Clean Air

Air quality in Texas is deteriorating rapidly. Several major cities are already at, or are close to, non-compliance with EPA standards. Much of the air pollution can be traced to emissions from automobiles. How would you tackle the problem of smog caused by cars?

Houston has now been named the smoggiest city in the country, surpassing Los Angeles. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Beaumont are not far behind. Roads are clogged, due in part to the rapid population increases in these areas. Recent polls show that an overwhelming majority of Texans are concerned about air pollution - 89 percent think it is a serious or very serious problem. There are a variety of approaches being discussed in the state; including tougher emissions standards, emissions testing, using state highway funds for commuter railways, using vouchers to help owners replace older, high-polluting vehicles, reducing speed limits and charging registration fees based on the pollution a vehicle produces. The state needs to start addressing this problem in order to be able to turn the situation around in years to come.

Industrial pollution from manufacturing facilities (such as refineries and cement plants) and power plants is also severely impacting Texas air quality. What would you do to alleviate pollution and restore clean air in the state?

When Texas passed its Clean Air Act in 1971, the law did not require existing manufacturing plants to meet state pollution control requirements. The thinking then was that most if these plants would soon be rebuilt. Nearly 30 years later, most of these plants continue to operate. Efforts to clean up these "grandfathered" plants are voluntary, not mandatory. At power plants, efforts to meet federal requirements to reduce smog will require adding equipment. However, there will likely be additional requirements in the near future concerning pollutants such as haze and soot. If Texas required reductions of haze and soot now, when the plants are upgrading equipment, it would add a small cost to energy bills (less than $1 per month) but be less expensive over the long term.


Clean Water

Access to clean drinking water is a growing concern in Texas with its booming population and continuing problems with drought. Pollution of both ground and surface water sources is a growing danger. What methods would you use to address current and future shortages of clean water?

In Texas, the use of underground water is governed by the "rule of capture" which allows public and private landowners to take all the water they can pump out of an aquifer. The combination of increased demand and typical cycles of extended dry spells is overwhelming the abilities of the aquifers to recharge themselves. As the water level drops, communities dependent on groundwater find that ever-deeper wells are required to maintain the supply. Since the aquifers take hundreds and even thousands of years to fill, Texans may soon find themselves past the point of no return with this critical resource. The need to find ways to conserve is urgent.

Likewise, as supplies of fresh water are ever more in demand, the threat posed by pollution, whether industrial, agricultural or residential, looms ever larger. Pipeline spills, livestock waste, runoff from roads or pesticide-treated fields and lawns all have the potential to affect the safety and quality of the drinking water available to us. Lax enforcement of pollution laws endangers our ability to meet our most basic need - clean water.


Sprawl

Sprawl and uncontrolled growth is consuming large areas of open Texas landscape and impacting air and water quality. The state generally allows its local governments to control land use, usually with zoning laws governing development. What do you think should be the state's role in preventing sprawl, preserving open space, and protecting environmentally sensitive areas?

Texas historically has had a hands-off attitude regarding use of lands within a local jurisdiction. In recent years, however, the state legislature has acted to nullify local statutes it perceived as too restrictive, even when the residents have voted in favor of them. Similarly, the state enacted a law that requires the government to pay private landowners if a regulation aimed at protecting public health or the environment lowers the value of their property. Many feel that the state needs to have a larger role in promoting sustainable development, protecting the environment and preserving natural resources and open space.




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