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March 21, 2000     (512) 463-0300
Photo: Committee Chairs J.E. Buster Brown and Florence Shapiro listen to testimony
Committee Chairs J.E. "Buster" Brown and Florence Shapiro listen to testimony in today's hearing.

Senate Committee on State Affairs and the Senate Natural Resources Committee Hold Joint Hearing

AUSTIN--The Senate Committee on State Affairs and the Senate Committee on Natural Resources held a joint hearing Tuesday, March 21, 2000 to discuss the following Natural Resources Committee charge: Study the challenges Texas faces in meeting federal air quality standards under the Clean Air Act, and the implications of non-attainment on future economic growth. The committee shall assess the impact that federal vehicle, fuel, engine, aircraft and other standards have on the state's ability to meet the Clean Air Act requirements. The committee shall also study the connection between air quality and such related issues as transportation conformity and funding.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs includes Senators Florence Shapiro of Plano, chair, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, vice-chair, David Bernsen of Beaumont, J. E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, David Cain of Dallas, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, Drew Nixon of Carthage, and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio.

Natural Resources 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 Mt. Pleasant.

First to testify was Jeff Saitas, Executive Director for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Saitas discussed air quality issues that currently face Texas and its cities, current Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and air quality testing in the Dallas and Houston areas.

Charles Heald, Executive Director, and Ken Bohuslav, Deputy Division Director, Environmental Affairs, both of the Texas Department of Transportation then testified. They told the committees about current road projects that are being delayed in non-attainment areas, due to air regulation problems. Construction on the Katy Freeway, outside of Houston, has seen delays due to air quality concerns.

Dan Reagan, of the Federal Highway Administration, told the committees that at the current rate of non-attainment Austin, Dallas, Houston, Longview, and their respective metropolitan areas could expect to become non-attainment areas in 2000. As far as road construction is concerned, there has been no loss of attainment funds, but investments have been delayed in relation to construction and air quality standards.

After Reagan's testimony, group testimony was heard from various metropolitan planning organizations. Alan Clark, Houston/Galveston Area Council; Janet Kennison, San Antonio/Bexar County; Mike Aulick, Capital Area; Michael Morris, North Central Texas Council of Governments; Alan Weverstad, General Motors; representatives of the Texas Waterway Operators Association; and Steve Roop, Director, Rail Research Center of the Texas Transportation Institute were all present.

After invited testimony, public testimony followed. A representative of electrical companies from the Metroplex area told the members that the clean air standards are too strict, and that these companies would have to black out entire zones to be able to comply with these guidelines.

A representative of citizens and environmental groups like Sierra Club among others, contradicted the previous witness, stating that the standards are not so hard to attain that they would produce black outs. And that the 100 to 150 days these companies operate are the days with the highest pollution in the Metroplex area. He suggested following the programs and regulations established in California cities like Los Angeles, which has seen pollution levels diminish in the last years.

A lawyer representing car companies and dealers said that not all cars are polluters and should not be treated in the same manner. He suggested to waive those non-polluting cars newer than 6 years, but to subject the rest to tests in order to fix them or get them out of the roads. Senator Barrientos responded with a concern for low income families, the ones who would suffer the most with this proposal.

After invited testimony concluded the Senate Committee on State Affairs and the Senate Natural Resources Committee joint hearing recessed subject to call of the chairs.

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