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Rather than legislating by principal and vision, the influences on Bush are special interests, short-term voter response, and accident.

Page Two
"The governor wasn't in favor of bad air," [state Senator Warren] Chisum said, "But he was wrong. When you're wrong, you're wrong."

The Tejas story is the stuff of recent Texas political legend. I knew the outlines, but it wasn't until I read Louis Dubose's piece in this issue ("Ozone of His Own," p. 26) that I comprehended the whole story. In response to the federal 1990 Clean Air Act, signed into law by President Bush, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), on behalf of the state, signed a contract with Tejas to provide automotive emission testing. Four regions in the state had air so bad that testing was required, and Tejas began building facilities. In a 1995 charge led by that troublemaking senator John Whitmire and Peggy Hamric in the House, the contract was voided by the Legislature. There were no conceivable legal or legislative grounds for voiding the contract. Tejas sued and ended up with a settlement of $160 million from the state. The bulk of this money was taken out of the state's environmental fund. Let's look at the Polaroid here: On a capricious whim, the state Legislature voids a contract that costs the state a small fortune, most of which comes from money budgeted to protect the environment. Four years later, every major urban area in the state -- except El Paso -- has reported increased ozone pollution.

There were strong interests in favor of not voiding the contract, including rural interests, Tejas' employed lobbyists, and any legislators who understood the law. Yet it was killed. Gov. George W. Bush's fingerprints are all over this one. There is perhaps no smoking gun, but Dubose's piece makes clear not only Bush's involvement but also how important that involvement is. It also makes clear who killing the bill favored: shortsighted, angry motorists who didn't want to waste time and money testing and maybe fixing their cars; states' rights, anti-federal-government fanatics; and the major oil interests. The pollution problem still has to be solved, and the state is out $160 million.

If you want an idea of how Bush will govern as president, this story is ideal. Read Warren Chisum's quote that starts this column and ends Dubose's story. Can you think of a more chilling description of a politician's mandate? Rather than legislating by principal and vision, the influences on Bush are special interests, short-term voter response, and accident.

WATER. Hopefully it will rain tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and this will seem dumb, but we've got to talk of water. All along, environmentalists have taken the position that the strongest arguments against overdevelopment were natural. Just how big a Central Texas population can our water resources support? This isn't an ideological question; it is essentially a scientific inquiry. I'm concerned that over the next couple of decades we're going to find the answer.

TRAFFIC. I enjoy Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy's crusades. Sometimes I don't agree with him, and at other times have felt a deep gratitude (his tireless support of EMS has personally been a factor in my life). His latest cause, to which both the TV stations and the Statesman have responded, is downtown traffic. The incredible street closures and lack of any kind of cohesive or even neighborhood-wide planning for construction downtown is taking its toll on weary motorists. The problem here is man-made -- bad city planning. Downtown traffic is a nightmare. What makes Austin special is its character and intimacy. To tear down Austin and build Houston on the spot is not Smart Growth. The TV news featured a city official explaining that rather than causing delays by closing one or two lanes, they decided to close whole blocks. This is convenient for builders but not at all for citizens.

It is time for some deep breathing and rethinking of the situation. The downtown traffic situation stinks. Let's hope Levy has really stirred the hornets' nest on this one. Rather than wasting energy explaining or defending this ridiculous situation, let's figure out what can be done to improve it.

I'm standing outside of Serrano's during the hot sauce festival talking to American Way columnist Jim Shahin, Houston Press Food editor and hot sauce contest guru Robb Walsh and his brother Dave (all whom have written for the Chronicle). We're bitching about traffic and weather. We laugh and then get a little sad. Ten years ago, these wouldn't have been topics of our discussion. end story

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