Years ago, the Que2 was crashing a rally of West Odessa residents living through the oil industry at its worst: complaints of faulty well casings across the West Texas oil patch finally bubbled to the surface a decade ago when water wells just outside the town of tool-pushers started running black with industrial solvents. That was the first time this reporter ever heard undeniably Red State Texans cry out for an EPA intervention. At a public hearing at San Antonio’s Central Library last night, the need for the overthrow of state environmental regulators at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was almost as painfully on display as area residents ran down their litany of perceived agency failures that have spoiled our land, air, and waters. Failures to install pollution-limiting scrubbers on CPS Energy’s older coal plants keeps the particulates and heavy metals roiling, AGE Refinery’s near-catastrophic explosion in San Antonio’s Southside despite questionable regulatory history, lack of attention paid to protecting limited groundwater resources in the expanding Eagle Ford natural-gas fracking play across South Texas, TCEQ’s recent loosening of bacteria standards for state creeks and streams, continuing water pollution problems at LaCoste, hazardous run-off into Cibolo Creek, etc., etc. — the lists ate up most of the two-hour meeting. In theory, statements and related experiences are to be rolled into a report by the Sunset Advisory Commission that will, in turn, provide state legislators with the ammo to retrofit or dismantle the agency this coming session. Annalisa Peace, executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, suggested the Sunset process, which requires all state agencies be scrutinized every 12 years to “identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency” could see the “sun set” on the TCEQ. Later, however, she said the agency should not be allowed to wither. “TCEQ needs more authority to find pollution and stop it,” she said. “They do a good job but they need more resources.”
Of course, after a late entrance, the only state rep of four scheduled to lead the meeting was on his way out to some cajoling. State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer warned that in his experience he had seen “very few” agencies “go away.” Then a few minutes before 7:30, Fisher went to tuck his children into bed. No one had a chance to address representatives David Leibowitz or Roland Gutierrez. The pair failed to materialize at all. Just when things were getting hot, residents found themselves addressing a mostly empty table. As the woman behind me muttered: “There’s something really wrong about the state reps not being here.”
It took a legislative aide from the office of Rep Joe Farias to help lower our already low expectations from the confab. Don’t get your hopes up. The state is broke. Other issues will lead the session. Thanks for coming out.
Couldn’t make the meeting, but still want to have your say? Comment online at sunset.state.tx.us/question.htm. •
The ever-inflated debate over the “Ground Zero mosque” that has consumed so much of the U.S. media has one venue where diatribes for or against will never be heard: the National Forensics League, sponsors of debate club events around the country. Originally set for November’s debate topic, a wave of complaints inspired the NFL to reverse course, posting a new “Public Forum” topic 24 hours later despite the outcry of students lambasting what they considered a violation of the First Amendment.
Instead of scheduled mosque talk, the PF topic deliberated recently by San Antonio students was, “Resolved: High school Public Forum Debate resolutions should not confront sensitive religious issues.” The students were split on how to interpret the choice of subject. Some felt it was a half-assed substitute for the Islamic Center topic. “We should be able to argue those things,” said a young debater from Round Rock’s McNeil High School. “I don’t think there should be one thing you can’t talk about just because people are worried about offending people.”
The young girl’s opponent from from Churchill High School offered Que2: “I felt the NFL was undermining its own basic principle ... One of the things debate accomplishes is ironing out the differences between us in an arena of logic.”
For the NFL to crumble under the pressure of over-concerned, over-paranoid helicopter parents and obsessive debate coaches is highly unprofessional, unrespectable (real word!) and borderline unethical … or is it?
We called the NFL to talk about it, were routed to their public relations handler (who said: 1. She was doing very well, thank you, and 2. I’d have to talk to Executive Director J. Scott Wunn “Because it’s so sensitive.”) We’re expecting that callback any hour now.
Clark High School’s debate tournament champs argued the stricken topic within the new, suggesting: “Neither this topic nor the previous encouraged proselytizing. … We cannot ignore religion for fear of offending people. Ignoring religion does not respect religion.”
Nice work, kids. •
That’s no slam on those who prefer to hack away at less verbal pursuits: our war-gaming youngsters. If the city evolves into a national cyber operations and security mecca as city and business leaders want, that could be their golden ticket.
Last week, Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce stalwart Dan Cruz updated Council members and city staffers on the progress of the chamber and other organizations to nurture the concept, and cited the August 2009 activation of the 24th Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base the cornerstone of the effort.
He told council the possibility is very real that high school students could earn $50,000 per year in the business (all that time spent playing Tour of Duty will pay off). “This keeps a lot of people in Washington up at night, safeguarding the information the country uses in day-to-day commerce,” Cruz said. “For the last 15 months, volunteers have been spreading the word, talking about what San Antonio can do.”
The 24th Air Force, hailed as a milestone by Air Force officials, was consolidated from the 688th Information Operations Wing and the 67th Network Warfare Wing.
The 688th handles engineering and installation expertise, and the 67th manages and defends global Air Force networks.
A primary goal for the chamber’s effort is to develop a workforce from the city’s younger generations, and to provide an incubator for entrepreneurs in cyberspace.
“Cyber solutions are coming from small companies, and we want to attract them to San Antonio … (which has) the second largest security industry outside of Washington, D.C. We have a large number of companies looking for a talent pool. We’re trying to establish a pipeline from kindergarten to university,” Cruz gushed, suggesting a potential $14-billion economic impact. •
But that aide is probably right. After all, the enthusiasm in Austin is not for breathable air or safe drinkable water, these days. It was Tomball horse breeder/Meskin’ hater Debbie Riddle and not, say, SA’s progressive Mike Villarreal, who camped out at the State Capitol for 36 hours to pre-file the first bill of the upcoming session. Instead of, say, proposed legislation to require new teachers to actually have classroom experience before being hired on (Villarreal’s HB135) or expanding publicly funded pre-kinder programs to a full day (HB133), the opening shot was aimed at removing undocumented residents from the state. And so Texas veers onto the Arizona course with bills that would forbid any Texas city from serving as a “sanctuary city” willing to live-and-let-live with non-citizens, increased penalties for driving without a license and strict Voter ID initiatives, and require public and charter schools to require proof of citizenship for every student attending.
Meanwhile, on the campus of UTSA, the counterbalance is in motion: 12 students (including two undocumented students) are planning extended hunger strikes to pressure politicos to get the DREAM Act passed (See “Dream On,” November 3, 2010). According to a press release, the strike will begin Wednesday and last “until we have a response from Texas Legislature and Senator Hutchinson’s support for the Dream Act.”
When QueQue asked about the two full months before with the Lege comes back into session on January 11, the determined students replied they would “strike as long as they have to.” Look for bleary-eyed students at the UTSA campus all week and then holding vigil at San Fernando Cathedral (115 S Main Plaza) this weekend. •