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Clean Air Awaits: Gov. Perry should seize this chance to reshape TCEQ


06:33 AM CDT on Monday, July 23, 2007

Clean-air advocates were primed for battle.

They had a billboard, a Web site, even a campaign slogan, all aimed at forcing the ouster of the state's top environmental official. But Kathleen Hartnett White, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, squelched the campaign by announcing that she would depart when her term expires Aug. 31.

Environmental groups claimed victory; TCEQ officials claimed this always had been Ms. White's plan.

Whether Ms. White jumped or was pushed, her exit is welcome news.

She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan. She also voted to approve TXU's pollution-intensive Oak Grove coal units, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas' efforts to meet air quality standards.

Ms. White's departure could signal the end of an era – but only if Gov. Rick Perry seizes this opportunity to reshape the environmental commission.

The TCEQ must take a more proactive approach to reducing pollution and enforcing environmental regulations. Ms. White's successor should not pick up where she left off.

We urge Mr. Perry to appoint a commissioner with a record of environmental leadership. TCEQ's newest member should have experience evaluating complex scientific data but also should show a willingness to consider public opinion.

As we have noted before, North Texas is not represented on the three-member commission. Our area faces some of the most significant air quality challenges in the state, and we hope the governor will give Dallas-Fort Worth a voice.

Finally, we ask Mr. Perry to set aside outdated ideas about partisan politics and environmental issues.

Increasingly, bipartisan coalitions that include both business leaders and environmentalists are coalescing to address questions about power and pollution. Texas' Republican governor need look no further than North Texas to find corporate leaders (the high-powered founders of Texas Business for Clean Air, for example) and conservative politicians (Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck) with progressive ideas about balancing business interests and environmental issues.

With so much at stake for the state, Mr. Perry should appoint a commissioner who will bring a similar, forward-thinking approach to the TCEQ.

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