February 8, 2007
Yeah, the Governor gave a big speech. Yeah, yeah, we also had snakes in the Capitol. (No, I’m not making a disparaging comment about my colleagues. I mean somebody brought real, live rattlesnakes to the Capitol and let them roll around on the floor. Nobody even called homeland security. Unbelievable.)Yeah , yeah, yeah, there has been some serious questioning about separation of powers because of the issuance of an executive order during a legislative session (this is what we talk about after football season ends). And, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, there may be a vote sometime next week on whether the State should bust the Constitutional spending cap.Sure, that’s exciting. That’s okay news. But come on. Lacrosse season at Austin High School started this week. Avid readers of the Watson Wire know that Preston Watson is a defenseman on the team. He’s a Junior. He’s coming off a shoulder surgery and was only released for full contact play in January.Anyway, the first game is behind us. Austin High won. We play Southlake Carroll on Saturday. That’s a really great team. Their football team beat Westlake, which I’m proud to say is in my Senate district, in the state championship game this year. We’re all holding our breath.Speaking of holding your breath, I introduced legislation this week so that Texas kids riding on school buses don’t have to hold theirs.I’m real passionate about this issue, and air quality in general. I sort of got my start in public service in 1991, when Governor Ann Richards called on me to chair the Texas Air Control Board. Only those who understand how goofy I am can imagine that such a thing was exciting. My new job touches on a lot more issues than that first job. But I can still do some air quality work. So, yesterday, I filed a bill to clean up the school buses in Texas. This is a real problem – and a scary one, when you think about who’s on those buses every day.Riding to and from school, kids are exposed to nearly 40 toxic substances that migrate from the bus engines through the cabins and into the air outside. These toxics contribute to a long list of health problems, and children – especially those with asthma or other maladies – are particularly sensitive to them. Aging buses that started out dirty will only pollute more as they get older, and cash-strapped school districts can do little about it besides watch the problem get worse.My bill, SB 529, would provide money to repair and replace polluting buses using two funds the state created to improve air quality in metropolitan areas. I’m very happy to report that, whatever else we might disagree on, Republicans and Democrats can all get behind breathing – several senators from both parties signed onto the bill.I wish every clean air issue was this friendly.
Unfortunately, there’s another issue threatening industries and regions that are scrambling to improve air quality, as well as Texans who are trying to protect their health and their kids’ health. And the divisive politics around this issue have pretty much drowned out common sense.I’m talking about the 17 proposed coal plants that the state is now rushing through the permitting process. These plants hadn’t even been imagined a year or two ago. In fact, it’s been about two decades since one has been built in Texas. But now, if you listen to the plants’ supporters, we’re pretty much headed back to the dark ages if we don’t just go along with them, never mind the negative implications of what they might do.The thing is, I’m not anti-coal. We’re a growing state. We need power. We’ve got a bounty of coal under the ground. And you can count on one hand, maybe two, the places in the world that have big oil reserves and aren’t exploding. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to see the future. But these coal plants aren’t about the future. They’re about the past. And the coming power crunch that is used as an excuse for these plants won’t be fixed by them.When compared with the other 50 states, Texas doesn’t often come in first place, but it does for its emissions of carbon dioxide. It has even earned a prominent spot on the global warming radar. If Texas were a country, it would rank seventh in the world for its emissions of carbon dioxide. The coal plants will only add – a lot – to these emissions.The rest of the world is brimming with excitement about clean energy and new technologies, and even President Bush is talking openly about climate change and the need to do things differently.In the face of all that, a few companies are demanding to build a fleet of coal-burning plants that shun technological advances – and the regular permitting process (the state has “expedited,” or “fast-tracked,” the plants’ permit applications). Anyone who asks questions gets a strong dose of fear about rolling blackouts and what not.
The biggest of these companies is TXU, which wants to build 11 of the coal plants. It promises to “voluntarily” reduce emissions. But when questioned, it admits that the “voluntary” reductions are really just cuts already required by the federal government. I guess you could say they are voluntarily doing what they are mandated to do – kind of like my kids voluntarily going to school. TXU’s effort is so audacious that other companies, even energy corporations, are starting to protest. Why wouldn’t they? If TXU gets its permits, it will construct phenomenally profitable plants and leave every other company to make up for the damage they cause.I believe Texas should reserve fast-tracking for the companies that are building the energy infrastructure we want. Let’s reward clean energy and new technologies. And let’s start building the projects that will get us the energy and the controls we must have. It’s time for Texas to figure out the amount of energy we need and the types of energy we want. This means Texas needs an energy policy. Once we have a policy, we need to develop the tools that will help us meet it. And we need to make sure that our decisions will serve future generations at least as well as they’ll serve us. That isn’t just good policy – it’s public service. Everything else is just politics and money. In the meantime, go Maroons. Beat Southlake Carroll.