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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (And Up Your Ass)

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It should come as little surprise that today Governor Rick Perry, whose aides have publicly questioned the existence of global warming, has appointed a career bureaucrat with no little environmental knowledge, to chair the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Buddy Garcia, one of three TCEQ commissioners, will replace Kathleen Hartnett White, a former flak for the ranching industry.

Environmentalists had led a campaign to oust her from the position after years of her deciding in favor of cement kilns and power plants, and soon after she announced her resignation. Still, Garcia may not be any better. In May, Garcia, who had served as an assistant secretary of state under Perry, voted for the agency’s smog plan that the EPA says will likely not bring the Dallas-Fort Worth Area in compliance with federal ozone laws.

The Dallas Morning News had smartly urged Perry to tap former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher to lead the agency. In her term in office, Keliher had been one of the key players in the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee, an ad hoc group consisting of elected officials, environmentalists and business leaders.

Keliher, a Republican, garnered praise from Democrats and environmentalists alike for her zeal for clean air; she became an expert on the rather arcane subject of cement kiln technology, going so far as to study a particular cutting edge plant in Italy. Basically, what Angela Hunt is to Jim Schutze, Margaret Keliher is to yours truly. And perhaps to Lon Burnham, a Democratic state representative from Fort Worth, who has crusaded for clean air long before it became popular to do so.

“Margaret Keliher was great and continues to be great on this issue,” he says.

Of course, that’s not an asset for Rick Perry. While he may not have been able to legally appoint her because of a rule forbidding certain elected officials from serving on the board, I don’t think she would have had a chance anyway. After all, she’s from here, which seems to violate one of the Governor’s unwritten rules. Even though North Texas makes up about 25 percent of the state’s population and has battled dangerously polluted air for a generation, it’s been years since someone from our region served on one of the most powerful boards in the state. While North Texas Republicans in particular have fought tenaciously for legislation and regulation that would fight smog and ozone, they have zero sway with a governor whose vision of clean air is as clouded as the Dallas skyline.

Burnham says that Perry has set up TCEQ to fail and vote as a body in favor of industry interests on every major issue. And that’s what it did when it approved its smog plan. In fact, the agency’s final draft of the plan included a series of major concessions to polluters that were not in place in the first draft. But with someone like Keliher on the board, along with current commissioner Larry Soward, who cast the one dissenting vote against the smog plan, TCEQ might actually strike a blow for clean air and water every now and then. And we wouldn’t want that to happen. --Matt Pulle

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