March 8, 2007
Gov. Rick Perry’s latest appointee to the state’s environmental commission, the agency at the center of the storm over new coal-burning power plants, weathered some tough questioning Wednesday before a Senate panel cleared his nomination. H.S. “Buddy” Garcia, a former Perry aide who is currently the deputy Texas secretary of state, won the unanimous approval of the Senate Nominations Committee to fill the vacant third seat on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The committee’s two Democratic members, Sens. Kirk Watson of Austin and Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, questioned Mr. Garcia closely on the performance of the environmental commission, which regulates air and water pollution, hazardous waste and some other matters. Mr. Shapleigh said his constituents have lost faith that the agency is protecting the public. “They believe that the TCEQ is a servant of polluters,” he said. “How are you going to change that perception?”Mr. Watson said Mr. Garcia was joining the commission with a strike against him in public opinion. “I have told you that at least some have looked upon your appointment as a rubber stamp” for controversial permits such as new coal-burning power plants, which have the governor’s backing, Mr. Watson said. Mr. Garcia responded carefully, avoiding specifics but pledging to be accessible and open-minded with the agency’s critics. “I would do what I have to do to protect the natural resources of this state, as required by law,” he said. If the full Senate confirms Mr. Garcia as expected, the three commissioners will be able to vote on a bitterly disputed coal plant that Dallas-based TXU Corp. wants to build in Robertson County. State administrative law judges recommended in August that the commission reject the Oak Grove plant’s permit, but the commission has not voted pending the appointment of a third member. If a proposed buyout of TXU by private equity firms goes through, the company says it will scrap its controversial plan to build eight additional coal units. TXU’s prospective new owners still want to build three new coal units – the two-unit Oak Grove plant and a single new unit in Milam County. Mr. Garcia didn’t comment on any of those pending permits; commissioners are prohibited from doing so by law. He said only that he would apply the law and common sense to decisions. Mr. Watson also got Mr. Garcia to predict that the federal government will soon start regulating carbon dioxide, the chief manmade culprit in global warming, and to agree that state law already allows the environmental commission to do so on its own if it wants to. Mr. Watson read from a section of the Texas Clean Air Act that specifically lists climate-changing contaminants as a type of pollutant the commission can regulate. He asked Mr. Garcia if that sounded like the commission already had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide. “Yes, it sounds like it from here,” Mr. Garcia said.