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February 23, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee Holds Public Hearing in El Paso

EL PASO - The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing at the El Paso City Council Chambers on Wednesday. The Committee consists of Chair J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, Vice Chair Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Senators Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso also joined the committee.

After being welcomed to El Paso by Mayor Pro Tem Presi Ortega, the committee heard testimony about the area's water supplies. Ed Archuleta, of the El Paso Public Service Board, told the committee that El Paso uses both surface and ground water, and is the only city in the region to do so. Ed Fefer, representing the El Paso County Water Improvement District #1 and the Texas Irrigation Council, described his district's efforts to conserve the region's scarce water supplies.

Local underground water conservation district directors then testified. They spoke on the region's groundwater resources. They testified that their districts were the best way to protect and properly manage those supplies, but that to conserve, preserve and protect the aquifers, there must be increased cooperation between the local districts. The directors included Cindy Cawley of the Plateau Underground Water Conservation and Supply District and Sutton County Underground Water Conservation District, Janet Adams of the Jeff Davis County UWCD, Katy Hoskins of the Culberson County Groundwater Conservation District and Kerr Mitchell of the Presidio County UWCD. There was no public testimony regarding this issue.

The El Paso area also faces challenges in air quality. Local officials testified that El Paso's air quality could not be improved upon without the cooperation from the two countries and from the three states involved: Texas, New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Tom Martin of the Joint Advisory Committee on Paso del Norte Air Quality Improvement said you get more "bang for your buck" in joint air quality programs with Juarez across the river from El Paso. He reported that the only way to reduce the dust in the air of El Paso is to pave streets in Juarez.

Jesus Reynosa of the El Paso City County Health Air Quality Program, Dr. Laurance Nickey of the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission and Carlos Samaron of the City of Juarez described other Juarez pollution sources. The burning of tires and other scrap materials for heat is a major source of pollution. They said when pollution sources like this combine with exhaust from old vehicles and natural atmospheric inversions, all cities in the region suffer. Veronica Carbajal of the Clean Cities Coalition recommended increased public transit and the promotion of alternative fuels as possible answers to the problem.

The committee also examined the problem of the disposal of low level nuclear waste in the area. It heard from Leigh Ing of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and Edward Selig of Advocates for Responsible Disposal in Texas. Selig supports the finding of a site in Texas for the storage of low level nuclear waste. Public testimony on this item emphasized getting out of the agreement with Vermont and Maine, which would send waste from those states to Texas.

Luis Ito of El Paso Electric then testified regarding Senate Bill(SB) 7, passed during the 76th Legislature, Regular Session, which concerns the deregulation of electric companies in Texas. He was concerned with the environmental standards in SB 7, which require electric plants to meet certain emission standards.

There was also public testimony on the need to eliminate the severance tax on oil and gas.

The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.

Click here to listen the hearing in RealAudio format.

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