Ill Wind Blowing

Texas Industries wants permission to burn 270,000 tons of hazardous waste each year at a concrete plant 30 miles from Dallas. That would make it the nation's largest incinerator of toxic waste. Despite stunning ignorance about what this will do to your he

But it was nothing that a company with $90 million in annual profits couldn't fix. Since Green's arrival, TXI has bankrolled a formidable team of lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations aces, and has largely subdued the plant's opposition.

A few key politicians have also been enlisted, including Maurice Osborn, one of TXI's newest employees, who also happens to be the mayor of Midlothian.

On a Thursday afternoon in May, Green relaxes inside TXI's corporate headquarters, a yellow, seven-story glass building on West Mockingbird Lane in North Dallas. Green has traded the pinstriped armor he usually dons out in the community for a plaid shirt and khakis. Every day, Green says, is casual day at Texas Industries.

"If I had known how bad it was when I walked into it, I would have done a better job negotiating my job," Green says with a chuckle. "What's been interesting from my standpoint is to watch, in the last six to eight months, the opposition fairly well melt away."

On that point, Green is correct. The angry mobs that used to show up at public meetings have dwindled, leaving Green to contend with the few remaining members of Downwinders. While Green appears to have the situation under control, his casual posture inside the sixth-floor conference room is misleading.

As the company prepares for the permit hearings, Green is busier than ever. The public relations operation he launched more than a year ago isn't getting smaller, it's simply getting better.

"The thing has changed. At this time, there isn't much need to be in an attack mode or to be putting out the same type of ads, where we were having to fight off what was being said," Green says.

Soon after he arrived, Green began blanketing Midlothian and its surrounding communities with advertisements in local newspapers like the Midlothian Mirror, Duncanville Today, and the Cedar Hill Sentinel.

The early ads were designed to discredit the Downwinders, challenging their claims about the hazards of TXI. Those first ads were type-heavy and gave readers a lot of statistics to digest.

Over the months, readers were told that TXI had reduced its emissions by 68 percent. They were told that "waste-derived fuel" burns more cleanly than coal. They were told that TXI prevents illegal dumping by giving companies a safe, affordable place to get rid of their waste.

When the Downwinders tried to enlist Cedar Hill's elected officials to join their opposition, Green fired back with a series of "op-ed" pieces that he purchased in local papers. The ads contained a cut-out ballot with the carefully crafted statement: "Although I want our city to carefully monitor TXI's permit, spending thousands of tax dollars for legal intervention is a waste of money."

Readers were encouraged to send the vote in to TXI, along with their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Green can't recall how many responses were mailed in, but he remembers the inspiration behind the series with great fondness.

"I call those the Mobil ads. I stole them from Mobil," Green says, referring to Mobil Oil Corporation, a pioneer of corporate environmental propaganda.

As the months dragged on, Green's campaign took root, and public opinion began to turn in the company's favor. Green was able to shed the defensive skin, and begin portraying TXI as a good friend and neighbor in the community.

"This is our home base, and it's home to TXI employees who live near you, go to church with you and are involved in your community," one ad stated. "Our city involvement includes everything from supporting local groups to hosting tours and fossil digging for school children at our plant."

But the turning point in the battle over public opinion came on November 2, 1995, when the TNRCC released a report on the health risks of TXI's emissions. That day, 500 people gathered at Midlothian Middle School, where state officials calmly announced their conclusion that TXI did not present a health threat to the community.

"All of this...will give this community the level of comfort and closure that we know you want," TNRCC spokesman Ed Clark told the crowd, according to an article in The Dallas Morning News. The TNRCC's findings, which were later bolstered by the EPA, left many residents with no choice but to go home. With the new scientific evidence, presented by the TNRCC and the EPA no less, why should anyone continue to believe a bunch of activists?

Unswayed by the government's conclusions, the Downwinders and the American Lung Association hired University of Michigan Professor Stuart Batterman to critique the state's findings. Batterman was highly critical of the report, but it wasn't enough to reverse public opinion.

By announcing its findings before the permit hearing process began, the state inadvertently found itself in the awkward position of defending TXI's operations. For Green, the state's announcement was a public relations gold mine.

Soon, TXI's newspaper advertisements began to quote TNRCC officials, citing the state's report as evidence that TXI is an environmentally friendly operation.

"The impact [of the TXI ad campaign] would have been negligible if all the reports hadn't come out in our favor," Green says. "Our opposition kept saying, 'Wait till the TNRCC comes out with its report.' The TNRCC report comes out, and what happens is the TNRCC got attacked."

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