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Emissions plan seen as lacking

by JANET ELLIOTT on 1/19/02.

AUSTIN - Environmental groups were disappointed Friday by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's decision to endorse a program of voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're disappointed they did not go further," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, one of the environmental groups that petitioned the commissioners to inventory greenhouse gases and encourage reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

Smith said the agency should have set "meaningful targets or goals" for emission reductions.

He also criticized TNRCC for failing to set an example for other state agencies by committing to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind power.

The commissioners directed TNRCC Executive Director Jeff Saitas to expand agency pollution prevention incentive programs to include carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and assist industry in identifying voluntary opportunities to reduce emissions. The agency also will encourage alternative energy sources such as methane gas from animal feedlots and municipal landfills and promote increased energy efficiency and conservation.

The commission heard nearly three hours of public testimony. Environmentalists called for Texas to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gases, which are believed to contribute to global warming. Texas is responsible for 10 percent of the greenhouse gases released in the United States annually, and should reduce its emissions, a Jan. 14 report by the TNRCC said.

Representatives of the business community said Texas shouldn't bear the brunt of a problem that is global in nature. Some speakers disputed scientific evidence that the earth's climate is changing.

The International Panel on Climate Change predicts that 94 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from natural causes. Human activities account for only 6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and Texas contributes one-tenth of 1 percent, said Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a
Sound Economy.

"It appears that we could stop use of fossil fuel and still have no impact on climate change," said Venable.

Commission Chairman Robert J. Huston said he disagreed with critics who asked for a tougher stand on global warming.

"There is some strong activity imbedded in these programs. I'm pretty doggone proud of where it measures up on the action list," said Huston.

Commissioner Ralph Marquez said that new state air-quality regulations imposed on the Houston area should "have a side benefit of reducing greenhouse gases."

Robin Schneider, director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, reminded commissioners that the voluntary approach to allowing grandfathered industries to reduce emissions was a failure. Last year the Legislature closed the loophole.

The commission delayed a staff recommendation to develop and maintain a registry for reporting of greenhouse gas emission reductions. Huston said he wanted to make sure that the data isn't duplicative of other efforts, such as a Department of Energy registration.