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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: October 2006

Sunday, October 01, 2006

You are now entering the ozone zone

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You are now entering the ozone zone

Texas is doing all it can to avoid cleaning up cement plants

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Heard about the three power plants proposed just south of Cedar Hill? They're burning coal. Used oil, too. And tires. And toxic waste.

Most are being built with the best technology 1960s dollars could buy. When they open, they'll double the inventory of smokestack pollution in North Texas. They'll be the region's largest single sources of smog, airborne carcinogens and global warming gases.

You hadn't heard? That's because there aren't really three new huge power plants slated for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I was just trying to get your attention.

Because there are already three huge cement plants doing all of that damage and more in Midlothian. They belch out tons of poisons that impact your health more than all of the new TXU power plants combined.

Unfortunately, the blunt political force that Gov. Rick Perry is using to help these cement plants avoid modern pollution controls is a scandal you haven't heard about in Dallas. But you should – because the favoritism Mr. Perry has bestowed on the cement plants is every bit as transparent as his fast-tracking of new power plants.

Winks and nods between regulators and the regulated at Mr. Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have warped that agency into some kind of parallel "Bizarro World" mirror image of itself. The mission of this Bizarro TCEQ seems to be to resist 21st-century pollution control technology and make sure that the cement plants are never forced to clean up.

Controls that can cut cement plant smog pollution 85 percent? Won't even consider them.

Burning tires in cement plants? Here's a million-dollar subsidy from the state.

Report from TCEQ confirming modern controls can be economically installed? Buried.

Report from cement companies concluding same modern controls won't work? Gospel.

Burning toxic waste in 50-year-old cement plants with no modern pollution controls? Approved.

Replacing 50-year-old toxic waste-burning cement plants with ones using modern pollution controls? Strongly disapproved.

Apply less protective air pollution standards to the oldest, dirtiest cement plants? Absolutely.

Apply the latest engineering breakthroughs to reduce the public's exposure to pollution from the oldest, dirtiest cement plants? Not so much.

See? Mr. Perry's TCEQ is doing exactly the opposite of what you'd expect an agency charged with cleaning up the air in Dallas-Fort Worth to do.

Clearly, we must devise a way to send these TCEQ doppelgängers back through whatever multidimensional portal they popped out from and replace them with regulators who want to clean up our air.

Which is why this all leads back to Mr. Perry. I think that portal might be in his Capitol office – or maybe at his campaign headquarters. He's received more than $150,000 in contributions from the cement plants.

The state will propose a new clean air plan for Dallas-Fort Worth by December. We must act now or forever hold our breath. Besides voting for non-Bizarro candidates in November, there are things that you can do now to help make the new clean air plan actually, you know, clean.

First, contact your city, county, state and federal elected leaders to investigate which dimension they're from. Urge them to commit to cracking down on the cement plants. Now would be a good time to get involved with local groups like Downwinders at Risk that are watch-dogging the TCEQ.

It wouldn't hurt to remind local media to pay proportional attention, either. See, it's important we use the clean air plan being written now to bring the cement plants into the modern era. They've gotten a free ride for the last 16 years, and if nothing's done to make them install state-of-the-art controls, it will be a decade before we get another chance.

TCEQ's own studies prove that putting such controls on the cement plants would reduce smog enough to lower ozone levels in large sections of Dallas-Fort Worth – enough to almost comply with the Clean Air Act. That means thousands fewer emergency room visits for asthmatics, fewer heart attacks, fewer strokes, fewer miscarriages, fewer birth defects and fewer cancers.

Of course, you might as well have just stamped "radioactive" on those studies when the Perry-Bizarro TCEQ saw them. "Improve public health? Heads will roll."

Jim Schermbeck is a Texas filmmaker who serves on the board of Downwinders at Risk, based in Dallas-Fort Worth. His e-mail address is schermbeck@aol.com.