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Volume 68, Issue 3, Wednesday, August 28, 2002


Industry is killing South Texas

Brandon Moeller
Opinion Columnist

Believe it or not, Texans do care about the air quality that chokes many of them. But will their soon-to-be elected representatives?

According to a new study co-authored by the Texas Office of Public Citizens and the Texas Sustainable Energy and Economic Development
Coalition, 73 percent of 600 Texans polled would be more likely to cast a ballot for a candidate who has a plan to improve air quality.

Unfortunately for a majority of Texan voters, there is not one single major party candidate for statewide office that has produced a plan, according
to Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition. Gubernatorial bidders Tony Sanchez or Rick Perry don't have environmental clean-up plans.

In order to crack down on pollution, politicians and regulators must crack down on industry. Industry is responsible for more than half of the
pollution. But are there any candidates out there with enough integrity and courage to go against the multi-bazillion-dollar petrochemical
industry? Well, there's always the third and fourth and fifth party candidates that do a good job of raising public concern but usually a terrible job
at the polls.

So what will happen to Houston, if the people who are supposed to protect us from pollution fail to do so? I hope Houston doesn't become the
next Port Arthur; a town located near the Texas-Louisiana border.

About 10 years ago, you could have called Port Arthur a thriving petrochemical industrial city. But if you walk its streets these days you will realize
what this industry, when left unregulated, can do to a city and how it can affect the health of its surrounding communities. Enormous rates of
cancer, asthma and other problems related to the respiratory tract are being discovered amongst Port Arthur residents who have decided to stay
there or are forced to because of their economic condition.

For the most part, the city has become a modern-day ghost town, except for industry, which still thrives there.

Of course, we need the products and services that this industry provides. Right now, because of lack of societal foresight and the political
powers that be, our nation is very dependent on big petroleum. In fact, we're slaves to it. We wage war over it. We send our sons, brothers,
daughters and sisters overseas to fight and be killed for it.

But shouldn't we take strides to make sure it doesn't kill us? Of course, a big part of the problem of combating the smog issue is that unless a
plant or facility explodes -- "accidentally" releasing toxins into the air in undesired amounts -- this pollution is for the most part invisible. If you go
to Baytown or Port Arthur or wherever you have a high concentration of facilities, you can smell the pollution, but for most parts of Houston and
Texas it is easily ignored and avoidable.

Texas has agencies set up to regulate the industry. But they receive the data they act upon from the industry. So who's to say the industry is
accurately reporting for how much pollution they are responsible? And why should we believe them, when they have an economic incentive to
not be truthful?

When industry and government fail citizens, it is up to them to try to help themselves. One group near the Texas border has begun to do just that.
They call themselves the Texas Bucket Brigade, and they place scientifically proven pollution detectors (made from buckets) around their homes
in Port Arthur and around other parts of Texas. Whenever there is a particularly smoggy day, they pay close attention to the levels on their
hand-made meters.

Hopefully, someday soon, politicians will care as much as their constituents.

Moeller, a senior communication 
major, can be reached at

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