’s) smog reduction plans.

Houston Partnership members include a who’s who of grandfathered polluters. Last year’s interim president of the Partnership’s Chamber of Commerce Division was Steve Reeves, who was “loaned” to the Partnership by No. 8 grandpa polluter Shell Oil.

Baker & Botts lobbyist Larry Feldcamp also sat on the committee that drafted HGAC’s principles. One of Texas’ leading lobbyists for grandfather polluters, so far this year Feldcamp has reported between $370,000 and $995,000 in lobby contracts with 45 clients. Given such credentials, it is no wonder that the Bush Administration appointed  Feldcamp to its federal Clean Air Act Advisory Committee in 1991.

$15 Million Stall Tactic
HGAC has set the stage for an air pollution study (known by the Orwellian misnomer: the “Houston Air Excellence and Leadership” [HAXL] study). A chief architect of the HAXL study is revolving-door lobbyist and ex-Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) Commissioner John Hall.

Hall, who frequently represents polluters with issues before his old agency, is HGAC’s liaison to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A key HAXL goal is to convince the EPA that the Houston area is making sufficient progress to merit a waiver from federal Clean Air Act requirements.

The Hall Lobby
So far this year, Hall has reported a lobby income of $375,000 to $750,000 from eight clients.

Two of these clients are the cities of Houston and Austin. All of Hall’s other contracts are on behalf of big corporate polluter interests, including “grandfathered” polluters that are major contributors to Houston smog.

The Association of Electric Companies of Texas, for example, represents investor-owned utilities, including Texas Utilities, Texas’ No. 1 grandfathered polluter, and No. 11 ranked Houston Industries, (which owns Hall client Entex).

Hall’s oil clients, Mobil and Fina, rank 12th and 24th, respectively, among Texas grandpa polluters (Mobil recently announced a merger with No. 5 grandpa Exxon).

Environmental Backlash
Rick Abraham, director of  Texans United, a grassroots  environmental group, recently denounced HGAC and its HAXL study plan as “an elaborate, expensive stall tactic…a plan to come up with a plan.” “We already know the dirtiest plants and which way the wind blows,” Abraham said of the study, which will cost taxpayers $15 million.

Abraham said Jim Blackburn of Houston law firm Blackburn & Carter has received hundreds of thousands of Houston taxpayer dollars to orchestrate HAXL stall tactics. Blackburn has acknowledged channeling some of the money to Hall for his role in the scheme, but has declined to specify the amount, Abraham said.

Clouded Vision
The 1971 Texas Clean Air Act exempted then-existing industrial plants from the legal obli-gation to use modern pollution-control technologies. The Legislature’s rationalization was that eventually these filthy “grandfathered” plants would be replaced by newer, cleaner facilities.

Almost 30 years later, 1,070 of these filthy plants still dump 984,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (a key smog ingredient) a year into Texas skies—more than twice as much as all the cars in Texas.

“Grandfathered Air Pollution,” a 1998 study by the Sierra Club and the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, found that the Houston-Galveston area is home to 40 percent of the state’s  “grandfathered” industrial sites, which cough out as much nitrogen oxides as 4.2 million cars (81,798 tons per year).

Heads Buried in Smog
Governor Bush, his TNRCC appointees and key Legislative leaders have responded to this public health problem by meekly inviting grandfather polluters to volunteer to meet modern pollution-control standards, even though these polluters have squandered the past 30 years that they have had to do just that.

While Harris County has advocated a crackdown on the region’s grandfather polluters, Hall’s client, the City of Houston, has supported the toothless voluntary response advocated by state officials and the grandpa polluters.

John Hall's 1999 Client List
(as of 2/23/99)
Client Grandpa Polluter Contract Value
Aristech Chemical (parent: Mitshubishi)
$ 50,000 - $100,000
Assoc. of Electric Companies of Texas Grandpa Trade Group $ 50,000 - $100,000
City of Austin
$ 50,000 - $100,000
City of Houston   $ 50,000 - $100,000
Entex (parent: Houston Industries)
$ 50,000 - $100,000
Fina Oil & Chemical
$ 50,000 - $100,000
Mobil Corp.
$ 50,000 - $100,000
Waste Management of Texas   $ 25,000 - $50,000
$375,000 - $750,000
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Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy & research organization
 which tracks the influence of money in politics.

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