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 Green had to battle on another front as well. In 1995 and 1996, a coalition of commercial hazardous waste incinerators made a two-year, $260,000 donation to the American Lung Association, which officially opposes cement kilns that burn hazardous waste. Green hollered foul, but former Texas ALA spokesman Wade Thomason issued a two-page letter saying that only $46,000 of that money made it to Texas, representing less than 1 percent of the chapter's $3 million annual budget.

"Who is really the underdog in this case?" Thomason wrote. "Who can you really trust, one of the biggest toxic waste burning companies in the United States and the major source of particulate matter pollution in North Texas, or a nonprofit health agency dedicated to clean air, healthy lungs, and the prevention of lung disease?"

As the controversy unfolded in newspapers around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the task of deciding who to trust became increasingly difficult.

Green won't say how much he's spent on advertising, but Sentinel publisher Lou Antonelli says TXI has spent about $9,000 in his newspaper alone during the last 18 months. In addition to its weekly sponsorship of the school lunch menu, TXI usually buys a full-page ad every month to congratulate students for their athletic and academic accomplishments.

"Harold's work humanized the company," Antonelli says. "Before, they were a vast, impersonal Fortune 500 company that didn't care enough to send a representative to meetings."

Green has spent countless hours grooming the corporate image during various public meetings. But, according to some reports, Green's community rounds don't always leave people feeling warm and fuzzy.

In November 1995, TXI went to great lengths to impress members of the Texas Parent Teacher Association during their annual convention in Austin. Before the state PTA was a recommendation that the group take a stand opposing the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns.

TXI rented a booth at the convention and decorated it with characters from Sesame Street, including Big Bird. Ralph Rogers, TXI's chairman of the board and a former PBS chairman, was on hand to promote public broadcasting as an educational tool.

In keeping with the company's Sesame Street theme, Green reportedly turned into Oscar the Grouch and had a nasty confrontation with Kim Phillips, the chair of the TPTA's environmental committee.

"Several people described Green as an obnoxious presence on the convention floor; he angrily confronted Phillips in the exhibit hall and, she said, tried to disrupt her workshop on environmental organizing," Texas Observer reporter Michael King wrote in his report on the convention. The PTA ultimately tabled the cement-kiln resolution.

Green says it was Phillips who got upset when a vote on her resolution was delayed, although he concedes he got mad because Phillips was inaccurately claiming that TXI pumps out big "black clouds" of smoke.

"I said, 'Give a visual image that's based on facts or reality,'" says Green. What most people see coming from TXI's stacks, he says, is white steam.

Like Harold Green, Midlothian Mayor Maurice Osborn says he dislikes environmentalists who distort facts and tell lies. The Downwinders, he says, are scaring people away from Midlothian with unfounded horror stories.

"In my dealings with these people, in 10 years, I do not trust 'em at all--as far as I can throw 'em," Osborn says. "Put the truth out on the table. And if the truth is a little gray, let's look at it. Let's investigate it, but don't do it at someone else's expense. Don't do it at the community's expense."

Earlier this year, Osborn showed up at the state capitol to express his support for a bill that would have weakened the TNRCC's ability to investigate health and environmental complaints filed against industries like TXI.

Osborn told members of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation that a "small interest group" was filing too many frivolous complaints with the TNRCC, and that too much time and money were being wasted on investigations.

"Besides earning my living as an executive in the business community, I am the mayor of Midlothian," said Osborn, who has been mayor for nine years. "So I think that I pretty well represent the views of most of the people in the community and the approach that our city wants to take."

When Osborn introduced himself, however, he failed to mention that his job as an "executive in the business community" is as vice president of Rail Port Development for Brookhollow Corporation, a wholly owned TXI subsidiary. Osborn accepted the position last summer.

During an interview inside Midlothian City Hall, Osborn says he doesn't think his trip to the capitol was a conflict of interest, because it was "beyond the action of the city hall." Besides, he says, he has a right to an opinion.

And Osborn's opinion is that the city has cooperated with state and federal officials to make sure that the health of its citizens is protected.

"We're environmentally conscious here," Osborn says, winking his right eye. "Trust me."

Anyone wondering just how little clout the Downwinders have left needs only to examine how assiduous--and successful--the company has been recently in courting elected officials.

For instance, when newly elected Mayor Rob Franke brought the May 13 meeting of the Cedar Hill city council to order, the deck was already stacked against Downwinders.

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