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Capitol Comment

    Capitol Comment 258 - Truth about Texas' Environmental Progress Lost in Election Politics

    11/02/1999

    TACC Attack. On October 19, a coalition of 44 of groups launched a coordinated media attack on Gov. George Bush’s environmental record. Dubbing themselves the "Texas Air Crisis Campaign," the group issued a 12-page report that purported to show a dramatic worsening of air quality during Bush’s tenure as governor. The report was quickly picked up by media outlets, which dutifully repeated TACC’s message.

    TACC Attack. On October 19, a coalition of 44 of groups launched a coordinated media attack on Gov. George Bush’s environmental record. Dubbing themselves the "Texas Air Crisis Campaign," the group issued a 12-page report that purported to show a dramatic worsening of air quality during Bush’s tenure as governor. The report was quickly picked up by media outlets, which dutifully repeated TACC’s message. Vice President Al Gore was also quick to take up the attack, claiming that Texas is "number one in America for carcinogens in the air, number one in America for toxic releases into the air, into the water, and into the soil."1

    But are these claims really accurate? When one actually looks at the data underlying the two attacks, it becomes readily apparent that the environment has improved since Gov. Bush took office, quite the opposite of TACC’s and the vice president’s assertions.

    Undermined by their own data. In the summary of their report, TACC states flatly that: "Air Quality in Texas has gotten worse since the beginning of 1995."2 A bold statement, but one which is thoroughly refuted by TACC’s own data.

    TACC claims that the number of days per year that all Texas cities violated the one-hour ozone standard has risen since Bush became governor. Yet the data they use to support this assertion shows the exact opposite, 94 days in 1995 vs. 63 days in 1999 — a decrease of 33 percent.3 TACC also claims the number of days that Texas non-attainment areas violated the one-hour standard is increasing. Again, their own data tells a different story. In fact, this figure has fallen by one-third, from 88 days in 1995 to 59 days in 1999.4

    TACC goes on to allege that the number of days when ozone levels are greater than the 1-hour standard is either increasing or has remained the same in Dallas/Ft. Worth, Longview, Houston, and Beaumont/Port Arthur. However, TACC’s data show a decrease of 33 percent in Dallas/Ft. Worth (15 days in 1995 vs. 10 days in 1999), a 25 percent decrease in Longview (4 days in 1995 vs. 3 days in 1999), a 26 percent decrease in Houston (61 days in 1995 vs.45 days in 1999), and a 62 percent drop in Beaumont/Pt. Arthur (8 days in 1995 vs. 3 days in 1999).5 Such inconsistencies appear throughout the report.

    The ozone capital? The most attention-grabbing statistic in the TACC report shows that ozone levels in Houston exceeded federal standards on more days than in Los Angeles. True, by a couple of days, but it is well acknowledged that this was due to weather patterns, and researchers suggest that Los Angeles and Houston are likely to swap places in the future.6

    A toxic dose of hot air. Much like the TACC report, Vice President Gore’s attack is also refuted by a cursory examination of the facts. The vice president relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 1997 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data (the most recent available) to claim that Texas leads the nation in toxic releases. In absolute terms, he is correct. However, when one looks at total releases on a per-person basis, Texas falls from first to 16th, with 13.2 pounds per person.7 This puts it in better shape than states such as Louisiana (42.5 pounds), Alabama (21.7 pounds), and Indiana (20.7 pounds). Even Tennessee fares worse than Texas, with 19.6 pounds.

    Looking at the numbers on a per-square-mile basis, Texas does even better. Far from leading the nation, Texas ranks 23rd with 979.1 pounds per square mile.8 This places it well behind such states as Indiana (3,364.8 pounds), New Jersey (2,527.9 pounds), and Arkansas (1,122.9 pounds). Again, Texas also ranks behind Tennessee (2,536 pounds).

    Absolute improvement. Even if one looks at the numbers in absolute terms, the vice president’s attack ignores a very significant point — the environment in Texas has improved dramatically since Bush became governor.

    Total on-and off-site toxic releases between 1995 and 1997 have fallen by 14 percent, from 304,333,619 pounds to 261,709,979 pounds.9 Non-point, emissions have improved by 20 percent, falling from 55,628,208 pounds to 44,192,427 pounds.10 Point emissions have dropped by over 19 percent, going from 79,533,890 pounds to 64,174,248 pounds (in 1997 Tennessee actually had more point emissions than Texas, 67,106,877 pounds).11 Surface water discharges have gone down by 9 percent, from 22,904,915 pounds to 20,788,710 pounds.12 And releases to underground injection wells have fallen by more than 24 percent, from 118,847,176 pounds to 89,929,406 pounds.13 Only in releases to land has Texas failed to improve, going from 12,791,3998 pounds to 21,263,351 pounds.14

    Fixing a "mess." Texas still faces environmental challenges, and several municipalities are under EPA orders to improve air quality. Still, the environment in Texas has improved dramatically since 1995, quite an achievement since even the Sierra Club acknowledges that Gov. Bush inherited a "mess" from former governor Ann Richards.15 The environmental "crisis" in Texas seems to be an entirely political creation.

    1U.S. News & World Report, 10/25/99.

    2"Texas Air Quality Trends Report," Texas Air Crisis Campaign, 10/19/99.

    3Ibid.

    4Ibid.

    5Ibid.

    6Associated Press, 10/27/99.

    7TRI On-site and Off-site Releases, 1995 and 1997 Toxic Release Inventory, State Fact Sheets, U.S. EPA; Population data taken from 1998 estimates in The Almanac of American Politics 2000, National Journal, 1999.

    8Ibid., Square mile data taken from Statistical Abstract of the United States 1995, U.S. Department of Commerce, 9/95.

    9TRI On-site and Off-site Releases, 1995 and 1997 Toxic Release Inventory, State Fact Sheets, U.S. EPA.

    10Ibid.

    11Ibid.

    12Ibid.

    13Ibid.

    14Ibid.

    15"The Polluters’ President," Sierra, Nov./Dec. 1999.