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Media: Press Clips

Environmental group sues Bush over release of records

Fort Worth Star Telegram
May 5, 1999

By Jay Root
Star-Telegram Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — An environmental group sued Gov. George W. Bush yesterday, claiming that his office illegally blocked the release of records documenting the progress of a controversial clean-air initiative.

A Bush spokeswoman denied the allegations.

The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED) contends that the governor's office has concealed records pertaining to a program designed to bring hundreds of so-called "grandfathered" industrial plants into compliance with modern clean air rules.

The facilities were exempted from the Texas Clean Air Act 28 years ago and therefore do not have to comply with the strict emission guidelines that modern plants face. Bush has endorsed a voluntary approach to closing the loophole, while environmentalists want mandatory compliance.

"They are hiding the documents and records which show the governor's office and industry apparently colluded in an attempt to keep the grandfathered loophole open," said Peter Altman, director of the coalition.

Bush spokeswoman Linda Edwards said the governor's office had fully complied with the state's open record laws by providing the environmental group with every document it had pertaining to the issue.

"This is a frivolous lawsuit, and these publicity stunts are becoming tiresome," Edwards said.

The coalition said there is a "mysterious eight-week gap" of records documenting how the focus changed from one that would ensure all grandfathered facilities get permits, to an entirely voluntary initiative.

But Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, said the environmental agency never backed a mandatory plan.

"There is no grand conspiracy out there. The conspiracy they're alluding to does not exist," Crimmins said. "This is a 28-year-old problem that this commission has been working to resolve in two years."

According to dozens of memos and notes of meetings held among state officials and the companies that own the grandfathered facilities -- including the big utilities, major oil companies and large chemical concerns -- the industries that produce the emissions were reluctant to come under the modern regulatory process.

According to notes of one of the meetings, for example, a representative of Texas Utilities told participants that the "utility industry concerned about entire concept - if it doesn't involve retrofits or $, maybe we can sell it."

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