Naked City

Off the Desk

While the state's nuclear lobby works to license a radioactive waste dump in West Texas, an Austin public interest group is working to expose the money behind the nuclear lobby. At the top of the nuclear dumpster list published in Texans for Public Justice's Lobby Watch (www.tpj.org) is Harold Simmons, the corporate raider who in 1995 purchased Waste Control Specialists. Until recently, Waste Control's attempt to license a private low-level waste dump in Andrews was blocked by Envirocare, the company whose Sierra Blanca nuclear dump permit was rejected by the TNRCC three years ago. It appears that in order to settle a suit filed by WCS, Envirocare has agreed to leave Texas. That makes Waste Control the state's only nuclear dumpster, and as reported previously in this space, Sen. Bob Duncan, R-Lubbock, and Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, are sponsoring legislation that will give Waste Control its Andrews County dump.

Simmons has been buying political influence with the same zeal he brings to hostile corporate takeovers. The Dallas Republican gave a total of $90,000 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial campaigns. More recently, the $209,000 Simmons contributed to Gov. Rick Perry makes Waste Control's nuclear waste bill veto-proof. Other beneficiaries of Simmons' largesse include Attorney General John Cornyn, $41,250; Speaker of the House Pete Laney, $20,000; Supreme Court Justice Greg Abbott, $16,000; Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, $16,000; Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, $16,000; Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, $13,050; Sen. Todd Staples, $12,500; Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch, $10,000; and Sen. Buster Brown (who chairs the Senate committee that will hear the nuclear waste bills), $10,000. To complement the contributions, Waste Control and its parent company Valhi paid 16 lobbyists as much as $640,000, according to Lobby Watch's analysis of Texas Ethics Commission financial filings through the end of 2000…

On Monday the city's environmental activists gathered at Scholz Garden to watch Trade Secrets, a Bill Moyers PBS special on the depredations of the petrochemical industry. The same subject is explored in a documentary that examines 100 miles of the Mississippi River that is home to more than 150 petrochemical plants. Directed by Laura Dunn and recently shown at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Green looks at the stretch of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which often reports the nation's highest concentration of toxic emissions into air, land, and water. The film's "painful realities are mirrored in Texas," Dunn said. "Louisiana and Texas seesaw back and forth as the most polluted states in the nation. Even more, Texas is the national leader in the number of environmental civil rights complaints filed against the EPA."

Green will show again this Saturday, March 31, at 7pm at the Center for Mexican American Cultural Arts (600 River), followed by a panel discussion bringing together environmental leaders from across the state. Joining Dunn will be Austin Rep. Glen Maxey; Sierra Club Air Program Director Neil Carman; Enrique Valdiva, a lawyer with San Antonio's Esperanza Environmental Justice Coalition; Dr. Sylvia Herrera, health coordinator for Austin's PODER; Gene Collins of the Odessa NAACP; Rev. Roy Malveaux, of Beaumont's People Against Contaminated Environments; and Phyllis Glazer, of Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins, in Winona. For more info, contact Laura Dunn at Two Birds Film (476-0807, ldunn@twobirdsfilm.com), or Tracy Arámbula at the Sierra Club (477-1729, tarambula@earthlink.net).

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