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George Smith

INTERVIEWEE: George Smith (GS)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 21, 2003
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Smith and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2275 and 2276

Please note that the recording includes 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 or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: This is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 21st, 2003. We’re in Houston and we have the good fortune to be interviewing George Smith, who by trade and profession worked as a dentist for many years, but by avocation and passion, he advocated for better air quality in the Houston and Texas areas. And was long affiliated with the Sierra Club and Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention and a number of governmental agencies as well. And I wanted to thank him for taking the time to talk to us.
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GS: Thanks for asking me. I feel honored.
DT: Well, glad to have you. I thought we might start by how you started and if there was a point that you could indicate where air quality became of interest to you and perhaps a parent, teacher, mentor, friend that could’ve introduced you to it?
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GS: Well, we moved to Houston in 1964 and soon, we figured out that, in addition to a growing Southern city, we got one that was—that was polluted. The air really was smoking. There were advisories in the newspaper about where they expected the—the pollution levels to be the worst. The key people involved at the time were the folks—the scientists at the School of Public Health and, interestingly enough, they were really concerned about particulates. And somehow particulates then, kind of, faded into the background as we focused on ozone. But I got most concerned when I read in the
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newspaper that the city council was giving variances for various industries to produce more black smoke. And so this was in the days before the Clean Air Act really—really began. I—I got personally involved mostly because an activist, Becky Moon with the League of Women Voters, was contesting a permit for a chemical plant down in the ship channel. They were going to be increasing their production of vinyl chloride, a monomer, which has been shown to be a definite carcinogen. And so, that was my first experience with going to hearings and telling people that, you know, we didn’t want so much pollution. So that’s—that’s how I got started.
DT: Can you tell a little bit more about this permit hearing?
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GS: Well, as a result, they—the company got their permit, but they also had to put on some health conferences at the School of Public Health as a result. So—and I believe their permit limits were tightened. And so, that’s often what I tried to do, as—as the years went by, I challenged, oh, a couple of dozen permits because I didn’t feel like they were protective of—of public health. Through the Sierra Club, back when the—the rules of the Texas Air Control Board were somewhat looser than they are today, we could say that we were a member of a public interest organization and we didn’t think that this permit protected public health. And so, we would challenge permits and we would slow that process down until they could show that the pollution in the neighborhood around that plant wasn’t going to damage public health. Particularly concerned about toxic emissions, where you have some guidelines—we don’t have any set standards, but we have some guidelines that we thought weren’t being followed. And so—so we helped the—the Texas Air Control Board have a little more spine and stand up for—for cleaner air.
DT: Maybe you can give us some examples of some of these hearings and challenges that you and the Sierra Club helped put together.
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GS: Well, the two that were the—the biggest and most important for me were, one was Arco Chemical over in Baytown—or not Baytown, in the Channel View area. And Lyondell Refinery down—it’s just the corner of Houston. At Arco, their emissions were going to be rather high for benzene and they were going to—they were already high; they were going to be expanding the plant and produce even more. And so, we kept after them, telling them isn’t there something else that you can do to get these emissions down? Because when the wind’s from the north, it’s going to blow right into this neighborhood, which is just right to the south of the—of the plant. And so, they ended up and installed a—a stripper that got the—the benzene out of the wastewater. There was a lot of wastewater that was going into ponds and we wanted this to—to—to be cleaner because once it goes into the pond, it just evaporates out and pollutes. And so they
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stripped the benzene out and then run that toxic gas to the flare and incinerate it. At—at Lyondell, the issue was an expansion of the plant to produce more—more product and we said well, that’s fine but are—aren’t you going to do something to reduce the pollution at the same time? It’s essentially the new source review issue, which is a hot issue right now because the teeth have been taken out of this by the—the Bush EPA. But, at that time, we—we had this—this rule in effect. And so, they said well, yeah, I guess we could. We could do this, that and the other. And so, they took out a bunch of sulphur and a bunch of particulates and reduced their pollution rather dramatically and I was pretty proud of that. We—we got some press on that and the Arco issue. As a result, you know, it—it looked like a—a win-win in that, you know, the plant got to expand and the air got cleaner, which is the way it’s supposed to work these days.
DT: Maybe you can help us sort of get a sense of the context for your work in improving air quality and tell us why Houston has had such a challenge in the air quality field? And how did this air pollution problem get started here?
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GS: Well, the—we have quite a—a chemical center here, one of the largest in—in the world. And it exists for a couple of reasons. We’re close to where the oil fields were, around Beaumont and south of here, around Lake Jackson. And we have a port. A port brings products in, products out and once you start having some chemical plants, then more chemical plants come in to trade products and by products. And so we have this tremendous concentration of chemical plants up and down the ship channel and south on—on—on the bay at Texas City. Another concentration there. Our pollution results mostly from low wind conditions and hot sun—sun conditions in the summertime.
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Where the—all of the furnaces that—their exhaust creates nitrogen oxides, which then form a chemical reaction with all of the petrochemical vapors that leak out of these plants, it forms ozone smog. This ozone smog irritates eyes, nose, throat, chest, damages plants, rots the nylons off of your wife’s legs. It’s—it’s a very toxic—a very—not a toxic, but a very chemically active, bleach-like chemical that is in the air. And we’ve had a Clean Air Act for 30 years and—which has required cleanup plans. These cleanup plans have traditionally been minimalist. The state air agency, Texas Air Control Board, now the Texas Commission on Natural Resources, I believe.
DT: Environmental Quality?
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GS: Environmental Quality. They keep changing names. Is—the state is responsible for the cleanup plan and industry has traditionally lobbied to make that plan as minimalist as possible. And so, we’ve always done the very least possible and so, while Los Angeles has cleaned up from a very, very dangerous level to a very—not clean, but much cleaner level in 30 years, we have made, really, minimal progress. We have made progress. The—the trend lines are improving. We have fewer days; we have lower levels of—of ozone smog. But because industry keeps fighting with lawsuits and lobbying, we just—we haven’t gotten there yet. And with the—with the way things are going, we’re not going to get there for a long time, which means that for a lot of folks who have asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, Houston’s not going to be a—a clean
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place, a healthy place to live. This has even hurt business in—in Houston. We did not get the Toyota plant. We have not gotten some other major business centers moving here. Business community has not wanted to move here because we have poor air quality. So this kind of gets people’s attention, but not seriously because we—we just keep putting off the—the deadlines. We just say well, the deadline’s 2007. Now it’s going to be 2013 and heaven only knows. It’s—it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle. And it’s—it’s occupied my life for, oh, I guess, 22 years as a state air quality chair since 1980, or 23 years. And it’s something I’ve been working on basically almost all my Sierra Club days since—since I joined in 1970.
DT: And my understanding is that it’s more of a industrial source problem in Houston than a citizen and vehicular problem or a natural sources. Is that fair?
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GS: Yes. It’s—it’s more industrial than anything and, you know, we—most—most big cities have some pollution and it’s because of cars. Here, cars are only about 20 to 25 percent of the problem—cars, trucks and buses. And then we have some construction equipment and ships and trains and airplanes, which make up another 20 percent. And then the balance is—is industry and that’s what really set the Houston area off from other industrialized areas in—that our industry is—is much dirtier. It doesn’t look dirty. People think that the chemical plants are fairly clean, but—they’re cleaner than they used to be. They don’t have the black smoke. But it turns out, they’re leaking much worse—much worse than we realized—much worse than industry has been reporting over the years.
DT: So the industrial sources aren’t just smokestacks, but they might be, like you said the Arco example, might be a waste pond.
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GS: A waste pond.
DT: Or it could be…
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GS: Flares.
DT: Leaks and valves.
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GS: Leaks. Most recently, we’ve figured out that one of the major problems is cooling towers. Normally, we think of cooling towers as clean. They’re just a heat radiator and most of them are, you know, as a, say, at—at a power plant. That cooling tower is just radiating, you know, putting out steam. But many of the cooling towers in the industrial—petrochemical business are cooling liquids—or they’re cooling water that’s—that is cooling liquids and then the water runs through the—the cooling tower. But it—it turns out that some of these petrochemical liquids and vapors and gasses are under very high pressure. The heat exchangers are leaking product into the water. The water gets sprinkled into the cooling tower and you’re getting massive, just massive emissions of—of chemicals that are carcinogenic, they’re smog forming and industry has not been reporting these emissions. The EPA has, somewhat shortsightedly, given them the—the option of reporting by estimate. That if it’s a cooling tower, it probably leaks X amount.
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And so industry said well, that’s a good number; we’ll use that. And only recently, in 2000, did the airplane flights over the ship channel show that these industries were polluting 6 to 10 times the amount of pollution that they were reporting. And one of the problems of the agency in formulating these—our cleanup plan for reducing ozone has been that somehow, the mathematical models didn’t work. And so, industry said well, the mathematical models don’t work. Well, that’s because industry wasn’t reporting their emissions properly. They were just reporting some estimate that had no relation to truth. Had no relation to truth. And—so sure enough, the—the—the mathematical models didn’t work at all. And only when the agency just arbitrarily tweaked the model up by 6 to 10 times did the—did the ca—calculations turn out correct. Oh, isn’t that amazing? So we—we’ve had a problem and part of that problem has been that industry just hasn’t been reporting their emissions.
DT: Can you explain sort of the history of self-reporting? It seems like an odd regulatory scheme.
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GS: Well, self-reporting can work when you have monitoring, that you simply report the results of your monitoring. And when industry monitors their nitrogen oxide emissions from a—a stack, those are done on a continuous emissions monitor, those numbers are—are reliable. We can believe that. Where industry makes a seat of the pants estimate, based on something that there’s no relation to—to the truth, then—then we have a problem. And so that—that’s been where we’ve been right now. Self-reporting can work. But you need to trust and verify, to quote—who—who was it that—that—that said that? Was that Reagan? Trust and verify? He was—he was right on there.
DT: And is this also the case, not just with the cooling towers, but also with the pumps and valves leaks?
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GS: Sure.
DT: That these are basically factors rather than measurements?
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GS: That’s right. Yeah. They’re all just estimates. They use something called an emission factor. We got 25 valves, why, they must leak X amount. Well—and they’re—they’re asked to go around and check those on a periodic basis. But those are—those are a factor, but probably not as big a factor as the cooling towers, where industry wasn’t required to do any testing at all. Well, they could test once a month and if they found some—a—a leak, then they were supposed to fix it, but there was no timetable for requiring them to fix it. Another problem has been the use of flares and industry always says well, a flare is good because it gets rid of these smog-forming chemicals and it keeps the plant from blowing up. I said well, that’s nice. You don’t want to blow up, but the
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problem is that industry has been kind of sloppy about their use of flares. Rather than recycling compounds that are off specification, they just burn it up. And that’s wasteful, plus not at—not all of that stuff burns up. We found that those—those flares are probably not quite as efficient as—as we thought. And also—it’s also making a lot of smoke, lot of particulate, a lot of nitrogen oxide switched then trigger more—more smog. So, it’s—it’s the sloppy—sloppy production processes ha—has been a problem. And, you know, it—it’s—it’s been cheaper for them to flare off than to—to run it right. It’s been cheaper for them to—to make estimates rather than to make measurements and that’s one thing we’re—we’re working on right now.
DT: These flares are linked in with upsets, is that right?
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GS: For the most part, they are. Except that, as I said, they sometimes run them on a more or less continuous basis because it’s just cheaper for them to do that than to recycle a product or try to find some other use for it or bring it back up to spec and they’ll—they’ll just burn it off.
DT: Well, in the case when it—these flares are connected with upsets, how is that encompassed in the permit?
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GS: It’s not considered. It’s—this has—this has been a problem in that one of the real smoggy, nasty days during the 2000 test, they found that there was a major upset going on at that time, where a flare-up probably wasn’t consuming all the stuff. And they did some backtracking on the plume and decided, hmm, yep. It was an upset and this—this flare was causing one of those really bad days. Other times, they’ve tried to find the culprit and not been able to. There again, it’s industry self-reporting, which is another way of calling it voluntary compliance. Voluntary regulation, which isn’t really very effective.
DT: Well, is part of the problem with regulating these industries been that they—there are so many different sources so close together and it’s difficult to discriminate?
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GS: That’s exactly right. And that’s why we need more monitoring. Industry just defeated another monitoring effort recently, where they—they lobbied and succeeded, evidently, in making the agency back down on some of their monitoring of individual units, individual cooling towers and they said well, instead of doing that, we’ll just monitor a few things and we’ll let—we’ll give you—the state some money so that you all can do more monitoring out in the neighborhood. Well, there again, it doesn’t get to the source of the problem. You know, yes, we’re going to find the—the ozone smog out there, but it—it fails to—to put the finger on the companies that are—that are causing the trouble.
DT: Do you think that there’s any sort of competitive advantage achieved with some companies that are bad actors at the expense of companies that have better performance records and are more efficient?
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GS: Yes, but they kind of stick together and, given the—the way the Chamber of Commerce is linked together with their en—environmental committee, it’s the polluters who basically staff and run the environmental committee. And they’re the ones who do most of the—the fobbing on—on clean air issues. You know, it’s not the—the medical center or the insurance companies or the banking companies. They just defer all that to the—to the industries that are cau—that are causing the problem.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about the Texas Chemical Council and how they advocate for these policies?
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GS: What more can you say? You know, they’re—it’s—they’re—we—we’ve dealt with these people and some are nice and—nicer than others and some of them—they—they’re—they’re a lobbying group. They’re protecting their own interest. I guess I had the most exposure to these people when I was on the voluntary—what was that thing when the—when the—the legislature and the governor tried to—well, they—they put in the voluntary grandfathered program. They had—they had a—they had a name for that committee that didn’t make any sense.
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GS: Anyway, it was—basically, we were set up. There were about three environmental people and the rest were industry or industry and government people who would swing with the industry side. And there again, it was sort of a dance in that, you know, they danced their way, we danced ours and we understood that, you know, it was—we weren’t going to get the kind of regulation, the kind of required permits for the grandfathered plants that—that we wanted. We did what we could. We were hamstrung from—from the beginning, but I’m a participator. I—I—I want to be on these committees and try to do what I can to—to swing the committee as far as we can towards doing—you know, protecting the environment. And I’ve been on all sorts of state and local committees, trying to do that. It—sometimes it works better than other and sometimes the environmentalists don’t perceive how one person can—I—I’ve—I’ve had—I’ve taken a little flack for participating in—in committees that—where the results were not good, but you know, you just—if you don’t try, you—you know, you got to try.
DT: The criticism is that you helped them sort of whitewash?
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GS: Yeah, I guess. Yeah. Green wash. That it—green wash is the—that the green wash is the issue, somewhat. But, you know, I think you have to try. And so that’s why I have been on mayoral committees and county commiss—committees and state committees and doing what I can.
DT: When you had used the grandfathered emissions and plant cases, a way to talk about lobbying, can you explain what a grandfather plant is and why that was a problem in Texas?
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GS: Well, it seems to be a problem all across the United States. I thought maybe it was especially for Texas. When we started the Clean Air Act 30 years ago, the plants that were either operating or under construction at the time were allowed to continue to operate until they either made major modifications or shut down. They would not have to get a new permit as all the new plants were going to be required to do. We thought, you know, it’s old, it’ll wear out and they’ll replace it. And as it turned out, some of the companies were able to keep the old plant running way past what we thought and so they didn’t have to clean up their plant. They could continue to continue keeping on in the same old way. In effect, giving them a competitive advantage in that it’s still a dirty old
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plant. Now, they would not enjoy some of the efficiencies of a new plant, but it was just so cheap to run and just slightly modify it, just enough to—to keep it going. But if they did a major modification, such as Lyondell and—and Arco, then they had to get a permit and that’s where—that’s where we stepped in. But what we found was that hundreds of these plants were still operating 30 years later. And finally, the legislature decided that they had to do something, that the—the deadlines of the Clean Air Act—at least, they were threatened deadlines at the time—made them decide that they—the plants had to get a—the old plants had to get permitted. They were pretty easy on them, however. They said well, you can upgrade but you don’t have to go all the way to—to clean—what would—would be clean today. It—you—clean as of ten years ago. Well, you know, that’s—they—they still got a pretty good deal. They didn’t have to clean up an awful lot.
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But these days, the plants are getting permits, however, that process is very slow. One of the plants that had the worst butadiene leak, Texas Petrochemical, has applied for this voluntary emission reduction permit, but it’s—it’s still pending three years later. And—and they’re still doing things in the same old way. They’re not monitoring that—that leaky cooling tower and so the neighborhood is—is suffering the consequences.
DT: I understand that one of the larger grandfathered facilities was a company called Alcoa. Do you know much about the situation?
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GS: Not an awful lot. They—there—there’s a—a couple of plants that got grandfathered, one was up at Rockdale and one was down on the bay and—near Corpus. And they got special deals so that they could continue to use lignite and so they’re just polluting like crazy because they’re not getting—they’re—they’re not using clean fuel and they’re not using scrubbers and they’re not using bag houses. These—these plants are just—they’re just beyond the pale. But every time some legislator tries to lower the boom on them, they bring in the—the labor unions and their families and say oh, we’re going to lose all our jobs and—if we can’t just continue doing what we’re doing and—so they’ve had—they’re actually given a—a special area in the legislation that lets them—lets them off. It’s really sad.
DT: What is the role of some of the labor forces down there? I imagine that they’re, in a sense, conflicted because they’re the canary in the coalmine. I mean, they get the closest exposure to some of these emissions, working there and living close by. But then also, they work in these plants and their jobs, livelihoods are at stake.
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GS: Well, it depends. Different plants, different unions. The Steel Workers were really good, they were concerned. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic workers are really good because they’re concerned. They are in the plants and they are directly affected. The—the folk working these aluminum plants, where they have these major lignite-fired facilities, they’re not suffering because the stacks are tall and the stacks just pollute the area rather than pollute them. And so, they’re—they’re beyond it. You know, they’re—they’re not being affected.
DW: When I went up in a helicopter over Houston the other day, we were at about 400 feet. We were just flying over the refineries. You don’t want to fly too much over the flares because you just never know when one might pop. But then, suddenly a whiff that smelled like burning airplane model comes through their thing. I need to wonder about the—you talked earlier about the invisible things being a problem and then you see these homes, and they’re wealthy-looking homes anyway, clustered in there. And I’m just thinking how are the people in those areas not concerned about this to the point of greater—even if it is providing their jobs—why is the health link not somehow becoming a front-page thing? Or how is that 48,000 a year and benefits somehow obscures cancer? I don’t know if you’ve encountered that.
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GS: When were out in the Channelview area and I first channel—first—when I first tried to contest that Arco permit, I could not get the people in the area to—to be concerned, to go in with me. They were afraid of their jobs. The—their husbands worked out there and they didn’t want to stir the pot. After a plant blew up, they decided maybe they were concerned because guys died. And so, eventually the Channelview folk did get involved and—and worked with us and the companies to—to make some reductions out there. The—some people, such as the Manchester area, right—it’s right on the ship channel. Valero Refining is right there. Those—those people are not
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politically active. These are—they’re—they’re just not making that much money. They’re living on the edge. They’re living in rather marginal conditions. They are not going to be activists. The folks—despite the fact that they’re—they’re suffering. They’re—and some of them know it. The folks in Deer Park are helped by favorable winds. Now that’s where your—your nicer homes are, is in Deer Park and most of the wind comes from the southeast. And so Deer Park doesn’t really suffer. Except for when they go downtown to Pasadena and over Pasadeener where the air is greener and, you know, we’ve had air pollution hearings in Pas—Pasadena, where the air was really grim. But people are concerned about their pocketbook. People are concerned.
DT: Are some of the people who work in these refineries, the petrochemical plants and other heavy industries with pollution problems, contract workers rather than union workers?
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GS: There’s both. There’s—they’re union, they’re contract. They—they have both.
DT: And you said that some of the non-union contract workers are more vulnerable still?
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GS: Probably. Because they’re often brought in to do some of the more hazardous things and, also they’re—they don’t have the union voice behind them. They—they don’t have a voice. You know, who’s—who’s to speak for them?
DT: We were talking earlier about grandfather plans and then recently you mentioned how a plant out in Channelview area blew up. Is part of the pollution problem related to the age of the plants and the maintenance and good repair of them?
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GS: Probably part of it. But it’s—it’s mostly the—the way that we talked about before, the—the self-reporting, which isn’t really reporting at all. Most of the pollution problem is on a day-to-day basis. It’s—it’s not the blowups. It’s—it’s the sloppy management. The plants that—that do have good preventive maintenance, however, are the ones that don’t have upsets and they’re cleaner because they stress it. And—and I’ve seen some of those plants and their records, you know, just get better and better. And—because this is their program, to—to really run it right whereas other plants are more run for profit, I guess. The—the big catastrophes, I think, are just—they’re just catastrophes. They’re just—they’re just accidents. You know, 20 people die, 5 people die and they happen, you know, every year. It happens every year. But these—you know, these aren’t pollution events. These are just—these are work catastrophes.
DT: Do you find that these catastrophes—explosions, fires and so on—that they hurt the credibility of the companies or the industry at large?
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GS: Sure. I think—I—I keep telling—every time we have a meeting with industry, I tell them they have the credibility of Al Capone. You know, chemical plants are just—they—they aren’t—they don’t have a lot of credibility and that has been a real concern for them. They’ve had various projects to try to build credibility. You know, and they’ll ask us out for tours and that’s always an exciting thing, to take a tour of a plant and think about how many thousands and thousands of gallons of flammable liquids are running around in tubes and boilers. It’s—it’s pretty exciting.
DT: More on this issue of older plants and you mentioned that the New Source Review program is going through the process of being weakened. Can you explain how that came about, the erosion of that program?
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GS: Well, it has to do with industrial influence in the government that—it had mostly to do with the power plants that wanted to upgrade and produce more pollution. And somehow, the administration was able to—to juggle the numbers so that they made it sound like things were going to get better even though we weren’t going to require that each instance, that it does get better. Under the New Source Review, every plant had to get cleaner and—and now, that’s not going to be required. Somehow there’s this overall, general program that is all—all things are going to get better. But it’s un—it’s unclear to me how—how it can possibly get better when—if you don’t require each plant to making the modification to—to reduce its pollution that it’s been doing for the last 30, 40 years. It doesn’t—it doesn’t make any sense to me.
DT: So what were the mechanics of actually getting these reductions? I mean, the health or technology aside?
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GS: What’s that now? I don’t—I don’t get that.
DT: Well, I think I understand that, for you, the math doesn’t add up.
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GS: Right. It doesn’t add up.
DT: That the aggregate numbers are going down but the individual numbers are going up. All things like that being the same, how do you think a program that attacks air quality and health makes progress politically?
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GS: Somehow, they’re—they’re using some long-term projections, that somehow, things will get better in the future. And I could never understand why it would and the powers that—that be seem to say it does, that it—it helps, but—you know, it’s going to get better. But I—I can’t see it and—and I haven’t seen a—a rationale that—that makes any sense to me.
DT: Something else that interests me. When a company comes in for a new permit—let’s use the case of Formosa, for example. In some states, they have to show a compliance history that’s good in order to get the credibility to build something new, to have expanded emissions and so on. Can you explain the role of compliance history in Texas permits for air pollution?
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GS: Well, they didn’t used to have to consider it. A plant could ask for a permit, claim that they were clean, they’re—they would be clean and we’d have to take their word for it. The current rules are that they’re to supply a compliance history of how their companies work. I’m not sure that they’re performance outside the state is considered much, if at all. To a certain extent, we still have to just take their word for it, you know, that it’s going to be clean. But there again, you need to trust and verify and make sure that the technology that they’re claiming works, that—that you do some monitoring on a real time basis in a meaningful way. And we haven’t had to do that much in the past. Hopefully, the agency’s going to start learning that they need to double check, make sure that these things are what they are reported to be.
DT: So what if the reports come from citizens as opposed to industry reports or agency inspector’s reports?
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GS: They’re not given a lot of credence. The—the EPA is working with a local group here to let—let the local group do some canister testing of air and compare that with professionals test and see if they are comparable. And they’re somewhat comparable, but it’s interesting. These things are—they’re somewhat variable, also. They don’t al—always come up with the same numbers. But this has been a—a constant source of—of irritation to people downwind of chemical plants, of manufacturing plants of all kinds, that, if you make a complaint, no one will come out that day. No one will come out the next day. They might come out the week after that and they’ll say looks pretty good to
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me. Well, you should’ve been here a week ago. And so, the—the canister testing at least gives citizens a chance to—to see if they can—can verify, you know, this is a bad day and we’re going to test it. If this program continues, and it’s given credence—if it’s good and—given some authority by—by the agency for enforcement, that would be a real step forward. A real step forward.
DT: You mentioned just a moment ago, power plants. And my understanding is that—I think it’s two sessions ago, there was a bill passed that provided for a very different future for power plants in the state and I was wondering if you could explain what happened there?
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GS: Well, they’re mostly getting cleaner. The power plants are tending to use natural gas more. They’re tending to install scrubbers. Some plants—we don’t have the wor—very worst one here. The—the worst ones are up close to Dallas. One called Big Brown, which had an undersized particle precipitator and it traditionally—it traditionally caused a lot of—lot of smoke. So much so that they—they asked for an alternative permit and—which Neil Carman and I contested, gave me an opportunity to be deposed for three hours by a couple of attorneys, which was—was a real experience.
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GS: Well, they didn’t get their—they didn’t get their alternative permit. They—they had—they had to install some—a better scrubber and we were—we were real happy with that. But industry plays pretty hardball when—when you start messing around with their profit making apparatus. But…
DT: What was the experience of being deposed that…?
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GS: It was pretty awful. Mary Van Kerrebrook sat by my side. She’s now with the Katy Cons—Prairie Conservancy. But she was a—a local attorney who sat beside me and held me up while—while they battered me about.
DT: And did they just have skepticism for your claims?
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GS: Yeah. You know, about—you know, should Sierra Club be—does—do we have an interest in, you know, as—as the state clean air chair? I thought we had an interest and—it’s because we had members downwind of that plant. And we thought it was in the public interest to support the agency as they opposed the—the Texas Utilities people. I—I got some great stories from the folks in the agency. They—they said when we first started dealing with Texas Utilities, we’d go into a meeting with them and they’d be smoking cigars and blowing smoke in our face. Well, they don’t do that anymore.
DT: You mentioned that one of the things that the opposing attorneys were challenging you on was whether there was standing for the Sierra Club. And I understand that standards for standing have changed.
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GS: Yeah.
DT: Can you give us a little history of that?
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GS: Well, there—it was—it was a legislative thing a few years ago that—that restricted standing in challenging permits to people who were really close by and showed that they were very directly affected. And disallowed groups—public interest groups, such—such as Sierra Club, to be able to—to take part. And so, we haven’t been challenging permits lately.
DW: Now, if a member happens to be a downwinder, that didn’t somehow (inaudible)
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GS: Yeah, I—I think—I think that—I think that that member still could challenge permits, but there again, it’s—they just made life much more difficult. Much more difficult.
DT: And so it leads it to what was the Texas Air Control Board, now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA to challenge these permits or make them as good and they…
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GS: Well, to try to, yeah.
DT: Internally.
GS: Yeah. Yeah.
DT: It’s in the permit process.
GS: Right.
DT: Do you think that they do an adequate job of doing that?
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GS: It varies. I would like to think that, because we challenged so many here, we tried to—to raise the bar on industry and to try to give the agency some backbone so that the—I—I thought the—the engineers want to do the right thing. At the higher political levels of the agency, things were a little looser and we always wanted to try to support the—the—the—the engineers who were—who were writing the permit and they were—they were pretty helpful. You know, we’d say, you know, well, what about this? Could something different be done here? Well, you could and—and, you know, we’d—we’d work with them.
DT: And did you find that they were pretty cooperative?
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GS: They were—they were receptive, yeah. Of course, they kind of had their orders, too, that, you know, they could only do so much and only be so tough.
DT: Tell me about one permit that, I believe, you worked on and opposed was the Mitsubishi copper smelter. Give us the story of that, please?
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GS: Well, that was pretty exciting. The Mitsubishi copper smelter was ill-sited. It was going to be ill-sited. Putting a copper smelter on the banks of—of Galveston Bay was just not the place to put it, for air quality reasons as well as water quality reasons. There again, it was—it wasn’t me that defeated that. It was a coalition, the Galveston Bay people, Jim Blackburn lobbied hard to get a zero discharge for the water. And that was pretty impressive. We worked real hard because it looked to me like there were going to be enough heavy metal emissions from that plant, even though it was going to be clean. It was going to be one of the cleanest plants around. But it was going to be enough that it would probably pollute the bay and, you know, that’s our—it’s our seafood
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there, you know. We catch sport fish and shrimp and oysters and fish and sport fish. You know, it’s a—it’s a big fishery. It’s a—it’s a nursery ground and it’s just not the place to put heavy metals. And you just can’t refine—do copper refining with—without it—some pollution. So we fought that and fought that. I got offered some gratuities by the industry. I said well, I don’t think I can take that, thank you. That little—little chunk of gold. Well, it’s just a—it’s just a—it’s just a token. Well, thanks, but I think I—don’t think I’ll take that, thanks. In the end, what defeated it was world copper prices. They tanked and Mitsubishi decided well, that’s not a very good place to put a copper smelter anyway.
DT: You know we’ve talked to a number of environmentalists and it maybe be modesty, I don’t know, but they often say, well, we fought this project or this facility for many years and what we really did was allow other things to take precedence. The politics weren’t right or the economy wasn’t right or their particular industry went south. And that it wasn’t the environment—or environmental protection that stopped the permit.
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GS: That’s exactly right. We never stopped a single plant from doing anything. We slowed a few down until they put in some better controls. We slowed a few down until things changed, such as Mitsubishi, such as the—the deepwater oil terminal, the compre—liquid natural gas terminal down towards Corpus—Bay City, I can’t remember exactly where that was. It was going to be on—(?) was going to be on Matagorda Bay. That was going to be on Matagorda Bay. Allen’s Creek Nuclear. You know, we didn’t stop any of those, but, you know, we slowed them down until the economy showed them that this wasn’t the place to put that particular unit. If—if HL&P would’ve built Allen Creek, they’d be sunk by the debt by now. And, you know, they’ve got enough debt from the South Texas plant that if they had another one, they—they probably wouldn’t—they’d probably be bankrupt, or else double our electric rates. That would—that would’ve been a disaster.
DT: Did these projects sort of sink of their weight?
GS: Yeah. Yeah. And I—I really don’t think that—that the environmentalists have—have been able to—to truly stop anything. It’s been other issues that eventually kill these projects. And they’re—they’re ill-advised projects.
[End of Reel 2275]
DT: George, up to now, we’ve been talking about some of the factors for air quality in Houston and Texas, but mostly, I think, about conventional pollutants, particulate matter and volatile organics and sulfur and NOx. But, as you’ve pointed out, Houston’s quite distinctive in having this large petrochemical presence here and a real soup of unusual pollutants and I was wondering if you could talk about some of the toxic air pollution problems that you’ve confronted here?
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GS: Well, we do indeed have a—have a toxic soup. The—the only thing that really saves us is that usually we have a nice Gulf breeze during the day and—so it blows it up toward Tomball. Otherwise, it’d get kind of concentrated around here. The people who live fairly close to these plants are convinced that it’s real—that these plants pollute at night. I don’t think that they do, in general, but what happens at night is that—it—it would—air cools down and gets trapped down close to the ground and so all the pollutants are down at ground level and they’re concentrated. And you out in the morning, you really get a snoot full. It’s a snoot full of hundreds of chemicals. The—the—some of the most common, though, are butadiene, thing—something we make rubber tires out of. Styrene, make plastic. Some of the things are just components of
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gasoline and diesel fuel. There’s a lot of benzene, ethyl benzene. Some of these things are fairly strictly regulated nowadays, much, much more so than the past. But, to a certain extent, because we still haven’t required real time monitoring of these things, like the cooling towers, there are places where big time chemical leaks are polluting neighborhoods. Things that—that cause brain cancer, like—like butadiene. This is—this is serious and the people in that neighborhood, near that plant, are—are being exposed at a—at a pretty high level. Anyone who’s working outside during the day anywhere in the plume of one of those plant that—that—that’s leaking like that, there—there’s certainly going to be a risk. And it’s—it’s interesting—Texas doesn’t have good data on—on deaths from cancer and so we really—we really don’t know what the—all the—the reasons for death are. But, probably we’ve—we’ve got some—some problems if you
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could locate it by census tract and if we had better—better reporting of things like that. But we do have—we’re starting to do more monitoring of more chemicals. But this has been a slow process. It’s a slow process. And—and we don’t have strict standards. All we have is health effect screening levels that—well, yeah, that looks kind of high. Let’s look for a plant and see who’s producing that and maybe they can put in some more controls. There was a—a plant over in the Channelview area that made pesticides and they did it by the batch process. Well, when they’d open up the tank at the end of the batch process, oh, man, it’d just—it’d just knock your socks off. And the people who lived downwind of that did complain, but they were just poor people. They were living in trailer houses and not much was done. So it’s—it’s a tough fight with a short stick out there.
DT: Do you think that there’s much synergistic effect between all these different sources and kinds of chemicals?
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GS: We don’t know what that synergistic effect is. The Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention is releasing a study next week, looking at what we have found as far as toxic levels that people are being exposed to. And we are making an attempt to sum up what those—the death rates—the expected death rates from—from these chemicals is using a—a model from EPA and the Environmental Defense. So we’re working on it. So we’re trying to let people know what’s out there and—and what’s dangerous for them.
DT: Do you hear many reports of, you know, anecdotally or from official sources, about cancer hot spots around these toxic releases?
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GS: Not really. Not really.
DT: Do you think it’s because it’s not happening or because the reporting network and the medical establishment is not (?)
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GS: Well, for one thing, we’re a pretty mobile society. We don’t stay put long enough to—to get really good figures. You know, if you stayed in that plume—lived in that plume for a long time, we’d have a pretty good chance of pinning down who got sick from what. But—so as a result of our mobility and our lack of reporting, lack of real time monitoring of toxic levels where—where people live, we’ve got some problems that we don’t even know we have. We don’t even know we have.
DT: Well, sort of talking some more about the limits of what we know, I’ve heard some people be critical of the medical establishment, particularly the Texas Medical Center, because it shares a city and general area with these petrochemical industries that are polluting this area and we’re not really sure what they effects are. And they contend that there are limits on the kind of epidemiological and toxicological work being done that should be done. What’s your feeling?
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GS: The—the lung doctors are—tend to be the more—most supportive. They realize that they’re seeing a lot of asthma. Over the last 20 years, it’s just—the asthma rates have skyrocketed and, certainly, pollution is—is one contributing factor. It’s a lot easier to—to pin down asthma triggers than it is other toxic triggers. Certainly, nothing is as toxic as cigarettes and there’s no question but what cigarettes have—are—are far and away the greatest cancer causer—much greater than—than the petrochemical plants. But we choose whether we smoke or not. We don’t choose whether we breathe or not. And that’s—that’s why I’ve been concerned about air quality because it’s something that, you
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know, we think we have the right to clean air. It’s part of a quality of life thing, that I think it’s our responsibility to—to protect and to try to do something about. And, unfortunately, the physicians, in general, have not been particularly concerned about air quality. That said, we at GASP have received some support from a noted, local allergist and asthma doctor, so with—with his support, we ex—the GASP group has been able to do some work. But the—in general, physicians have not been particularly concerned about air quality, toxics, anything.
DT: Well, do you think it’s more of an effective indifference and need to work on other items, or do you think that there’s pressure from research funders, from board members of the hospitals and so on, to try and dissuade them from doing this research—and why don’t we break and then try and see what’s going on?
[break from recording]
DT: Could you go ahead and talk a little bit more about the medical research community and treatment institutions and their response to the health concerns—environmental health concerns in Houston?
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GS: Well, in general, our experience has been that they’re not responsive to pollution issues. At the School of Public Health, there were researchers sort of on both sides. One side was sort of environmental and the other side was kind of protective of industry. Stan Peer was always going off to testify on the behalf of some industry that, you know, oh, it wasn’t all that bad. You know, those levels aren’t bad at all. And then, we had—speaking of things that aren’t bad for you, the Chamber of Commerce had their own study of air pollution, HAPS, who is Houston Air—Air Pollution Study, or something like that. And their—their solution was that—or their—their conclusions were that ozone smog really isn’t bad for you. Well, that—that—that’s kind of new and different, but that was their take on it. So that’s—that’s been the—the Chamber of Commerce and the rest of the medical community has been just pretty—pretty hands off. Pretty hands off. Except for the—the allergists and the asthma people.
DT: You mentioned briefly, smoke and tobacco smoke, in particular, that it’s very toxic. And I was wondering if you could just briefly touch on some of the indoor air quality issues that we face since many of us spend a lot of time indoors.
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GS: Many people are sensitive to—to formaldehyde. And formaldehyde is used in building products, in carpeting, upholstery, and tends to off gas after it’s installed in a house. And so, if your house is well sealed, it’s possibly not the healthiest thing for you, particularly if it’s—it’s all brand new. This was a particular issue with regard to trailer homes. It seemed like they had a lot more plywood, fiberboard and glues involved and those things were really toxic for a while, until they got some changes made in—in their construction. But certainly, a—a house, where there is a smoker living, is a toxic
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environment, particularly for children. The—the—there—there’s—there are carcinogens, there are particulates, it—it is really—it is really hazardous for—for kiddos. But, there again, that’s something that most of us have some control over. We can not smoke. The—the other issue with revar—with regard to indoor air is mold and I’m afraid I don’t really know an awful lot about mold. I have a feeling it’s more of a—a lawyer thing that really—rather than a—an air pollution thing. But it’s something that has certainly has gotten a lot of attention in the insurance field lately.
DT: Let’s return to exterior air quality, outdoor air quality. You mentioned earlier that Houston is distinctive in having a very large industrial component to its air pollution problem, but it does have a vehicular, transportation aspect as well. Can you talk a little bit about those factors and, especially how they impinge on people’s lifestyles and how difficult it is to control those things?
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GS: Well, years ago, we—as part of the Clean Air Act, we would—we mandated that cars would be cleaner. And, indeed, cars emit just a fraction of the pollution that they used to. However, we now drive 2 or 3 times further than we ever did before. We live in the woodlands and commute to the—to NASA or to downtown or—people don’t want to live in Channelview or down in the Manchester area. They want to live out in nice, clean, west part of town where the air is cleaner. And so they’re driving in, 15, 20 miles, 30 miles, all the way from the woodlands to—to wherever. And so we’re driving more. Our trips are not all work trips and so they’re not necessarily conducive to the vanpool program or carpool program. We’ve gotten all our ego tied up in our car, and so we don’t want to take the bus or—or the company van. You know, we want the—the power of our Boxster or our SUV or whatever. And we’re driving bigger and bigger vehicles, which
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pollute more because they’re not subject to the—to the same restrictions. Some of the companies have cleaner big vehicles than others, but some have very weak controls, such as the new Hummers and huge tank like things. About 20 to 25 percent of our pollution in Houston comes from transportation, cars, trucks and busses. We’ve also found that the diesel trucks are a bigger source of problem than we ever realized before. Since they didn’t have all of the petrochemical vapors coming out that our vehic—that our cars had, we thought they were cleaner. We thought diesel was a little cleaner. But unfortunately, it’s got a lot of particulates and it’s got a lot of NOx-exhaust. Nitrogen oxide exhaust, which forms smog. The particulates lodge in your lungs and are a cancer causer. We also get a lot of this from ships, trains, airplanes. Anytime you burn fuel, you’re—you’re going get some particulates and some NOx-exhaust and this reacts with the—the
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chemicals in the air that leak from our dry cleaners and our automobiles or paint shops. The—there are some gases that come off of trees. Those gasses are not harmful, but if you mix them with the nitrogen oxide exhaust, then you can form—form some smog from that. So we have a—a rather complex process. This is part of what makes fighting air pollution kind of interesting is that we’re learning more. We’re finding out that there are rather complex chemical reactions involved that we’re learning more about all the time. Learning how the industry hasn’t produced the—all the reports that they should. And it’s—it’s all going on around us, everyday. Everyday we get a new packet of clean air, and our four million cars, trucks and busses just do wonderful things to it.
DT: Well, speaking of cars and trucks, you mentioned just a moment ago about diesel and the interesting dilemma for me, and I imagine for many other people. On the one hand, you can get a very high mileage, high efficiency, low carbon dioxide emitting diesel car, station wagon, whatever. But on the other hand, it has these particulate and NOx problems. How do you balance, you know, the climate change risks with the health risks?
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GS: Well, you really can’t, in my opinion. You’re—there—you’ve got a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The short term is—is what you’re doing to your population right now. The long term is what we’re doing to the climate long term. However, the long-term solution is cleaner diesel, cleaner diesel fuel, and then, cleaner engines. This is coming. Not coming real fast, but we can put catalytic converters on diesel engines if we use really clean, low sulphur diesel fuel. And that’ll be coming, oh, I think about 2006, something like that, we’ll—we’ll have that in Texas. And so, we can put particulate traps to get rid of the particulates, to get rid of the soot and we can get rid of—of measure—of the nitrogen oxide with catalytic converters as well as cleaning
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burning engines. So we can have it all, more or less, if we’re careful. Of course, the new hybrid electric cars are much more efficient. They’re as efficient—probably more efficient, even, than—than a diesel. Less emissions of both carbon dioxide as well as—as well as particulates and I hope that my next car will be a—a hybrid.
DT: You’ve done a lot of this work on behalf of air quality on your own, as an individual. But it’s often on the letterhead and with the help of organizations and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Sierra Club and the group, GHASP, Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention?
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GS: Well, of course, the Sierra Club is a national conservation organization and we needed a—a presence on air quality issues and I’ve tried to be that for Texas since 1980. The Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention was formed in 1988. A—an organizer from the National Audubon Society came down to Houston to try to pull together the diverse groups that were somewhat concerned about air quality and try to get them all singing from the same page. And so it started off as an organization of organizations, linking up the Lung Association, Health Committee, which I was on, Sierra Club, Citizen’s Environmental Coalition, Nature Con—Outdoor Nature Club. And
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so, it was an organization of organizations at first. In early 90’s, we organized as a—as a nonprofit corporation, so we are now a 501c3, nonprofit organization. We try to maintain lengths with—with other groups but, basically, we are an education group. We’ve also challenged some permits. We do a small amount of lobbying, very small, limited due to our 501c3 status. We talked to the agency about clean air and stronger regulation, trying to provide some backbone for the organization—for the—for the agen—state agency.
DT: I had one more air quality question. Most of the things we’ve talked about so far are air pollution problems that are a by-product of process to produce things or to create transportation. But there are some cases where there’s air pollution that’s intentional. I mean, incinerators come to mind. And I was wondering if you have anything to say about medical waster incinerators or the Holmes Road incinerator or about Midlothian and the cement kilns?
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GS: Well, of course, David Merrick has been the point man on medical incinerators. He’s—he’s really been the big daddy. He has really studied that issue. He knows how hot that stuff needs to be for how long to get rid of all of that toxic plastic and stuff. The—the Holmes Road incinerator was so famous that a picture of it was on the EPA walls in—in Washington. It was a—a local municipal incin—a waste incinerator and it was—it was pretty awful. I don’t know if it’s still there. I know it was there a few years ago. I took the bus out that way and I went by this—oh, my gosh, there’s our old incinerator. The—the hazardous waste incinerator that’s out in the ship channel area, I’m not too concerned about because it is so tightly regulated. It is so well controlled that I
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think it’s probably pretty clean. Luckily, we don’t have cement kilns here, which are part of a loophole that has been exploited by the cement kiln people. They’re—they’re paid to—to burn toxic waste. So instead of having to pay to get rid of toxic waste, these people make money off of it. They—they burn toxic waste and—and make a—a ton of money. Unfortunately, they do not have adequate controls on their particulate or—or the—the gasses that come off and that’s—it’s really—it’s a crime and an exploitation of—of a loophole. It’s really a shame.
DT: Do they consider it resource recovery?
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GS: I’m sure they do. (Laughs)
DT: I don’t know if you have any other air quality or air pollution issues you’d like to discuss?
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GS: I think we’ve just about done it.
DT: Okay.
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GS: You’ve got about everything I know.
DT: Well, you’re being modest. Let’s move on to something else that Houston is well known for besides air pollution. Houston is often considered the capital of flooding and I guess this became particularly clear after two hurricanes came through, or they may have been tropical storms. Was it Alvin and Allison?
GS: That’s correct.
DT: Tell us about the issue in general and some of your personal experiences with flooding.
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GS: Well, we went through one hurricane—that was Hurricane Alicia—huddled in our hallway, hoping that’d be the strongest place to—to be, in case of—one of our pine trees feel on the house. That was many years ago. But we also got flooded out by Tropical Storm Allison and that’s—that’s the most awf—awful experience in—in my life, to get out of bed in the middle of the night and step into water. Because there’s not a thing you can do about it, the water’s coming up and you can’t do anything about it. You go outside and you figure out there’s too much current. It’s too dangerous to try to leave at 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s too dark. So we turned off the electricity and sat there with water up to our knees the rest of the night, thinking that we’d be rescued. But we weren’t. But, luckily, the water didn’t continue to rise. But that was the most depressing thing that—that’s ever happened to me because you’re so powerless. You know,
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everything you have is getting ruined and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. And we—you know, it’s—it’s partly a climatic thing that—you know, it was a tremendous rain. Our watershed had 26 inches. Other watersheds had in the 30’s. But it’s partly a result of—of growing the way Houston has grown, in that the developers want to develop. The road builders want to build roads. And development has paved over the land that used to absorb water. We’ve built houses too close to bayous. Our bayou had been concreted, but it was not calculated that there would be so much upstream development. So it got a lot of water a whole lot faster than it was ever engineered to do. And so—so, we got flooded. But, you know, things like this change the—the attitudes of—of people and—and agencies. The—the flood down in Alvin
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several years ago—there was—they had a rainfall down there that, I—I believe, was 40 inches. And it got the attention of the Corps of Engineers. They went out to Addax Barker and put in some spillways, some auxiliary cement spillways so that if this ever happened in the Addax Barker wat—watershed, that it wouldn’t breech the dam. They had to—to make some recalculations about well, what’s a big flood? What’s a major rain? And this really got their attention. And so Allison is doing the same thing. Folks in the medical center are rebuilding and doing things differently. They’re not putting the animal research underground anymore. They’re using stronger floodwalls and flood doors and we’re realizing that, indeed, floods are possible. That we—we can’t engineer around every—everything. And I think we’re not going to be building slabs on the
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ground quite as much as we used to. When our house was built back in the 50’s, we thought we could control flooding and we could just build a house on a slab and, you know, six inches off the ground and not worry about it. Well, maybe there’s a reason that, in the Heights, everything’s on cement blocks. Well, it keeps you out of the floodwater.
DT: Well, do you think that the responses in Houston are mostly going to be ways to protect against flooding or efforts to mitigate and reduce flooding?
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GS: I don’t know. I can’t see any—any real movement yet on reducing flooding. The—the powers that be are so beholden to the developers that they don’t want to enforce all of the mitigation ponds, the detention ponds. They don’t want to enforce all of the offset fees for when somebody builds something new that’s fairly small, they should still pay a flood-reducing fee that the county and the city go out and they build more retention ponds. It re—just remains to be seen if—if the powers that be are going to have the guts to—to stand up to the developers. I—I can’t really see it happening just yet. The—when—when candidates answer questions regarding this, they—they mealy-mouth around. Some of them do anyway. Because they’re beholden to the—to the developers. And the developers—they’ll always control Houston.
DT: Looking at the experience you’ve had with air quality and with flooding, what do you think are the most significant problems that will be coming in the future for Houston and for Texas?
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GS: Well, I think that in the next 10 years, air pollution will be reduced. I think the issue is slowly improving, as long as the environmental community can keep agitating for better enforcement. I think that transportation and congestion is here to stay because it is a big vibrant city. It’s still growing. People have to get around and it remains to be seen if we’re going to be able to build enough rail lines fast enough to keep congestion down. And people like the independence of their car. They don’t like the—the nastiness of congestion, but they still are reluctant to give up their—their individual autos. And we cannot possibly build enough cement highways to—to keep us all rolling at the—with the
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kind of increase in—in passenger miles per person that—that we’ve been doing over the last few years. So, I’m afraid congestion is—is going to be a fact of life. Of course, we still lack zoning in Houston. That’s—that’s considered a dirty word by the developers and that—that, too, is a—it’s a quality of life issue. We like the vibrancy, but we’re reluctant to bite the bullet and say that we ought to have regulation and control. And so, the vibrancy is—is a two-edge sword. We—I—I’m hoping that enough people are concerned about quality of life that they will, perhaps, come to some sort of regulation. You know, presently, all we have is deed restrictions and—and that’s it. And we have no real controls over what—what kind of businesses go where.
DT: Well, for those conservation-minded people who try to work on these problems, what sort of advice would you give them?
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GS: Well, join a group. Try to be an activist. I think it’s worthwhile, being an individual working on—working on issues that—that make a difference to—to the general population. It’s not just all about getting rich and driving a car that’s bigger and faster than everybody else’s. I think there’s—think there’s more to life and so I think we need to gear up our—our participation and—and work for more parks, more bike routes, more control of our neighborhoods and—and do things that are sensible. You know, like our—our civic club. We had deed restrictions that we enforced, but we tried not be too
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hard-assed about it. Other civic clubs, you know, they’re supposedly a do-good organization, but they—you know, they got all—all tight about yards or colors of paint or—you know, that’s—that’s silly stuff. You know, do things that—in a—in a smart way. And so, I’m—I’m going to hope that people like David Crosley with Smart Growth are—are more successful. Folks like at HARK and David Hitchcock, who’s working out there for—for smarter transportation. We need to do things—need to do things smarter.
DT: Being smart, of course, has helped you in a lot of ways to care for the environment, but I imagine that a lot of it comes from your heart and not just your brain. And I was wondering if there’s a place that you like to go that is restorative and, you know, brings that sort of joy to you, or solace or whatever, that helps you understand why you need to work your brain so hard to work on these environmental problems?
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GS: Well, I suppose there’s the—the everyday and then there’s the special. The—the everyday is to get out on my bicycle and run my errands on my bicycle because that’s restorative for me. Get out and listen to the birds and look at the gardens, look at the trees, look at the sky and hopefully, breathe clean air. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. That’s even enhanced if I get to ride out in the country and, you know, look at the cows and look at the wildflowers and just click the miles off with the—with the bicycle. Of course, the special places in Texas, I—I guess the most special is—has got to be Big Bend and I haven’t been there in a while and we’re going to go back next spring. And I’m looking forward to being up in the basin and that’s—that’s just the pinnacle for a—for a Texan, I think.
DT: Would you like to add anything?
GS: Nah.
DT: Thank you very much.
[End of Reel 2276]
[End of Interview with George Smith]