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April 20, 2000     (512) 463-0300

NATURAL RESOURCES HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING IN DALLAS

The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee held a meeting in Dallas today, Thursday, April 20, 2000. Following that, the committee held a joint hearing with the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

Natural Resources Committee members include: Chairman J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, Vice Chairman Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant. Also attending today's meeting was Senator David Sibley of Waco and Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano.

Today's Natural Resources Committee hearing centered on the implementation of Senate Bill 1 (regarding the statewide water planning), the condition of Dallas area water resources and Texas groundwater resources.

Carolyn Britton of the Texas Water Development Board led off the invited testimony. She described the progress of planning for future water needs across the state. She said that each region of Texas has its own unique needs which can be best met by local plans. Dallas area water regions are currently evaluating not only water needs but also the availability and quality of underground water supplies. Ron Pedde from the Texas Natural Resources Commission (TNRCC) told the senators that his agency has formed a "swat team" to better coordinate drought relief activities. David Chenowitz, also of TNRCC, reported that no public water systems are currently in an emergency situation. However, public water systems in Texas are not required by law to report water supply problems to the state and Chenowitz said legislation to that effect would be helpful.

Several other TNRCC representatives followed, reporting on local problems with smaller water systems in the Dallas area, as well as updating the senators on the progress being made on cleaning up a large gasoline spill in an area lake.

Bill Riley from the Brazos Valley Groundwater Conservation District was next. He told the senators that both the Brazos Valley and Lost Pines districts, recently created by the Legislature, are up and running. Both districts have been set up to effectively manage groundwater resources in their respective areas. John Burke, from the Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District, confirmed that the two districts are working together to create a joint management district, so that their management of groundwater will be more effective.

Terrace Stewart from the Dallas Water Utilities then reported that his region is also working well with others to determine which surface sites are desirable for future development as reservoirs and is keeping the public informed during the planning process. Public testimony followed.

Then the joint meeting with the House Committee on Environmental Regulation began, this afternoon session centered on air quality issues.

Robert Huston, Chairman of TNRCC began the session describing his agency's recent actions adopting new air quality standards for the Dallas/Fort Worth and Beaumont/Port Arthur areas. He said it will take 'draconian' measures to help clean up the air in Houston, but that those measures are coming. He also mentioned that in some counties highway speed limits might be reduced by five miles per hour to help with auto emissions and that Texas could still adopt auto emission standards similar to those used in California.

Next, Robert Holycross, an engineer from Ford Motor Company, testified that the auto industry is willing and able to work with TNRCC on vehicle emissions and that many of the lower emissions found in California vehicles will be seen in cars sold in the other 49 states, since, as far as is possible, the manufacturers want to build only a single version of each car part for the entire country.

Dan Petty, Chairman and CEO of the North Texas Commission, reminded the committees that non-attainment areas (where air does not meet federal standards) are not just a few isolated large cities, but rather cover the majority of the state's current population and most of the future growth areas.

Howard Gilberg, from the North Texas Clean Air Coalition, said "what we are looking toward the Legislature for is the functional equivalent of the 'Don't Mess with Texas' program", in other words, don't litter the air. He says that educating the public about the importance individual action in keeping the air clean is very important.

Tim Keleher, Chair of the Texas Clean Air Working Group, said that the recently adopted TNRCC policies are a good start and that local leaders are "committed to solving this complex issue". He says that communities with air quality problems are now working together to find solutions.

Collin County Judge Ron Harris, chair of the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee, asked the committee to remember that we are indeed facing air quality problems not just in urban areas, but all across the state.

Both committees were to recess subject to call of the chair, with future meetings at a time and place to be announced.

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