While reading something, I was reminded of perhaps the biggest single bit of legislative incompetence by a politician. Bush supported a law cancelling contracts with a private firm that built car inspection centers for it; the agency sued and won big $160 million, which then was paid for out of the state’s environmental budget. Louis Dubose writes a good summary of the sad tale. I remember when it occurred and was absolutely outraged, and rereading, I become even more outraged.
Here’s a Molly Ivins summary:
But perhaps the apogee of environmental folly during the Bush years was the Tejas Testing fiasco. By 1995, Houston, Dallas, El Paso, and other cities were in violation of E.P.A. air-pollution standards and the state was fixing to start the cleanup process by testing automobiles and making everybody ratchet down the pollution their cars cause. Of course, the only reason the state was doing this was so we could get back our highway money from the feds. But a right-wing radio host in Houston went on a jihad about how this was unconscionable government interference in our lives, and we have a right to breathe dirty air, and so on. (This is not an original argument in the Lege. Representative Billy Williamson of Tyler, home to an infamous killer asbestos plant, once said on the floor, “I think we are all willing to have a little bit of crud in our lungs and a full stomach rather than a whole bunch of clean air and nothing to eat. And I don’t want a bunch of environmentalists and Communists telling me what’s good for me and my family.” Billy has since died of lung cancer.) State senator John Whitmire, a peerless political opportunist, seized on this little quasi-populist flapette and made himself the champion of all those who felt heavy burdened by having to get their mufflers fixed. By then the state had not only signed a contract with Tejas Testing Technology, but the company also had sixty-five testing centers set up with all the equipment required to test emissions — just as the state contract required. Cooler heads warned Whitmire and those who joined him in this rebellion against Big Brother that the state would get sued if the contract was broken. But Bush backed Whitmire, and both pooh-poohed the idea we’d have to pay for it. Bush’s support was critical. Tejas Testing went into bankruptcy as soon as the contract was broken and sued for $200 million, finally settling at $140 million. Now here’s the beauty part.
How to pay off this company? By using the funds appropriated to keep the air clean, of course. They took $41 million out of the Clean Air account, $63.6 million out of the Petroleum Storage Tank Remediation Fund, $20 million out of Hazardous Solid Waste Remediation, and $10 mill out of general revenue. The remainder was put off to the next biennium, when they raided Clean Air funds again. Believe it or not, even the Chemical Council, which pays into the Superfund for hazardous-waste site cleanup, was pissed off about it. The state was out more than $140 million, and not a single nickel of it went to make the air cleaner. It was reckless and stupid. You talk about not stopping to think through the consequences of policy. Not only is our air that much dirtier, but now what the state needs is an emissions-testing program. And the air in Houston is so filthy people are rising up to demand one.
Yes, I can respect people with alternate viewpoints about the environment, but this action is just so incompetent there’s no way even anti-regulation advocates could endorse it.