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Carlos Truan

INTERVIEWEE: Carlos Truan (CT)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: February 21, 2000
LOCATION: Corpus Christi, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2072 and 2073

Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation and background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. It’s February 21, the year 2000. We’re in Corpus Christi and I’m here representing the Conservation History Association of Texas. And I have the good fortune of representing C.H.A.T. in talking to Senator Carlos Truan. And I wanted to thank him for taking this time to talk to us about him many contributions to conservation legislation in this state.
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CT: Thank you very much. And thank you for in—inviting me to participate with you.
DT: It’s a pleasure for us. I wanted to start with your early days, your childhood, your days as a student and ask if there were any influences in your early days, your parents, your teachers, friends that might have influenced your interest in conservation and the outdoors and so-on?
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CT: I think my interest in protecting the environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink really comes from a desire on my part to try to do what I can. And I don’t know when it originated. It’s just a concern I’ve had practically all my life. And I can’t attribute that to my association with any organization or any individual. I think it’s just a personal desire. It’s a genuine, honest desire on my part to do what I can in my role now as a state Senator to protect the environment that we take for granted. I have—I have been astounded at how we have contributed, as a society, to the deterioration of our rivers, of the air, of—of the environment. I am concerned about people that could care less about what the end result will be to the environment as long as they make a profit financially. And I—I—I believe in economic development. I believe in bringing business. I’m a product of the private section. I’ve been in the private sector for forty years. But I—I just don’t buy the response that—the trades off that you sacrifice the environment because you want to create jobs, or you want to bring industry. I don’t buy that, because we only have one environment. We only have, you know, so much that we can do to protect what we have around us. And I just don’t think it’s—it’s good for us. It’s not good for our children and—and for generations to come. I—I mean it’s an honest—it might be a well worn out saying, but to me it’s a very simple thing. And I—I think I’ve always had a desire to enjoy the outdoors, to enjoy Mother Nature’s contribution to us. And, for us to protect. I like the coast. I—I love the Texas coast. I like to—to see people catch fish and—and—and people that—that hunt and I’m not a
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hunter and—and I’m not really a fisherman either. I try to just do what I can to promote people being concerned about protecting what we have here. That we can do something about it. I can’t, you know, solve the problems of the world. But as long as I’m able to do my own little thing in—in my own way, I feel that I—I don’t have to make excuses to anybody. And I’ve had a lot of people mad at me because I’ve participated in debates and filibusters and I had nothing to gain, not politically, obviously, because the people in favor of legislation that would pollute our atmosphere, our—our—our environment are people that have the financial wherewithal to—to support or oppose people running for office, like myself. I ju—I’ve just done it because I think it’s the right thing to do. As corny as it might sound. I just think that we need to do our share. And—and I think that the general public can’t be fooled. In every poll that I’ve seen about what people care about, they care about the environment. They care about educating our young people
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how to protect our natural environment. And I’d like to think that we—we all have a responsibility. And I realize, you know, not everybody thinks the same way. But I—I think the vast majority of people want to be sure we don’t pollute the water that we drink and the air that we breath.
DT: Could you talk about the environment that your district is well known for, the coast? I understand that you’ve been a big advocate for the Open Beaches Act, for instance. Maybe you could talk some about that.
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CT: I—I—I have the pleasure and honor of having the largest coastal senate district in the Texas Senate. And—and to me, that is a wonderful opportunity to do what I can to make sure that people have the right to enjoy our Texas coast. And we have a—a tremendous piece of legislation that was passed years before I went to the legislature to protect our coast and—and to protect people’s right to enjoy what nature gave us in Texas. And I—I like to think that—that we’re blessed in Texas. And if we don’t take care of what we have, we’re going to loose it. Some years back I—I was in—in—in the state of Florida and I wanted to visit the coast there. And I had to go through the lobby of a hotel in order for me to go see where the water was. And I couldn’t see the water. I couldn’t see the coast. Maybe further down, after traveling down, I might—I might have, but I literally had to go through a hotel lobby to see the—the natural beauty of that area. And I—I just think we ought not to allow anyone to prevent people from enjoying our natural beauty, our Texas coast. I have been working to try to make certain that people, in the rush to promote development, don’t through the baby out with the water, to use that expression. I think we’ve had some battles in the Texas legislature, that if it had not been for people rising to the occasion, beginning with people in the legislature, supported by people back home, that we would have lost the right to enjoy our—our Texas coast. We
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have a multi-billion dollar fishing and shrimping and tourist industry in Texas. And I think it’s in everybody’s interest to protect what we have and we don’t have to pollute our coastal area. We ha—we don’t have to prevent people from coming and enjoying, in order to promote a safe and clean industry. You know, there are those that could care less, that—that want to bring in their—their gigantic tankers regardless of what it does to the wetlands in order to—to bring oil all the way in to a port like what’s the case that was being proposed for Corpus Christi.
DT: Is that the super port that you’re talking about?
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CT: Yes. And I think that we—we were able to resolve a—a—a problem there by saying, “Well, why don’t you connect the pipes out in the middle of the—of the c—of the Gulf of Mexico instead of bringing those super tankers all the way in—in to a harbor that would further destroy what nature has provided for us.” And that is the wetlands and the protection of—of—of our—of our waterways. I—I’d like to think that people, knowing the alternatives, they will understand those that could care less, and—and—and—and—and—and make certain that those people don’t have the upper hand in the decision-making.
DT: Going on about this coastal issue, I understand that you helped organize the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation and got critical listing for the estuary of the Coastal Bend Bay. Can you talk about that experience?
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CT: Sure. I was very pleased with what former Senator A. R. Babe Schwartz, from Galveston had done at Galveston Bay in help to create this—this bays foundation over there. And I wanted make certain that I—I would do the same thing for the coastal bay. And I—I had been having meetings every year to promote greater awareness of water issues. And concern about communication between the different parties from the private sector and the public section and—and making certain that we were sitting and—and talking between people that were aligned with say environmental organizations and those that were involved with the private section. And—and I think the very fact that we’re having these meetings and we’re well cover by the media encouraged people to help form the foundation. And we had to have a—a—a critical needs a—assessment here. And we were so designated by the federal government, which gave us the foundation to follow up and—and get it so designated for federal funding, and for support and assistance. And I like to think that there were those in the private sector that may not have been aware of what we could do. You know, sometimes people can’t see the forest through the trees. And sometimes there—there are people, like myself, that have to play the role of the devil’s advocate in promoting certain things. And I have always been very candid and honest on the issues of the day. I don’t like to play politics with people that just because I need their support. In fact, most of these people if—if they had had their way I wouldn’t
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be a Senator. And so, I would like to think that notwithstanding that, we can come together. We have realized and some of them have seen the error of their ways. That—that there is more to be done than just attracting petrochemical industries. That there is also another industry, another industry, a multi-billion dollar industry, like I said earlier, that would promote a fishing and shrimping and tourism and would allow us to have more people come to the state and more money being circulated. And—and so, I’d like to think that by working together, in a university setting also, that Texas A & M, University Corpus Christi is part of the A & M system, of course. Texas A & M University Kingsville is—is another component of A & M. A & M University has been designated as—as—as a university that has access to—to ocean studies and appropriations that—by the federal government. So oceanography and those kind of—of
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things are very important here on the coast. And so it was a marriage that brought us together. I merged the universities here with A & M and A & M already had access to these additional funds and—and studies. And I think the—the private sector is being a better neighbor by—by participating. There was a time when, perhaps, they would run over not only environmentalists, but run over legislators like myself. But, you know, it’s a new day. And I think we have come to understand that if we can’t help each other by throwing rocks at each other, we can come together and—and—and—and discuss issues and see how we can work for the betterment of the total community, the total region and—and, of course, the whole country, as far as that goes. But it has to start somewhere. And—and, I’ve been in the legislature long enough where I’ve found that the—that the permit that was given to dump hazardous waste in Texas was done in my own back yard and it was done by a—a—a person that was running his office, of being Executive Director of the old Water—Water Commission. He did it out of his office without a public hearing. I was so upset and I still am upset that this—this particular site, call Teco located in my district, outside of Corpus Christi, Robstown was able to get its initial permit really without a public hearing and really in the office of the Director at that time, a gentleman whose name was Hugh Yantis. And he had a reputation of just going along to get along with the industries that—that he and the commission he headed were supposed to regulate. Well that’s looking after the best interests of the state of Texas. And so, when I saw what had happened I appeared at the hearing that was called for an additional amendment of the first permit. And—and I raised questions. I said, “We did not have the involvement of people. And I don’t think that we aught to allow the—the state or the federal government to come into our backyard to dump hazardous
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waste unless taken the time to talk about the needs of—of the area and the dangers of doing so. I like to think that there are a lot of people that, once they know what is going on in their own backyard, that they will organize, that they will have legal council, that they will decide to put some moneys together so that they can decide what kind of industry is coming into their own backyard.
DT: Maybe you could tell us a little more about your efforts to improve regulation of some of the municipal and hazardous landfills in the state. I understand you’ve been pretty active with that.
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CT: Well, I’ve—I’ve been concerned about making certain than our rules are even stricter than the federal governments’, in—in the federal government in Texas. There was legislation that I had to oppose literally by filibustering at the end of—of—of the session. Because legislation was in—being introduced and pushed that our rules and regulations could not be stronger than the federal governments’. And I thought that was ridiculous. Because the federal government, the federal Congress has to think about 50 states and—and—and there—there are some states that are in—in greater danger than others with respect to certain permits. And in Texas, we aught to handle our own, if our rules are stricter, if we want them to be. We aught not to be prevented, have our hands tied, that we couldn’t have our—our regulations stricter. I think we—we aught to do, at
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the local level, what has to be done. We aught not to subscribe, or—or b—or be—be subservient to the federal government if it’s in the best interests of our own citizens. And so, I think our regulations have to be strong. I think we have to be careful that nobody comes in and overnight and gets a permit for a landfill that—that will result in the pollution of the environment. And our water sources, there was one particular instance where there was an effort to locate a low level radioactive waste facility close to the mouth of the—of the water basin for the entire coastal bend area, which is over—consists of over a million people. And I couldn’t understand how, in the first place, they would get a permit, or they would be asking for a permit that would put in danger the pollution of the drinking water for human beings. I can’t understand it sometimes, people, I don’t know whether it’s the almighty dollar or just—just having a site where—where they would be dumping waste, it doesn’t matter what the price would be. You know, we’ve had a lot of—lot of sad stories of trucks running up and down between Houston and—and—and South Texas, Corpus Christi, where I’m from. You know, carrying waste to be stored somewhere. And there’s always been stories about the dumping of—of barrels of—of—of waste. Now that’s against the law. But you’re—you’re never going to stop people, renegades that are wanting to make money at the public’s expense. We always have to be vigilant. You know, our—our—our freedom and—and—and—and—and our rights can be threatened 24 hours a day. We must be ever vigilant of making certain that we stop people who, for the sake of making a—a—a financial profit, they would—they—they will deteriorate what—what our environment is—is all about.
DT: Can we talk a little more about the low level and high-level radioactive issues?
I know that you were involved in getting stronger regulation on uranium mining and some of the radioactive waste disposal sites.
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CT: (talking over David) Sure. Sure. I was on a committee of legislators that looked into high-level radioactive waste, or the transportation of that. And that’s still an ongoing thing. And there’s—there’s a danger, of course, to allowing that. But that’s at the federal level. And I—I had been involved in getting funding to clean up a site here in Texas that—that—that was heavily polluted by—by the—the uranium mining. And—and I was able to get about two million dollars that attracted another 90—90% of funds or for about a 20 million dollar project. And that’s been go—ongoing each year. Susquehanna [-Western] site, it’s loca—it’s—it’s called. And it’s in Karnes County. And, essentially, what we have had to do is pour in millions of dollars to clean up a site that should have never happened in the first place. But, if we’re not careful, companies sometimes may get these permits, like they had before when the few yentasas(?) of this world were in control of issuing permits. And allow these permits even to be sold to someone else. I had a gentleman from a major oil company that told me that a company from France wanted to—to—to dump hazardous waste from a site on the—on the Texas coast near Houston, and transfer all the way across to the same county, Karnes County, not withstanding the fact we were still trying to clean up one particular site there. And—and I raised a lot of hell on that. And so, that company, a very respectable company, put a stop to it. It was their permit. They were not going to sell it. They were not going to transfer it. But you have to speak
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up. If you don’t speak up—if you’re afraid because it’s a major company, then—then you’re going to have to suffer the consequences later on. I later became Chairman, after I had done that without being Chairman of a committee, I was appointed Chairman of a committee looking into uranium mill tailings in Texas. And we introduced about 15 bills, and about 5 bills became law. Essentially, updating the statutes we had related to uranium mining and—and mill tailings that hadn’t been updated. And people that didn’t know any better were not doing anything. And so we have to continue to monitor what is being done in one’s state. In Texas, we need to stay on top of things. Because if you just let somebody else do it, if you just let the—the Department of Health, or—or—or whatever agencies responsible continue the work, the Department also has individuals there that maybe they don’t have the same interests, or maybe they have different interests that is not necessarily the publics’. And so we need to continue to monitor. And—and uranium mining and mill tailings, you know, those that are very interested in subject are going to—and—and it’s a difficult one. It was complicated for me. Thankfully I was blessed with good staff, like Vic Hines who continues to work for me. And—and I—we were able to put things together. We passed all of those bills in the Senate and yet in the House they were ready to strike them down. I had to work very hard to save the ones that ultimately passed. There are people that have been making a lot of money out of Texas, out of our natural resources. And they have left behind a—a contaminated spoilage of land for others to have to worry about. But we need to make certain that we’re st—on top of things. Uranium mining is not as major an industry as it was at one time. But, nonetheless, this spoils of that era are left behind for us to continue to pay to clean up.
DT: Maybe along those same lines you could talk a little bit about the grandfathering issue and air pollution, which is again, I guess, the legacy of another era.
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CT: You know, I can’t believe that we had legislation in 1999, proposing to continue the grandfathering of facilities that started being grandfathered after the Federal Clean Air Act was passed in 1971. That—that three decades later, we—we continue to grandfather these facilities. It’s embarrassing, I believe, to the state. I’d like to think it’s embarrassing to the Governor and officials here that we allow that to happen. And—and the very industries, the petrochemical industry that has these facilities, including some in my district, of Corpus Christi, aught to be embarrassed to their families, to their children, that they support the continued use of facilities that are outdated and continue to pollute our atmosphere. We aught to demand the most up-to-date facilities in order to make certain that the air that we all breath clean, or cleaner than what it is using facilities that were grandfathered in 1971. So that doesn’t mean they were—they were in place in 1971, they just happened to be operating at that time. They might have been in place for three decades before that, for all I know. But, we cannot afford to allow that to continue. It’s embarrassing. I’d like to think that—that the national commentators question—and Governor Bush is running for President on this, is good and healthy. And maybe Governor Bush will return to Texas and try not to do—to make the same mistake of promoting that kind of—of legislation.
DT: I believe that some of the concerns about these grandfathered facilities is the health risks for the population in Texas. Can you talk about your efforts to reduce human health risks in the state? I know you’ve worked with the Worker Right To Know Act, and other efforts to make sure that there’s public hearings, etc. Could you talk about that?
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CT: (talking over David) Yes. You know. Let me te—you know. Let me tell you, it never ceases to amaze me how people will attempt to do things that are ridiculous, such as denying the general public a right to participate at public hearings, allowing companies to do what they want to without any—any concern of the impact on—on—on the people in our state. There are those that, I don’t know, they’re probably only concerned about the bottom line and satisfying their stock holders in another area of the—of the country. And not being concerned about their own families. I’d like to think that if I was working in that—in that atmosphere, I’d be concerned about the air that I was breathing, the water I was drinking and be concerned about my children, and the children of all. You know, we can’t just be concerned about our children, not be concerned about your children and others. Because there’s no line that is drawn. The air that one breathes on one side of town is the same one that is being breathed by people on the other side of town. But—but there are people that have tried, through legislation, because of their influence on certain legislators, to promote legislation that is simply not in the public’s interest. And it seems to me that the voters need to hold all of us accountable. They need to look at how we vote on what pieces of legislation and not be mislead by stump speeches that—that
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miss out on the real crux of the matter on key legislation. I think people need to be more informed. We need more organizations, like the League of Woman Voters, for example. Like the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and others that are actively working on—on protecting the environment. I’d like to think that those times that—that people from the private sector were accusing everybody who was—who was trying to protect the environment as being weirdoes and being out of—out of—out of—of out touch, we need to understand that these organizations have stood the test of time. They have promoted and awareness, education, and—and—and have been there in Austin at—at a great expense with very little in return for them, but—but saying what needs to be said in an—in an area where, unfortunately, too many times very selfish and powerful special interests take advantage of legislation that has ultimately passed. I’d like to think that we need more vigi—vigilantes going after people’s hides who could—who prove that—that their voting record is such that they don’t care about the best interests of the people that they represent, much less the people of the state as a whole. I’d like to think that we need to do everything we can to be aware of what is being proposed. You know, figures don’t lie, but liar’s figure’s an old saying. And there are those want to promote and jobs and industry at a much greater expense, and we need to be careful of that. I don’t think that we need to work at—at compromising on the air we breath, or the water we drink. Industries need to know that if they’re going to pollute the atmosphere, they’re not welcome in Texas. We aught to get into that frame of mind. But it’s going to take the
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people in general to do this. And it’s not going to take people that are just Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents. It’s going to take a—a—an awareness across the board. Whether you’re a member of one party or the other, whether you have one philosophy or the other. You know, they—they—they—they don’t separate themselves by party of political philosophy.
DT: Do you remember a time when things were less partisan in environmental issues? I get the sense that in the ‘60s there was more consensus on the issues. Do you sense that?
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CT: I don’t know why. The—the Republican party has usually carried on as if they were the—the party of business. Whereas all of us have an interest in business. But many times, in order to justify legislation that is not in the best interest of the general public, there are people, and there are also Democrats that align themselves, blindly supporting legislation because a major company, or the major companies are—are behind certain legislation. The petrochemical industry, for example, it was unheard of to question them. In fact, the Health Department did not even have authority to investigate environmental health problems. Because—because of this—of the powerful position of—of the major industry lead by the petrochemical industry. When we had over 40 babies born along the border close to Brownsville, born without brains, I called the Health Department. I said, “Is it true that the pollution along the border on the—on the—on the border with the maquilladoras or whatever is causing this.” The response was, “We don’t know and we’re prevented from investigating.” I said, “You got to be kidding. You’re the—you’re the state Department of Health.” They said, “We have no authority.” I said, “Well, what do we need to do?” They said, “You need to give us the authority.”
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Which I did. I authored legislation and I announced in advance that anybody that appeared in opposition that I would single them out as being responsible for those babies being born without brains. And then we set up a birth defects registry. And you know what helped me pass the legislation was not so much what had happened, although that was important on the border, it was also happening in the Houston area. In the Houston area where there were a number of babies that were born with birth defects. And people came to testify from the Houston area. And that raised some eyebrows. And so that helped in getting us a Birth Defects Registry and in getting the funding to have that registry. At first we had it only in the Rio Grande valley in Texas and—and—and in our state and also in the Houston area. And now we have it across the state. Why? Because nobody knew, not even the March of Dimes, they came to testify that they were glad that this was being passed. I didn’t even know we didn’t even have a record of how many babies were being born with defects. You know, it seems like, sometimes like, we haven’t even begun to put together the things that are so important in life. But years ago, major industries, very selfish, very influential, very powerful prevented people legislation from passing. Because the general public, you know, doesn’t kn—know what—what needs to be done. They just depend on people like myself in the legislature. They
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depend on the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and members of the legislature here in Texas. And yet, there’s so many powerful interests at work in the legislative process. I’ve been in the legislature, this is my 32nd year. I was 8 years in the House of Representatives. This is my 24th year in the Senate. I am now the senior Senator in terms of—of length of service. I’m the Dean of the Texas Senate. So, I’ve been around where I’ve learned, over the years, and I could have retired a long time ago. But I see that there’s a need to do the work that I sense is important. And I’m not trying to put that much importance on myself. I just think that we need to do as much as we can while we still have time to do it.
DT: You talked early about some of the special interests and powerful influences that pressed legislation that maybe wasn’t in everybody’s interest. I was wondering if you could talk about some of the ethical campaigns that you’ve had with the “Dirty Thirty” and the “Killer Bees.” I believe you are one of the few that is still involved in both.
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CT: Yes. Thank you. Well, when I was in my third term, I went to the legislature in ’69, and—and in the 1971 sess—my—my second session, not third, we—we were advised that a special interest bill had passed favoring a—a particular special interest at the expense of protecting the deposits of all bank depositors that we were not going to have the FDIC, we were going to have a private—private company doing this. And—and that was the essence of the piece of legislation that was very innocent when it was introduce in a special session. And it sailed through the S—through the House and Senate. And—and, before it became law, the Governor at that time, the Chairman of the—of—of—of the party, the Democratic party at that time, and—and—and the Speaker of the House and several his lieutenants has benefited overnight, financially. And—and the moneys had been made available from a bank that—that—that had a—a large stockholder in a particular insurance company. And so, the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating this and it was made public on the day we all took office in 1971. And so there were 30 of us that supported an effort to conduct an investigation. The Speaker of the House was not in favor. Obviously, he was very much, or had been very much involved. And he referred to us 30 as “those dirty 30.” My mother called me at that time and she said, “Why are you involved with the dirty people.” I said, “We’re not the dirty. We’re trying to clean up state government.” But the Speaker of the House and several other people were indicted and convicted for bribery. And—and that was a—a—a—a very bad reputation we got from the passage of that piece of legislation. Now, the Killer Bees, that session was in ’79, 1979. By that time I had been—I have been elected to the Senate and there were a number of very bad bills that were being passed. Including one that proposed to change the presidential election year, to benefit John Connally, former Governor, who was running for President on the Republican ticket. And he needed the votes from his conservative Democrats that didn’t want to loose their favorite position in the dominant party, at that time the Democratic party, in order to go out and vote for John Connally. And the Republican party was in its infancy. And so there was a piece of legislation that—that a Senator from—from Houston, Jack C. Ogg introduced to benefit John Connally. And the Lieutenant Governor at that time, Bill Hobby from Houston announced that he was changing the rules, that we—we have it within the rules to allow the Lieutenant to change the 2/3s rule that is normally required
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to bring a bill up for consideration and change it to a simple majority. But he had to give 24 hours notice. So Lieutenant Governor Hobby announced and made in known that he was going to allow only majority vote to bring up the Presidential Election Bill. Well, we had the votes to prevent the bill if it—if it—if he—he had stayed with the 2/3s vote. 2/3s of the Senate is 21 Senators. Well, we didn’t have the majority, but we had enough to block it. But when he announced that, there was enough of us that—that broke the quorum and allowed us to—to meet outside—outside the capitol and hide for four days. And they—they—they sent out the Texas Rangers and the DPS [Department of Public Safety] after us and, frankly, I was very concerned that we might get caught and brought back to the—to the capitol, you know, and—and—and given a different kind of reputation. But, we came back after the Lieutenant Governor threw in the towel, where he said he was not going to push the bill anymore. And—and—and allowed us to come back as heroes. People appreciated what we had done.
DT: Maybe you could talk about your strategy in the House or in the Senate in trying to move environmental legislation, which may not be very popular, or to stop legislation, which was not sympathetic to environmental issues. I know you’ve been a master of the tactic of filibustering. Maybe you could talk about that.
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CT: Well, frankly, it is very difficult to push strong environmental legislation in the Texas legislature, but one or more members can help to block bad legislation, with—with utilizing the floor of the Senate where you have unlimited time to speak. And it’s been in that role that I have been more effective in preventing bad legislation from becoming law. And you’re not a very popular person when you do that. But I never went to the legislature to be popular. To begin with, I defeated a member of the Senate who was a member of the club, so to speak. And I was considered a persona non grata when I went to the Senate. And I was taught some very valuable lessons. And perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that I knew that if it had been up to a lot of the members in the Senate, I wouldn’t be a Senator. And so I felt that I owed it to the people that supported me, notwithstanding special interests that opposed me, to do the best I could. And so one of the things has been my working with people concerned about the environment. The environmental organizations, like I said earlier, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Friends of the Earth, and other people interested and concerned about—about the environment, for example. In—in—in my work in the Senate, there’s been a lot of efforts to try to undo whatever—whatever good legislation we had in place. There’s been efforts to undo the—the—the—the Open Beaches Act, for example. And—and some years back there was some good legislation that was put on the books, and over the years that, little by little, we have lost the protections. But my thinking is that you need to learn the rules. You need to know where you can come in and make a difference. A lot of people, under the guise of—of property rights, for example, will—will sometimes deter and prevent the state from doing it’s job in investigating issues. People that want to have the right to dump waste to—to arouse whatever aroma with its neighbors from pig’s pens, etc, regardless. And I think that we need to understand that we have a
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responsibility to protect our neighbors also. And you can take this property rights to such limits where you are literally stepping on other people’s rights. My—my role in the Senate has been to try to do my—my part, my share to hopefully prevent bad legislation from passing. It’s not very popular to be a one or two of those on a committee voting consistently against the majority. It’s not very popular. It’s easier to go along, to get along. If people want your—you—you, as a member of the legislature to be popular, you’re not going to—to accomplish much. Because you’re just be going along with the majority. You’ve got to stand up for your constituents. You’ve got to stand up for what you believe is right. But you pay a price.
DT: Could you tell us more about the Superport that we mentioned earlier?
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CT: Well, when I first got elected I wanted to work with people from the Port of Corpus Christi Commission, the c—the Port Commission of—for the port of Corpus Christi. And I remember going to a meeting right before we had a public hearing and there were—the Corps of Engineers was pushing five or six different plans. But the port was pushing one particular plan that would bring the tankers right up to the side of the port, regardless of what it would do to the wetlands and—and whatever the harm it—it—it would have. Then when we had the public hearing I noticed that the vast majority of the people were not in favor of that plan. And—and during the noon hour I went to lunch with the people from the port and—and certain interests—industries. And I asked a question, “Why can’t we do what the—the opponents are proposing, that we don’t bring the supertankers all the way into the port, but that we have some way of connecting them out in the middle of the Gulf, so that they won’t have to come all the way in and destroy the environment, destroy the wetlands and do other harm?” And they said, “Because, this is what we agreed on.” I said, “Well, who’s we? You know, I was at the meeting, and this had already been what—what you were pushing. And—and I need to know because a lot of my constituents are against this plan. And I’m concerned over the—the—the plan not being accepted because of the opposition.” And I said, “You know, they are proposing that we just have some—some—some pipes going all the way to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and—and they—they could connect with ships, and that oil will flow in and—and there’ll be less potential damage to the environment.” And they said, “Well, we’re not going to allow that.” “Well, why not?” And there was never any answer to that. It was—it was already predetermined that the supertankers would come all the way in, regardless of the consequences. Well, I had not been a part of that, and I was promoting sitting down and promoting a—a good compromise. Well, the word got out that Truan was throwing in the towel and he was siding with the environmentalists. And I said, “Look, it’s—it’s—it’s a matter of what you want. Do you want this to succeed? Or is someone going to make a lot of money by bringing those tankers all the way in, and that’s the price we all have to pay?” Well I think the participation by the people convinced me that it was very healthy. When I went back to the legislature they were trying to take the participation of people away from the public hearings. I became
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incensed and was very opposed. Because there were a lot of well meaning individuals who had no special interests, no financial interests, no ulterior motive, they just wanted to do what was best to protect what we have. And I thought that meeting was very important. Oh, I also asked, “Well, what about this company?” And—and—and I made special effort to point out Coastal, owned by Oscar Wyatt, who had lived in Corpus Christi. And his—his assistant told me, “He already has a permit to do that; to connect with—with—with—with the—with the pipes out in the middle of the Gulf.” I said, “Well, why doesn’t he do it?” “Well, he’s trying to join these others so he could—he could perhaps have a choice.” So, there was already an effort made by people like Oscar Wyatt, who—who, you know, was very successful with his company, to do that. But sometimes, people that are in the same industry, you know, don’t want to say or do anything that’s contrary to their cohorts in the same industry, for fear, I guess, of—of retaliation of one sort or another. And as a result, there—there are a lot of problems that develop for the general population. I—I—I think what I learned at that point there was we needed to sit down and talk some more about how to get things done. No one has the monopoly on what is the right thing to do.
DW: Before the camera cut out last time you were talking about the price that is paid for something. I don’t remember what issue it was…
DT: I think earlier you were talking about the price for going against the majority. What did you mean by that? What is the price for doing the hard thing in politics and going against the majority?
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CT: Well, sometimes it means not being appointed to certain committees, key committees, for example, like the Finance Committee, being Chairman of a committee. All of that comes back to haunt you if—if you’re not going along with the leadership either in the House, if you’re a state representative, or with the Lieutenant Governor, who is the presiding officer of the Senate. There’s a price you pay. You can’t be too independent. Because then you might be considered a person unreliable when it really boils down to going along with the team; quote/unquote. I’d like to think that we have learned, over the years, that there are a lot of good things that can happen when we take the time of considering the recommendations of legislators who may not be team players, but they come up with original, innovative ways of getting things done. I—I—I—I’ve suffered the consequences, you might say. For the longest period of time, I wanted to be on the Finance Committee. I had a problem in not being appointed. When—when the Lieutenant Governor was Bill Hobby, he served for about eighteen years. I recall he had one Hispanics, two Hispanics on the Finance Committee. Maybe—maybe one his—one—one minority committee Chairman. And—and that was at a time when the—the Senate was much more conservative. Not that it’s liberal now, but, at that time, those of us that wanted to fight for greater funding, for people things, education, the environment, etc, you know, we were not really considered for key committee appointments. I must say that that has changed. I must say that we have more people that serve on the Finance Committee and as Chairmen of committees now, even with a majority—a Republican
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majority in the Senate that we had had before. So I think that’s a good thing. That allows people to participate. But there was always the fear, before, that if you—if you voted, like in the House, when I was there and voted for the investigate of the stock scandal and the Sharp’s Town scandal, I—I was not expected to pass any legislation. And, sure enough, the 30 of us that voted—the 30 of us called the “Dirty Thirty,” we didn’t pass a single piece of legislation because that was the control the Speaker of the House had at that time. Every time that I have run for office and had opposition I always know that I have a lot of money against me. And thankfully, I developed an organization of more than a thousand block captains that allows me to have a lot more independence without having to depend on financial contributors. I’m—I’m pleased that I get financial contributions, in m—in many cases, from—from or—organizations that I didn’t get that before. But, you know, there’s always a price you pay. And—and—and I think people also understood that there’s also a give and take even with some of us. There—there—there are some special interests that expect it—people they supported to rubber stamp everything that they wanted. Well, I, you know, I didn’t go to the legislature for that. You know, I—I did everything I could at the beginning to pass legislation that I felt was needed regardless of the political consequences. And I realize that I stepped on some toes, but—but that’s the price you pay.
DT: I guess the price has been paid in full, because I understand you did pass some very good legislation that dealt, in particular, with water. I was wondering if you could talk about the [1985] reservoir bill and the [1991] plumbing fixtures bill, which I think you authored as well?
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CT: You bet. For some reason I got so interested in water. The only thing I knew about water was that the formula was H20. But I got involved because I felt that we needed to make certain that we had an adequate supply of water. A—a community, a region that doesn’t have adequate water, industries’ not going to come in. To begin with, people need to have enough water. And then, if—if you don’t have an adequate source of water, there are so many problems that—that can come your way. And I was involved in water issues from, I guess, early on. And I’ve be o—on the conference committees that have put together the—the major statewide water plants. My concern has been that we aught not to allow anyone to have the control of water at the expense of the generally public for their own private use, financially and otherwise. But in Texas, we have—we have—we have a tradition, it’s—it’s—it’s been a Texas tradition that people have controlled the water within their property, even though it’s water flowing through. And my—my concern was and is, that we not build so many reservoirs to trap water just because a given area like San Antonio wants to have a reservoir, but they have 100% of their water from the Edwards Aquifer. There—that’s the only community in the world that gets 100% of their water from—from an underground aquifer. And they’ve been growing by leaps and bounds. And so sometimes there are people in—in—in an area like San Antonio forget that there are those of us down stream, that if you trap the water upstream, that’s going to mean less water for the people downstream. And—and I took issue with—with their—with their plans to develop a reservoir. And at the same time, I pointed to them in San Antonio, I—I—I had a special meeting with the people in San Antonio where we did this. I was Chairman of the Water Committee for about 10 years. And—and we worked to—to try to see how we could assist San Antonio with the needs they had. Now, over 50% of the water that is used to recharge the Edwards Aquifer comes from our Nueces River watershed, from the river that—that—that we have as a
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tributary to Corpus Christi. So we have a lot in common to work together on—on—on water issues. It’s not just the Edwards Aquifer, it’s not just living in San Antonio, I mean, you have to be concerned with people downstream. And that’s how I got involved on the reservoir issue there. But there—there was a promotion of reservoirs statewide that people that could care less about water as a natural resource, but were pushing water as—as—as a commodity. Like as if they went to the grocery store and bought the water, could care less. You know, they’re water hustlers, in our state. They’re dam hustlers, that’s D – A – M hustlers. They’re in the business of building dams. Others are in the business of selling water. And they could care less about the water rights and who gets what water and—and so forth. And so this is why it was so important when former Lieu—the—the late Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, supported a major water plan that we passed as a legislature. And we—we did more to bring people together, in my opinion, to put together water plans at the local level, on a regional basis instead of just one city here, one city there, or one county here and one county there, in order to insure that we don’t get repeat the problems of the past. Where we went through—through a drought for about three years, three to five years, we can’t afford that again.
DT: This is SB [Senate Bill] 1?
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CT: That’s correct, SB 1. And we need to be—make certain that the people of Texas are protected. And I’d like to think the voters of Texas wanted us to use the credit of the state also, to promote water plants to insure that we don’t have these water fights that we’ve had in the past. You know, there’s—there’s a saying that, “While—while whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,” you know. And I—I learned that by being involved in the water fights, you know. And I like to think that we made a lot of inroads on the protection of—of water. And we must be concerned about promoting industries, like what’s the case with this low level radioactive waste authority that wanted to locate a site close to the drinking water, like I said earlier, of a million people in the coastal bend of Texas. We cannot afford that. I’d like to think that we have matured in a lot of ways in our state in that ra—in that area.
DT: While we’re talking about water, I’m wondering if you can look in your crystal ball and tell us what you see as the fate of groundwater regulation. Currently a landowner owns all the water underneath his land and their neighbors don’t have much say if the owner decides to pump out all the water out of the water table, which affects their neighbor’s water table as well.
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CT: (talking over David) Well, we’ve—we’ve done some—we’ve done some good here I think. You’re—you’re—we had a situation down in San Antonio where a fish—a catfish farmer was pumping untold thousands, if not millions of gallons of—of water, and polluting the water in the process and—and I think the authorities in San Antonio, at the state level, saw the wisdom of—of not allowing individuals like that to pump untold millions of water at the expense of the general population. I’d like to think that that was a wakeup call that has not been repeated. Although we will continue to have the fights. Farmers and ranchers, who get about 70% of the water, have been good stewards. Agriculture has been good stewards of water. They know that it’s their livelihood. You’re not going to find them intentionally polluting the rivers, the water that they receive. I’d like to think that there are those that are not as kind and considerate who are promoting different industries that will contaminate our waterways that are involved in the businesses of hazardous dumping and chemical dumping. I—I—I just think our laws need to be the strictest of any. That any person or groups of person or businesses that do this that they will pay dearly for their folly.
DT: While we’re talking about folly. I was wondering if you would talk about the environmental mistakes, or air follies, or foolishness that you may have seen happen that we should all regret and try to learn from.
End of reel 2072
DT: Can you talk a little bit about follies seen, or follies avoided, during your time in the Senate and House?
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CT: On—on—on water issues.
DT: Just general environmental issues. Hindsight is always a good way to look at things.
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CT: You know, I think there—there—there are a lot of us that were so interested in the nuclear industry, reducing our light bills, that I think people turned the other way to allow nuclear power plants to come into our state. That now we’re having to subsidize these industries with the increased electric bills, even under the new law calling for electric deregulation, we’re having to pick up the tab for industries, like Central Power and Light in South Texas, for their investments that didn’t work out. And—and in fact, they—they went overboard several 100 percent in costs and people were having to pay much more for their electric bills. If fact, at one time, for their fuel adjustment, that the—that the industries, like Central Power and Light were buying from a subsidiary of theirs’ that was doubling the cost of electric power. And cities like—like Austin and San Antonio invested, and used the credit of their communities to try to, I’m sure in a—in a good faith effort, to try to get reduced rates. Well, under the new—under the new law that was passed by the new law that was passed by 1999 session of the legislature calling for competition in—in—in the electric industry, we are having to pay for a number of years, for the stranded costs of indus—electric industries, like Central Power and Light Company, because they made a bad investment. And I’ve always thought, that the private sector of which I—I’m a member, nobody has ever subsidized my expenses, and—and—and rescued me when I’ve made, and I have made some bad investments. But, you know, there—there are these kind of companies that are so called, investor owned. They’re not owned by the people, they’re owned by the investor. They aught to suffer the—the—the bad investment. But, that was a folly. And yet, that’s why I voted against the bill when it came out of the Senate. It was giving back not only millions but
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billions of dollars. At least when the House got through with the bill, it reduced the cost to the—to the ratepayers of stranded costs. But still, still we’re stranded with—with millions of dollars that we’re going to have to pay extra for our light bill. That’s one. That’s one kind of folly that I’ve—that I’ve seen. And so sometimes in our quest to have the—the lowest rate, we approve things that later on comes back to haunt us. And I’m not saying we were paying large electric bills on—up until the—this new law. But, compared to the other states in Texas, we were pretty competitive in our light bills. But, when you take into consideration to have the mega—mega deals to merge, we’re finding out that the ones that are going to be making money, are the ones that survived all these mergers. And I’d like to think this might be the same in every other effort. But, for sure, it seems to be in the electric industry.
DT: I’d like to go back to your political roots and away from the industrial deals, and recognizing that you’re the first Hispanic in the Senate. Can you talk about Hispanics in politics in Texas, and Hispanics in the environmental arena as well?
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CT: Sure. Let me say that I’m very proud to have been able to survive all these years to—to have senior tenure in the Senate. It hasn’t been easy. My being in business for myself, I’ve been forty years, four decades in the private section in the insurance business. I could have retired two decades ago, 20 years ago, from my insurance industry. I could have retired, for that matter, from the legislature a long time ago, about 20 years ago. But, I’d like to think that the sacrifices were worth it. You know, e—every person has to determine—has to determine for themselves whether the sacrifice is worth it. Financially speaking, I never went to the legislature for the pay, because we never get paid much. We were getting paid $400 dollars a month when I went to the legislature, 32 years ago. And now we’re getting paid even 50% more, $600 dollars it still doesn’t amount but to $20 a day. But, and my retirement could be any—anywhere from 10 to 15 times greater. What I think I’ve seen is that, the opportunity presented itself. I had to finance literally 80 to 90 percent of my campaign the first time. I was only encouraged to run, I was not encouraged with any financial support. Luckily, I had good credit, at that time, and so I was able to get a banker to help me finance my campaign for the most part. And, you know, that’s very good because I—I—I did not enter politics because of financial interests. I entered politics because, not only was I encouraged, but I had a very—I had a deep interest in doing what I could. The first bill I passed into law was the Texas Bilingual Education Act, in 1969; people said in the legislature said, “That’s going to be your retirement Act for the legislature.” I repealed the prohibition against teaching in any other language except English. We had an English law in Texas for 50 years. And that resulted, or contributed to an 80% drop out rate among Hispanics. I helped push the food stamp program, another bill that the—this—this anti-welfare state and conservatives didn’t want. At a time when we were the only state that didn’t have a food stamp program. I remember poor people going to a county building to get dry foods, and we couldn’t go to the grocery store to buy fresh milk, fresh eggs, fresh meat, etc. You know, I met with people like—like—like—like Mr. H. W. Butt(?) and said, “Look, your loosing out. These food stamps people can use and go to your grocery store.” And, of course, they’re—they’re the biggest beneficiaries of the food stamp program. We had problems in our state that were of our making. And Hispanics, in particular, because of the discrimination, segregation, the laws the prevented teaching children in—in two or more
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languages, that has contributed to—to the highest illiteracy rate, highest unemployment and—and—and—and lowest per capita income. And that’s been a carry over, you know. And, unfortunately, we have a lot of making up to do. You know, I don’t blame everybody today for what was done by—by—by their—their predecessors yesterday. But—but the fact is, on the environment, for example, I haven’t seen many minorities involved. I was on a national organization funded by the Ford Foundation, and they—they didn’t even have any concern about the environment. And I spoke up at our board meetings. This was an organization funded by the Ford Foundation. I said, “The environment is as important to us as it is to anybody else.” In fact, they’re locating sites, like the one at Robstown, Texas, outside of Robstown, Texas, to dump hazardous waste. I said, “And this is being done, I assume, around the country in minority neighborhoods. And people need to be more involved.” And I challenged the leaders of the environmental organizations to go out and recruit minorities. Let them be a part of the organization. One of the things that was done at the next national convention of this group was to have minorities pushing for certain interests that were not necessarily the best interests of the environment. And I said, “No. No. No. That’s not what I meant. I meant, having them be members of the organizations that are learning the value of protecting the air we breathe and the water that we drink. Not just getting them to be a
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spokesperson for the same polluters.” But, you know, sometimes when people reside in a—in a given area, like Washington D.C. where this organization was, they tend to go along to get along it seems sometimes with the very people who could care less about what they do to the environment. But we have a lot of catching up. And, I’ve—I’ve been involved with org—minority organizations, personally, and I’m trying to instill in them a greater awareness. But, you know, for some reason, that hasn’t caught fire. And I am sorry to say, I have not succeeded. What I think we all need to do, particularly those involved with the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and—and the other organizations that are known to—to the environmental organizations. They must show an affirmative action in their membership. I’d like to think that, if that doesn’t happen then people like myself are going to take them to task. If they are receiving any kind of grants from foundations, from the federal government, or—or any—any other source, I’d think that these organizations are subject to criticism. And they’re subject to—to some penalties if they’re using funds to hire people and they’re leaving out the minorities.
DT: Speaking of environmental justice issues like that. Your district is close to the border and influences of Mexico. Can you talk about NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] and the maquilladoras and other programs that have sprung up to try and develop the Hispanic economy in South Texas?
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CT: Well, I served six years as Chairman of the committee dealing with NAFTA. The committee on—on International Relations Trade and Technology was the official name. And we had meetings with people in Mexico that had not been held before. It took NAFTA, frankly, to bring a lot of us together. And I realized the business interest are those that would benefit in the long run. But, there is a price that—that—that—that has been paid, even before NAFTA. The pollution along the Rio Grande couldn’t be any worse. The maquilladoras, the twin plants, of the—the—the companies that were closing their plants on—on this side of the border and going into Mexico. They are contributing to the pollution, to the continued pollution. It is my—my—my opinion that what caused these babies to be born without brains along the border was the pollution coming in from the maquilladoras along the border, the dumping of waste into the Rio Grande. Because it was the—the—the expected thing to do, you might say. Now when EPA came into Texas and—and—and looked at the problem along the border, I don’t think—I don’t think that they really looked at the problems for fear of repercussions by criticizing Mexico. Now Mexico has some excellent laws but they haven’t implemented them. They have not had neither the financial resources to do so, and their government has been so unstable, to the point that they have not been able to control their own destiny. And we have contributed to the problem by sending our—our companies across the border and paying their—the people of Mexico very, very low wages. I was in Mexico City for the opening of one of our Texas offices, trade offices. And I was at a roundtable at this banquet. And I asked the various members of the industries that happened to be at this table with me, I said, “Is it true that you’re really paying people the low wages that really are starvation wages?” And they—they said, “We can’t do anything different because we would create a riot. We would create problems.” So they justify that. I—I don’t know, I
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don’t buy that. Now, NAFTA has great potential and it has already made us more aware of what we need to do as neighbors to help each other. There were problems from the water on the Rio Grande, for example. Our water—our water rights plan had not been updated for about 50 years, you know. And we in—in—in South Texas need to be concerned about what’s happening upstream. Because it’s not just people from Mexico but people also from the United States that plan certain reservoirs and certain things upstream that affect the people downstream, similar to what I talked about before. In my opinion, we need to work on the environment with people from Mexico. We need to be sure that we—we are not only promoting industrial development, but that we’re promoting the care of the environment. The l—the Texas legislature, in 1999, passed a funded bill of about 16 million dollars to promote a birding center along the border. And that was unexpected. I mean, I didn’t expect that. Because knowing how the legislature has operated. But we were able to get the funding for that. That’s a step in the right direction. Now there are other special interests that have prevented trucks from coming across. And this is mostly the teamsters union that has not wanted the trucks of Mexico to come across for fear of the competition. And—and, of course, they have used and other people have used the—the—the probable incidents of accidents and so forth. Well, people from Mexico also are concerned about, you know, their health and their life. We haven’t yet done—we haven’t yet done justice to the—that part of NAFTA in allowing transportation. But, I’d like to think that on the environment, that we can take the high road. And we can promote the protection of the environment. We have to understand
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that Mexico is considered a poor country compared to us. But, you know, for us, economically, over 70% of the goods and services they—they purchase come from the United States. They are our second largest worldwide trading partner, right next to Canada. They used to be third next to Canada and Japan. And so they buy a lot. It is economic best interest that we work with Mexico and countries to the south in order to promote as—as much of a healthy economy that includes health, education, the environment.
DT: Well, looking down the road and taking the high road, could you talk about some of the big environmental challenges you see for the future?
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CT: Well, one of them has to do with water. And it’s very easy for people to confuse a use of their toilets twice or three times, and wasting water, like they used to before. We had the Plumbing Fixtures Act that was passed in Texas, of which I took a leading road in the Senate, that w—that is expected to save us as much water as all the major cities put together use, whether you’re talking about Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio. And—and yet people are complaining and there are those that probably don’t understand the value of saving water. We need to go into a—a program of water conservation, to conserve water. We don’t—we don’t save water because we think we’re always going to have it. We need to look at the world as a neighbor and see where people die because they don’t have water. There—there—there’s not enough water there for people to subsist on. In my opinion we must take care of our natural resources and do our share. If we don’t, then we’re going to be—we’re going to be facing some of the problems that other countries are facing. I’d like to think that with the general population supporting us. The general population, like I said earlier, in every poll you can think of they’re very strong in protecting the environment. The children are very much concerned about protecting the environment. If we start early on with the children, I’d like to think that the next generation, or generations to come, not just one, are going to do more than their elders have done to—to save our environment. I think we just need to be concerned about that. We need to have standing committees that deal with the environment. Not just a standing committee, like we have had in the present, to be just a rubber stamp for the industries that want to use our natural resources for them to feather their nests.
DT: You spoke about children. Would you have any advise for generations coming up about facing these environmental issues?
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CT: You know, I don’t think you can fool the children. I don’t think that—that—that—I don’t imagine that children will buy when you pollute the water, when you pollute the air, when you pollute the rivers. And I don’t think any father, or mother, for that matter, can justify their jobs or their industry and say, “We had to pollute the coast in Texas. We had to pollute the rivers.” I don’t think so. I think people are smarter than we give them credit, beginning with the children. I’d like to think that, out of respect perhaps many children may not say anything to their parents. But, by-and-large, I think a greater awareness needs to be an ongoing program, an on—an ongoing program of education, conservation. I think it’s—it’s—it’s—it’s a program that aught to be practiced every day, by all of us. If we don’t, then we’re contributing to the problem.
DT: Well said. Can you talk about a place that you really enjoy in the out of doors that you like to visit in your life?
0:21:24 – 2073
CT: We have it on the Texas coast. We have it in Padre Island. We have it particularly in the area that Senator Swartz and I authored the law to protect our sand dunes. There’s a—a part of—of Padre Island in—in—in South Padre Island that was not included under our act because the Senator at that time objected. He was beholding, you might say, to the developers. But in our area, from—from Galveston on—on—on down to Willacy County, and includes Nueces County, Kleberg and Kenedy County, you can go there and you can see our natural beauty with the sand dunes, for example. And we have an area that has been well protected. Port Aransas, Rockport, the other parts of Padre Island, I’d like to think that we don’t have to go away from Texas. We don’t have to travel away from the area where I live. I—I feel very blessed to live on the Texas coast. I just like to think that if there are those that come in and want to make a living out of spoiling our environment, that they’re in for a fight.
DT: Well thank you for fighting the big fights and for spending so much time with us today.
0:22:55 – 2073
CT: (talking over David) Thank you. Thank you. You bet.
DT: You did a wonderful job.
End of reel 2073.
End of interview with Senator Carlos Truan.