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March 7, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Houston Air Quality Issues Discussed at Natural Resource Hearing

HOUSTON - The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a public meeting March 7, 2000, at the Houston City Hall Annex. The committee heard a variety of invited and public testimony regarding Texas environmental matters. In the afternoon session, the committee convened a joint meeting with the House Environmental Regulation Committee to address the Federal Clean Air Act. Air quality, as measured during 1999, in the Houston-Galveston area was reported as the worst in the United States, surpassing the Los Angeles basin area.

Senate committee members include Senators J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, chair, Ken Armbrister of Victoria, vice-chair, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant.

During the morning session, the committee addressed the challenges of the nation's growing natural gas demand. Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza introduced Rebecca Roberts of the National Petroleum Council Committee on Natural Gas, Texaco, Inc. Roberts told the committee that future supplies of natural gas will become harder to obtain through standard extraction practices. She predicted that in the future industries will want Texas' natural gas supply even more within the national and world market for natural gas supplies. Roberts stressed to the committee that Texas needs to be prepared for this demand. New natural gas drilling rigs and increases in the work force within the field of natural gas extraction will be needed to meet the future demand.

Water recycling technology development was the next topic of interest, Donald Henninger, Ph.D., NASA, Johnson Space Center, testified. He discussed how NASA is currently using space technology in the border region of Texas. NASA has used water recycling technology near the Mexican border to create potable water for local residents. Henninger anticipates significant advancements for the water recycling program, through its border region work.

Gary Oradat, representing the City of Houston, discussed the state of the Houston's area water resources. Alan Rendl, from the Harris County Regional Water Authority, gave an overview of the operating standards and budget for the Harris County Regional Water Authority.

Ned Holes of the Port of Houston Authority, addressed port expansion and growth within areas of Houston. Fred Wichlep, Port of Galveston, continued the port expansion discussion. Wichlep told the committee about the creation of a new port near Houston, Pelican West. Pelican West will be used for distributing supplies to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with serving as a distribution center, the new port will also hold cruise ships.

Public testimony then followed focusing on the state's groundwater resources, missions and roles of Texas river authorities, low-level radioactive waste issues, opportunities of House Bill 2, Senate Bill 766, and environmental portions of Senate Bill 7. After public testimony concluded, the committee recessed, subject to call of the chair.

The Senate Committee on Natural Resources then convened with the House Environmental Regulation Committee to discuss the changes Texas faces in meeting federal air quality standards under the Federal Clean Air Act.

Houston Mayor Lee Brown began testimony by overviewing air quality issues in Houston. Brown stated that the Houston and Galveston areas air problems are a "regional issue, not a city issue." He stated that it is imperative that Houston industries continue to operate in non-attainment areas. Yet, Lee says he does not want to fight Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Jeff Saitas, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's Executive Director, discussed the complexities of the Texas air quality issue. Saitas told the committees that he relates most of the pollution problems facing Texas to ozone. Organic emissions, like Nitrogen Oxide mixing with organic compounds such as air, are a major source of ozone pollution. By reducing these emission levels in the air, which are produced by burning fossil fuels, quality standards will improve. To better the air quality in Texas, Saitas suggested the electrification of certain maintenance vehicles at airports, creating better building codes, and using cleaner diesel fuels.

Members of the Greater Houston Partnership Panel testified. Chair James Royer, George Beatty of the Chamber Division, Charles Duncan of the Business Coalition for Clean Air and Kelly Frells of the Environment Advisory Committee all spoke extensively about the difficulties in maintaining proper air quality standards within large business sectors.

Kelly Mowrey, President of Gull Industries, provided a small business perspective on clean air regulations in Texas. Mowrey told the committees that current clean air standards hinder his metal finishing company more than it helps. Recently the cost for his company to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations was higher than his profit margin. Mowrey believes those clean air regulations imposed on his business are too strict for its size and operating standards.

Ed Feith, Environmental Department Manager for Reliant Energy, gave an electric industry perspective on clean air standards in Texas to the committees.

Following extensive public testimony, the joint meeting recessed subject to call of the chairs.

Click here to listen to part one of the hearing in RealAudio format.
Click here to listen to part two of the hearing in RealAudio format.

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