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Ken Kramer

INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 16, 2003
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Dave Gumpertz and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2162 and 2163

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 mark time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We’re in Austin. It’s October 16, 2003, and we’re at the headquarters of the Lone Star Chapter of The Sierra Club. And we have the pleasure and honor to be visiting with Ken Kramer who’s their longtime director. And we wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk about your—your work at the Legislature and—and organizing and—and advocating environmental protection in the State.
KK: Thanks, Dave.
DT: We usually start these interviews with some sort of a question—discussion about where your interest in the outdoors and in conservation or in—in this case, in civics and public interest, I guess, might have started. If there was a teacher or a parent or a friend who might have introduced you, or if it was all of your own.
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KK: Well, you know, I’ve thought about that several times and I guess it probably is a story that has several precedents to it. When I was a real small kid, I’m fortunately or unfortunately old to enough to have been born at a time when there was not a TV in the living room of the house until I was a few years old, and so I spent a fair amount of time outside in the yard just observing nature and seeing how things fit together in the out-of-doors, and enjoying that whole scene. And I’ve thought back a few years ago about the fact that when I was a real small kid I spent a lot of time just out there looking at insects and birds and others, and observing. And I guess that’s one of the early antecedents for
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my interest in the environment and the out-of-doors. Also, my grandparents, both sets of grandparents were farmers or ranchers, and so we would spend a fair amount of time on my grandparents’ places when I was growing up, and I spent summers, or parts of summers, with grandparents, and really got to know the out of doors in terms of—of farm life. And that was also an opportunity I think to observe and enjoy and appreciate nature. So we weren’t really into camping or hiking or things like that when I was a kid as far as our family was concerned, but I did have the experience with the outdoors. And I remember that as an elementary school student I started subscribing to a magazine that I
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think was called Junior Natural History or Natural Historian, which had a lot about animals and the environment. Maybe not use the term “environment” or “ecology” per say at the time. And so that s one—some of my early inklings of it—of interest. I do remember when I was in junior high or about to enter high school that Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring came out, and I read that book and was really fascinated and interested in the impact of pesticides on the environment and on wildlife. I didn’t necessarily though start carrying that interest into any type of direct activity in an environmental sense until much later in life, but those were some of the beginnings of my interest. What
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I was really probably more interested in in junior and senior high was in politics and government, and did a lot of debate and public speaking on various topics that were current, and so really got into the government political process. Again, I’m not quite sure where that came from because neither of my parents were particularly political, and it was just something that was of interest to me for whatever reason. And somewhere then farther down the line I combined those interests—of interest in the environment and nature, and interest in politics and government. It wasn’t really though I guess until I was in graduate school at Rice and I was beginning work on a Ph.D. in Political Science and
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trying to figure out where I wanted to concentrate and focus, and I was interested in urban affairs at that time. And I guess it dawned on me at some point that there was a lot of interaction between urban politics and environmental issues—this was in the early ‘70s, of course—with regard to air pollution, water pollution, things like that, especially in Houston where I was and where I grew up. So I began to sort of see how those things might link together in terms of a career, and try to combine my personal interest in the environment, which had not really been fulfilled very much before in any direct sense,
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with my interest in politics and government, and decided that I was going to focus my graduate studies on environmental policy and administration and public policy making it that regard. And everything just sort of converged to that time I started doing research papers on environmental politics and administration and then eventually decided to do my dissertation on environmental topics. So—seemed like everything sort of began slowly with an interest in the out-of-doors, and then later on the interest in politics and government and then trying to see how to fit those things together that seemed to be of most importance to me personally.
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DT: Maybe we could—I could ask you two follow-up questions. One is about visits to your parent’s—grandparents’ ranch and farm and if you can recall where they were, what they looked like, any experiences there. And then later on you mentioned that there was this sort of overlap between urban politics and environmental issues in Houston and I guess in other urban area, but maybe you can give us some examples of—of some of those.
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KK: Well, I grew up in Houston, of course. Both of my parents came from the Austin/Washington County area, which is Belleville/Brenham area about seventy miles or so from Houston. And that’s where my grandparents’ farm and ranch were. We still call it a farm. My grandfather was originally a cotton farmer and then later on got out of cotton farming, went into cattle raising and so we still refer to it as a farm as well. And that farm by the way is still in my family. My dad owns it and I’ll inherit it. But it’s a very beautiful part of Texas—rolling hill country. Not the hill country that you sometimes here the term referred in Fredericksburg and Kirksville and that area, but
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much more rolling hills, a lot of black land, prairie soil and things like that. And very open, beautiful area but with a fair amount of woods, pecan trees and oak trees and elm trees. And I did spend, you know, a fair amount of time just walking around the—the farm or the farms, both grandparents’ farms—and enjoying that, and still, you know, do so ‘till today. I think that’s probably my—my earliest indications of interest in hiking and sort of, you know, I wasn’t—I wasn’t thinking of it as hiking, I was just thinking it was walking around the farm and enjoying it. But there’s not too much a focus at that time, of course when I was growing up in Houston on the environment per say or
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pollution per say. You know, a lot of the problems with that were in process at the time, but when I was a kid in elementary school that was not a topic of, you know, a lot of discussion or anything. I do remember though when I was in junior high school, in my particular junior high school building, having a class on the third floor of the building and sitting in class one day and looking out the window and seeing this sort of brown tinge to the air outside, and wondering what that was all about. And this was probably back around 1960-61. And of course a little bit later in the ‘60s then the whole issue of air pollution got a lot more prominence and concern in—in some beginning of government response to that. And as I slowly, you know, tuned in to that and realized that there were
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problems in terms of the quality of the environment that we lived in that became more and more of an interest. And Houston, you know, as many people know, became more and more of a problem area as far as air pollution, especially. And then there was also the Houston ship channel, which was pretty obviously a polluted body of water. And so as I got tuned in more to those issues I began to understand what the problems were and see, you know, how that contrasted to, for example, my walking around the farm relatively unspoiled environment and seeing how that juxtaposed opposed to Houston and some of the experiences I had in Houston. I sort of gave real clear idea that like something’s wrong here with Houston and other cities like this that you don’t find as much in rural areas. And that’s a pretty good indication that something needs to be done if we want to try to resolve the problems and save the quality of life for many people.
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DT: I think earlier you said that—that once you were in graduate school a lot of your interests and opportunities you had in—in school came together. And I was wondering if you could discuss a little bit about your dissertation and how that maybe served as an introduction to what was going on in Texas.
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KK: Well, I was very interested in graduate school in policy making. And that combined with my interest in environmental issues and topics seemed to provide a clear idea of what direction I might want to take for my dissertation. And I decided that I would look at basically environmental policy, and more specifically the implementation of environmental policy. In the policy making framework there is this concept of you got policy being made, for example, by legislative body often, and then the policies being implemented by an administrative agency or agencies or officials like U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for example in the case of environmental policy. And
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so what I decided I wanted to look at, because it did provide a lot of ways for me to bring things together, was how air and water pollution control policies that were set at the federal level through a lot of federal legislations being implemented here in Texas, and see what kinds of factors affected that and how that shaped the actual policy in effect and what the results of that might be. And so I began focusing on that for my dissertation research. And it so happened at that time that—this was the mid ‘70s—that there was a new Federal Water Pollution Control Program brought about by the 1972 changes to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act that set up a study process for looking at pollution in heavily urbanized and industrialized areas, which of course Houston was a prime
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example. And being right there in Houston doing graduate work at Rice, that seemed to be one of the things that perhaps I should focus on because it was actually under way. And so it turned out that I actually became a citizen participant in that process which was know as the 208 Process from Section 208 of the Water Pollution Control Act. And it was looking at what needed be done in urban industrial areas to clean up pollution problems and sort of develop a plan for—for doing that. So I became a citizen participant in that process. At the same time I was studying it and other things to see how
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federal pollution control policy was actually being implemented in practice. And so sort of from the get go there I got the practical experience of being involved in one aspect of implementation of the policy at the same time I was also studying how the policy was being implemented and what factors were affecting it.
DT: At the time I guess Texas hadn’t received delegation of a lot of these federal programs. Is that one of the interests of you that it was a—a state program that wasn’t quite trusted or well funded enough or had the kind of political commitment to carry out federal obligations, or was that a interest of yours?
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KK: Well, I—one of the things I was interested in was in the Texas political context and sort of cultural context, how are these things that were being mandated by the U.S. Congress going to actually work out in practice? Was Texas going to embrace what the congressional mandate was and carry it out to its fullest even though that might mean some regulations that could be perceived as being at odds with what Texans might normally appreciate or—or want to abide by. So that was somewhat of a factor. And until I really started getting into it I didn’t even realize that federal programs, you know, were actually delegable to states. And when I did start getting into looking at the Clean
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Water Act, and what was called Federal Water Pollution Control Act at the time, then I became aware of the fact that there was a possibility of delegating that federal program to a state like Texas but that Texas had not yet received delegations by the fact that many—well, several other states at that time had already received delegation. So it was fascinating to me to look at, well, are these federal mandates that are supposed to have implications and affect nationwide going to have the same type of impact in Texas that they might in some other state, or will the Texas political culture and the society in Texas shape those mandates in such a way that they’ll either be more effective, less effective, or not much change. And I think it’s, you know, it’s true in a variety of ways that there is a
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certain political culture in Texas. That political culture is different from say the political culture in California or North Carolina or one of the New England states. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to change everything in terms of implementation of a federal law, but it’s likely to have some impact upon how that law actually is carried out in practiced. And to me that was one of the factors to be looked at in the implementation of the Pollution Control Policy in Texas.
DT: Following your dissertation and getting your Ph.D., what was your next step? Where did you go?
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KK: After I finished my graduate work on campus at Rice—I wasn’t quite through with the dissertation yet—I taught for about three years at Angelo State University in Santa Angelo in the government department, and then after that for two years at Texas A&M in the Political Science Department. And while I was at both universities I had the opportunity to teach courses in environmental policy or some subset or related policy area. So at Angelo State for example, I taught a specific course in Environment Politics, or Environmental Policy Administration I think it was called. And then when I moved to A&M, I taught a special topics course in Water Policy in Politics, and then another one in
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Agricultural Policy in Politics, which has a lot of relationship, of course, to environmental issues. So I was able in addition to teaching the basic state and local government courses or national government courses, also able to focus in on the areas that were of most interest to me.
DT: Can you maybe describe some of the things that you learned both about the topic and what you learned about the students you were teaching those topics to?
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KK: Well, I think one of the things that was very interesting to me was at both at Angelo State and at Texas A&M, and this was in the late 1970’s early 1980’s, that there was a very high degree of interest in environmental topics and—and issues. And a lot of kids who came from fairly conservative backgrounds at both schools never-the-less had a pretty wide interest and appreciation for the environment and for the need to protect the environment, which I think was a—a good lesson to me which I perhaps already knew in some sense, but it helped to crystallize the fact that environmental issues are really in
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many respects sort of cross-cutting among political viewpoints. That being for the environment is not necessarily a liberal viewpoint versus a conservative viewpoint or an independent thought, yet it’s something that really cuts across partisan boundaries and cuts across political philosophies. Now how you achieve environmental protection and the extent to which you use regulation, for example, to pursue environmental goals is something that is going to vary from one political viewpoint to another, but that there is a general wide spread interest and commitment to environmental protection.
DT: So you’re saying that—that—or maybe a more conservative student, they might want a market-oriented solution…
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KK: Correct.
DT: …but then a more liberal student might say, well, you know, commanding control is okay by me. That using a little force and pressure is okay.
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KK: Right.
DT: Is that fair or…
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KK: Yeah, I think that’s fair. I think that often times environmental protection has come to be considered as almost anonymous with government regulation, that in order to protect the environment you need to have government regulation. And I would say that from my viewpoint that that is true in many respects, that our history prior to having a strong regulatory framework for environmental protection from the federal government was that not a lot got done on a voluntary basis. And so some imposition of, and overall regulatory framework, was very important for trying to pull together a systematic way of addressing environmental problems. And that—that was something that came together in
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the Federal Air and Water Pollution Control Laws and other laws passed in the 1960’s and 1970’s and 1980’s. But that’s not to say that that’s the only way in which environmental progress can be made. I do think it’s a sort of necessary backstop, if you will, for almost any other activity. And since that time I’ve certainly seen some voluntary programs that may have incentives, for example, that have worked, and I’ve certainly seen some ways in which various companies and corporations have begun to embrace more of a—an environmental viewpoint and—and philosophy. But I think it is true that a lot of conservatives who really want to protect the environment simply have a
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problem with the use of government regulation as the main tool for protecting the environment, and so they want to look for other ways in which market forces or whatever may tend to move people in the right direction on the environment without necessarily forcing a particular type of action. And to the extent that that can be done I think that’s great, but again I do think that regulation is almost a necessary antecedent to many of those things in order to make sure that there’s some backstop there, some failsafe method of insuring that progress is being made.
DT: You talked a little bit about the reaction of your students to what you were teaching. Can—can you talk a little bit about what—what you learned about the topics and—and—and maybe compare it to what you’ve learned twenty years hence?
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KK: Well, at the time that I was teaching the courses in environmental policy and related fields I was obviously getting into a lot more of the details of some of the laws that had been passed not too long before my teaching, and so learning a lot about how the laws got pulled together in Congress, some of the factors that affected the outcome of the laws, looking at the fact that, for example, in the Federal Water Pollution Control Act there was one approach be taken in the U.S. Senate, there was another approach being taken in the U.S. House as to how to deal with the—the pollution control aspects on water. And that in the usual sense in which legislative bodies wind up making decisions, what they did was basically pass two different versions from both Houses go to Conference Committee and basically try to marry two different approaches into the law.
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And that was something that was sort of fascinating to me. I hadn’t really dealt in—or delved in to the makings of a particular law as intensely as I did when I was teaching, and trying to learn more while also doing the dissertation, but teaching, trying to learn more about how these laws were made. And that was very fascinating to see the impact of personalities, for example, on determining what the outcome of certain laws were and the use of compromise and all that to come up with something that probably wouldn’t be the ideal thing that one person sitting down looking at the situation would come up with, but it was the necessary compromise among different political forces. So that was—that was interesting to me and something I began learning when I was doing my dissertation, but got into in more detail when I was teaching some of these courses and looking at the
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background to that. I think the other thing that was interesting to me was to see how my students reacted to different types of environmental laws and different types of practices by corporations and other people who may have not had environmental protection as their major concern, but had other concerns like profit making or whatever. And sometimes that you would find that the students, although again, with a pretty widespread commitment to environmental protection would view differently the actions of corporations and other individuals in term so of abiding by or not abiding by the laws. And to see that to some extent where these people came from, where the students came
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from and their backgrounds and their lifestyles and all that affected how they looked at environmental laws and the implementation, and how it affected their expectations and what people did or did not do to try to follow the laws. So that was a case in point to me to understand that different people are going to look at this same law in a different way from the context of their background and lifestyles and determine whether or not it’s an effective or valid or credible law on the basis of some of the (?)—bias if you will that they bring to looking at anything in life.
DT: And after teaching and—and doing research you next I guess put some of this into practice, is that right? I mean you came to Austin and became a consultant on environmental issues.
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KK: Right. I actually had already begun making a transition when I was teaching. Well, actually began making a transition, if you will, when I was doing graduate work at Rice and working on my dissertation, because as I indicated I began as a citizen participant in a water quality planning process while I was a graduate student and my participation was as a member of what they call a Citizens Advisory Group, and I just, you know, sort of volunteered to become a participant in that group. And actually before I left Houston, I became the Chair of that Citizens Advisory Group. And so I was already beginning to sort of make a bridge or do a little bit of a transition there from being just a student interested in research on a particular topic and an actual participant in the process
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of carrying out some of the implications of that topic. And then when I went into teaching I actually became a active volunteer leader with The Sierra Club, the State Chapter, and so while I was teaching at Angelo State, and at Texas A&M I did a lot of volunteer work for The Sierra Club. And I got elected to the State Executive Committee, the Chapter Executive Committee, went to my first meeting—this was after just a few months of being out in San Angelo teaching at Angelo State—and at the first meeting—it was the first meeting of the year after new people had been elected to the committee—I was told that well, one of the things that you have to do as a member of the Executive Committee is take some type of portfolio or position or whatever. So I said, “Well, okay,
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what’s—what’s open?” And the members of the Executive Committee said, “Well, we need a new Legislative Chair because our curr—our current Legislative Chair, Stuart Henry, is leaving that post, and we need somebody to fill in for that.” And I said—talk to myself and said, “Well, I’m a government teacher so obviously that makes sense. I’ll just volunteer to be Legislative Chair, and then also volunteer to be Co-Chair of the Water Resources Committee along with Stuart Henry, who then proceeded to have a mild heart attack a few months later. And as a consequence I got to do a lot of on-the-job training in those volunteer positions. So while I was teaching I was also the Legislative Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of The Sierra Club and did some volunteer lobbying and helped to find
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somebody to do lobbying during the Legislative Session for us, and really was doing all of that on quite a bit of a time scale during the period of time I was teaching. So at one point I decided that, well, I’m doing teaching, I’m doing research, I’m doing all this volunteer work for The Sierra Club, and I have no time to do anything else. So obviously if I give up one or two of those things and just concentrate on one thing I’ll have a lot more time for myself and still be able to accomplish a lot. I had found that I really was very interested in the environmental advocacy. And while I like teaching and research, actually trying to put some things into practice and actually trying to accomplish some
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things with regard to passing legislation and all, things like that, really appealed to me a lot more. And so that’s where I decided to make my concentration. We needed somebody to represent the chapter in Austin for the upcoming Legislative Session and so I basically volunteered to become a contract lobbyist for the Club and left academia at that time and moved to Austin to begin working with the Club on a contract basis. But it was more the culmination of things that had been going on for several years than just some abrupt change I was making.
DT: And—and which—which year is this that we’re talking about?
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KK: That was in 1982 when I left academia and came to Austin to begin doing the contract lobbying for the Club. And doing other things as a public policy researcher and consultant with not just the Club but at some other groups as well, like League of Women Voters.
DT: Well, maybe this is a good place to start looking at what you’ve been doing and—and maybe if—if you don’t mind, we can look at it through the lens of—of your work on water issues, whether it’s quality or supply. And you could tell us about how those water issues played into the work at the legislature or work in the courts or work in—in—in the agencies to try and see that these policies were implemented, either the decision for the—for the laws that were passed. And—and also how you garnered support through The Sierra Club as a volunteer or—or as a consultant or—or later as the director.
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KK: Well, throughout my career I’ve always been interested in water issues. And that was one of the areas I started with in looking at my dissertation work on Water Pollution Control Policy. But water has been a fascinating issue for environmentalists in Texas for a number of years, going all the way back to the mid 1960’s and late 1960’s before I was actively involved in the process when there was some grandiose plans to try to provide for the water future of Texas by bringing water from the Mississippi River across Louisiana to East Texas and then shipping it by pipeline up to the Texas Panhandle and by canal down to South Texas to Corpus Christi and the Valley and what was then referred to as Burley’s Ditch. Burley I think was the Executive Director of Texas Water
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Development Board in the 1960’s. And I recall when I was still a graduate student—and this was before I was even a graduate student at Rice but did some political science at Stevens at Boston before going to Rice—that I saw a special issue of a publication known as The Texas Observer that was entirely devoted to the issue of water and the Texas Water Plan that was being proposed at that time. That particular year, 1969, when I saw this issue of Texas Observer was the year in which Texans were called upon to vote for a three-billion-dollar bond authorization that would allowed for the money to be financing all these various construction projects to bring water from the Mississippi into Texas and move it around. And I remember being fascinated by that in sort of a horrified fashion that instead of trying to rely upon the water resources we had in the state, instead of
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worrying about what the impact of a lot of construction projects might be on the environment of the state, we were looking to basically build our water future on the backs of people in other parts of the country by taking their water and distributing it around our state at a huge cost. And I remember voting in that particular election, and fortunately by at least a few thousand votes that three-billion-dollar bond authorization for all these reservoirs and pipeline and canals went down to defeat. I wasn’t active in that particular campaign but it did sort of set the stage for some later things that really affected my ability to work in the area of water policy. For one thing there were proposals again in
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1976 and 1981—1981 after I was already actively involved—to try to not develop the same type of water project as to bring the water from Mississippi, but really float bonds for doing a lot more construction of reservoirs and all that in the state. And The Sierra Club and other environmentalists combined with a number fiscal conservatives fought those later proposals in ’76 and ’81 as well as earlier 1969 one, and successfully defeated all of them, which sort of set the stage for the political leaders in Texas, the powers that be, to decide that they could not simply continue to ignore the wishes of environmentalists and the concerns about water management, and just focus on
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development of water resources. And the reason I bring all that up is that when I moved to Austin in 1982 and began as a professional in this field, one of the things going on at that time was an attempt to try to development a new Texas Water Plan that learned from the lessons that had been accompanying these bond defeats in 1969, ’76 and ’81. And people in power in the government like the Lieutenant Governor decide that they needed to bring environmentalists to the table and have environmental concerns and management issues addressed in the water plan at the same time they looked at what the future development needs might be for water. And so that was a real critical period. I was
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fortunate in a number of respects. I mean I was involved in the 1981 defeat of the what was then called the Clayton Water Trust Fund. Not in the earlier ones, but I had the benefit of coming in as a professional in 1982 at a time when the people who had been pushing these other development projects and funding had decided that, well, we can’t just do this because it’s not working. We need to bring some other viewpoints to the table and see if we can work out some compromises and negotiate something so that they, meaning the environmentalists, get part of what they want in terms of management, environmental protection, and we’re able then to get part of what we want which is some more money for development projects where we thing they’re needed.
DT: Maybe this would be an opportunity to talk about some of the proponents for these projects and why some people thought they were worth three-billion-dollars or more to—to spend on.
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KK: Well, a lot of the proponents of these projects really were from what I would call the Water Fraternity in the state at that time. And I—I do mean fraternity because it was mainly men involved, not too many women involved. And that included people in some of the state agencies like the Texas Water Development Board, which is the financing and planning agency for the state in terms of water. And from the very beginning that agency was set up to try to promote and pursue development projects. It was created after the drought of the 1950’s, which is still the drought of record for many parts of the state. And so there was intense interest from the folks who ran the Water Development
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Board in trying to pursue proposals like bringing the water from the Mississippi. There were also people in responsible leadership positions in the Texas Legislature that were very interested in trying to promote this idea of water development. And probably the—the one who got the most personalization in all this throughout this period of time was then Speaker of the House, Billy Clayton, who is from West Texas. And he was the power behind the 1981 proposal. He wanted to set up a water trust fund where we took the surplus revenue that the state was receiving at the time, and it’s sort of hard for us to
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think in this day and age about that fact that for a number of years Texas government did have a surplus every two years. They wanted to take that surplus revenue, set it aside in a water trust fund, and use that water trust fund then to finance water projects in the state. And part of that was from the perspective of a person who comes from West Texas who saw that the Ogallala Aquifer, which has been the primary water source for irrigated agriculture in The Panhandle and some other—of the parts of the—of the area, was
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gradually declining and that could not be dependent upon forever as a source of water for ag—agriculture in that area. And so he was looking for building projects, you know, which might also eventually mean importation of water, too, to try to sustain that type of agriculture economy in The Panhandle. So Billy Clayton’s probably the personification of the political leader who is pushing for water, but that was very much supported by not just the Water Development Agency but by construction firms that would benefit from the construction of reservoirs, engineering firms that would benefit from the engineering
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of the reservoirs and pipelines and things of that nature, and a whole industry that really looked to water development as a way of continuing to promote their activities.
DT: So this would bring us to about ’82, and you’re –you’re right on the threshold of the Session. And what happened to the next Session of discussing water?
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KK: Well, in the 1983 Legislative Session there was an attempt to take some of the progress that had been made after the ’81 defeat of the—of the bonds, with the discussions, negotiations, whatever, from environmentalists and water developers and others and put that in the form legislation. And there were several bills introduced in that session of legislature that would have provided new funding for water projects. But another bill that would have provided some new protections for fresh water inflows to bays and estuaries, and some other legislation dealing with water quality and a variety of other topics as well. And that was sort of rolled out as a potential package of legislation
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so that it could cover a lot of political bases and appeal to environmentalists in terms of fresh water inflow protection, appeal to development interest in terms of more money for water development, and if that whole package went through then there would be sort of a compromise approach to water policy in the state. That came very close to passing but in the final analysis, like the last two—three days of the session, it died in the Conference Committee—or those bills died in the Conference Committee. And that began an interim study of the water issues where the various legislators tried to take the things that they had almost successful with in 1983 and refashioned them into something else that could
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pass in the 1985 Legislative Session. And indeed that was done. One of the probably smart things that was done was that rather than having five or six separate bills trying to go through as a package they basically took all those pieces of legislation and put them into one omnivorous bill. And that bill did pass after a great deal of negotiation and discussion in 1985, and set, I think, a very important precedent because basically it put into effect a lot of new environmental protections in water rights permitting, it established some new language and new requirements in terms of water conservation, it addressed
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some water quality concerns, it also put in some protections for fish and wildlife habitat, and did a variety of things like that. But it was coupled with the idea that there also be some more money for water development projects, although it’s not just water reservoirs or something like that, but also waste water treatment plants and pipelines to existing reservoirs and things. And so it was not perfect but from perspective of The Sierra Club and myself and some others it was something that we could live with. And for the first time then in 1985 when the financing package or part of the package had to go to the voters The Sierra Club took a neutral position, did not oppose the funding measures that were being proposed because we felt we were getting something in return that could help
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balance out any new water projects with these new environmental protections for fresh water inflows. And although some environmentalists who had not been involved in the negotiations did oppose the 1985 bonding authorization, it did pass. And it was probably, I guess, the good example of how the environmental movement in the 1970’s early 1980’s had been able to establish ourselves as a power that had to be recorded with. We weren’t powerful enough to get everything we wanted but we were powerful enough to stop some bad things from happening and the people that wanted to try to pursue more water development came to realize that they had to bring the environmental movement into the process of deciding how some of these things were going to be sorted out. And
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so it established, I think, a presence for the environmental community on water issues that continues to be important.
DT: Maybe you can give us an example of how the—the changes in ’85 affected particular projects. I mean I understand that Lake Texana was affected pretty strongly by some of those changes.
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KK: Well, I think that the 1985 legislation really set in motion some protections that haven’t been fully realized yet. Some of the projects like Lake Texana were already underway in one sense or another around the time that the 1985 Water Package was passed. But it did establish the, you know, concept that was realized at least in part with Lake Texana that you have to set certain conditions on the permit for a reservoir in order to maintain in-stream flows in a river or to maintain fresh water inflows into the bay and estuary system. And that was an important precedent because basically it said from that point on, 1985 on, you’re not going to be able to build a reservoir in the state or have a
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huge diversion in the state without addressing in some way the environmental implications of that reservoir, that diversion, and probably having to live by some conditions that require, for example, release of water from time to time from a reservoir in order to meet downstream needs or meet bay and estuary needs. That was very important, I think. And I think to some extent it hasn’t fully been played out yet because a lot of major reservoirs have not been built since 1985 for a variety of reasons. Lack of federal funding that used to be very big for water development projects in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s just isn’t there anymore. And also because of all the environmental considerations, knowing that if you attempt to do any reservoir project it’s going to be
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conditioned upon things that are necessary for protecting the environment. That may lower the yield of the project, may make it less advantageous for a water supplier to try to pursue it. So I think the 1985 Package in environmental protections were important because they set a precedent, they have been carried out and a lot of permits have been issued since that time, but we haven’t necessarily seen the major projects initiated after 1985, and so we haven’t fully seen how all those things actually would work in practice with a really major project. There are some permits out—there are permit applications out there now that at this juncture in 2003 may be major ones that would be impacted by the 1985 law.
DT: Just—just so people who might not be familiar with what you’re talking about, could you explain why in-stream flows are important? And when you talk about the bay and estuary needs, what is it that you—you see there?
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KK: Well, with regard to what we call in-stream flows, it recognizes a very basic fact. That is if you’re going to have a river you need to have water in the river. There has to be a flow in the river or else there is not really a river system or a riparian environment. And the whole idea about in-stream flows is that if you divert too much water from a river, or if you impound too much water on a river, and therefore don’t let as much of it flow downstream, that you’re going to lessen or reduce the in-stream flows, the actual flow in the river, and that can have negative consequences for fish and wildlife habitat that are dependent upon those river flows. It can have a negative impact on water quality, because while I don’t want to try to say that dilution is the solution to pollution, let’s face
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it, it’s much easier to maintain good water quality in a flowing stream than in a stagnant stream where you don’t have much water, you know, coming in and out or exchanging. Also, in-stream flows are important, frankly, for people who use the river or the stream for watering their cattle, agricultural, you know, producers, cattle raisers. It’s not just environmental consideration; it’s a consideration that goes beyond the environment. And indeed in-stream flow, having flow in a river that adjoins a property owner’s property is also important for maintaining the land value of that property. So in-stream flows have a variety of values. One is environmental, and that is protecting the environment for the fish and wildlife that need that kind of sustenance. And the other is with regard to, you know, the values of land and the values of land for cattle raising. Fresh-water inflows
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have a more specific focus because those are not just the waters flowing in the streams but the ones that are flowing from a river system into a bay or estuary along the Texas coast where you have populations of oysters and shrimp and fin fish developing and maturing over a period of time. And in those bays and estuaries you need to have the appropriate mix of fresh water coming in from the rivers and saline water from the Gulf in order to provide the nursery area for many of these marine populations. And that is something that a lot of people, you know, either take for granted or don’t really understand that the coastal estuaries and the coastal resources depend upon adequate amounts of fresh water coming in from inland at various times of the year, especially during the seasons of the year where we don’t get much rainfall when you potentially
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might have an imbalance with too much salt, too much saline water in the bays and estuaries and the inability then to have the right conditions for various shellfish and fin fish to thrive and—and survive. So in-stream flows, fresh water inflows are important for maintenance of different parts of the environment. And they’re also important for maintenance of other values that we hold to be dear as well, including clean water.
DT: Let me see if you can flush with this out with another example that talks about in-stream flows in a different bay and—and with different tools unlike with the—the referenda and the bonding and the legislative action you’ve talked about. Maybe you can use Wallisville as an example of how these same issues get worked out through the courts, and many of which, you know, these suits I guess Sierra Club was a party to.
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KK: Right. Well, the Wallisville Reservoir Project was a proposed project back in the last ‘60s or early ‘70s that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers tried to pursue near the mouth or at the mouth practically of the Trinity River, and the Wallisville Reservoir was intended to be an impoundment—a dam that would impound water there on the lower reaches of the Trinity to provide a water supply for Houston and other purposes. The Sierra Club and several other groups opposed that particular project because of its impact upon fresh water inflows that would effect the productivity of Galveston Bay because the Trinity River inflows are a very important part of the mixture of fresh water and saline water to provide the productivity of Galveston Bay. The—there was an injunction issued to stop the construction of the Wallisville Reservoir. It was already at a fairly advanced
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stage of its construction, if I remember correctly at the time, but had not been completed. And the concern, you know, that was expressed was about the impact of the reservoir on the environment and on the—the bay system. This is a very convoluted and complex story that went on for years and years. But the bottom line is that over a period of time because of the court actions—successful court action initially, and because of public pressure and growing awareness on the part of people about the significance of Galveston Bay and sig—significance of the Trinity inflows to that bay, the project kept getting scaled back and scaled back and scaled back, so that although eventually there was a Wallisville Project completed, it was a really—relatively minor project compared to the original envisioned Wallisville Project, more or less sort of a salt water barrier to try to prevent the, you know, inflow of salt water from the coast back into the Trinity River
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system. And so it is not something that’s a much scaled-back process as it impounds as much water and really is much less environmentally damaging than the original project. And what it illustrates though is basically the use of the court system if for nothing else than to buy time so that, you know, people’s awareness and understanding catches up, and attitudes change over a period of time, more attention and disability to the environment. And as a result the project is radically changed from something that it was and with much less negative environmental impacts. So, you know, a lot of times I think that when people are always saying that environmental groups are trying to stop projects and they’ll use whatever means of delay or tactics that they can in order to do that, and sometimes that is the case. But in may instances the whole idea of delay is to prevent something really bad from happening and be able to take a much closer look at a
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particular project and see how it might be scaled back in order to meet different types of goals and objectives without having necessarily the major negative environmental consequences. And I think Wallisville is a good example of that. I think that another example that I would use that I think is extremely important for sort of demonstrating the impact of the use of the courts by the environmental groups and the way in which water policy has been done in the state is the whole issue of Edwards Aquifer. In the late 1980s there was a great deal of concern about over-pumping of the Edwards Aquifer. Edwards Aquifer is a large multi-county aquifer. We’re talking here primarily about what is known as the southern portion of the Edwards Aquifer, which underlies Baylor County and San Antonio area, and the counties to the west like Medina and Uvalde County—Counties and the counties to the east—Hays and Comal Counties. And Hays County, which is the San Marcos area—you have the San Marcos Springs—and Comal County
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which is in Braunfels area you have the Comal Springs—and both of those springs are discharges from the aquifer. When the aquifer levels are high enough then you have a discharge of water through the springs in the form spring flows that then turn into a habitat for various species at the springs, and also provide the majority of the base-flow of the Guadeloupe River System from the joint during low-flow conditions of the year. The Edwards Aquifer had been over pumped on a number of occasions—over pumped in the sense that more water being taken out during the year than was actually recharged.
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And although that aquifer rises and falls pretty dramatically on the basis of rainfall conditions because there’s such a strong connection between rainfall falling on the ground and the water actually getting into the underground aquifer, you do have a problem in some years where if you have lack of rainfall there’s a great deal of pumping for the aquifer. And that tends to lower the level of the aquifer and therefore potentially reduces or maybe even causes cessation of spring flows that come down San Marcos Springs. As the aquifer levels are reduced water is not able to get to the—the height of the springs to flow out and provide habitat for species at the springs and the base-flow of the river system. So back in the early 1990s, because of concern about over pumping of
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the Edwards and the impact that was having on springs flows, The Sierra Club filed notice that we were going to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a result of the situation, because Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act. And there are several endangered and threatened species at Comal and San Marcos Springs. And if the aquifer levels were reduced to low—too low a level the spring flows would be reduced or ceased and that would cause a problem for the habitat of those endangered and threatened species. We eventually did go to court on that particular case. We were successful in winning a decision out of a federal court in early 1993 that upheld our view that steps needed to be
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taken to protect the endangered and threatened species at the springs and in the aquifer. And the federal judge’s decision basically said we need to take certain actions to regulate the pumping of water from the Edwards so that the spring flows are not diminished by over pumping, but we’re going to let the Texas legislature have a few months, since the legislature was just coming into session, to come up with a state process for regulating that pumping so that the federal government does not have to step in and do it themselves.
DT: I think this is a place to explain what the background is. What the status quo was, and the rule of capture and so on.
DW: Would that be more or less than two-and-a-half minutes? That’s what’s left on this tape.
KK: I can do it in two-and-a-half minutes.
DT: Okay.
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KK: The reason why the concern about over pumping of the aquifer is that in general in Texas ground water law, we abide by the right of capture. And so the person who owns the surface rights to the land has the right to capture the ground water under that land. And there aren’t restrictions then upon the amount that you can take out under most circumstances. In the Edwards Aquifer area at that time it was strictly right of capture, so if you had land over the aquifer you could put a pump into the aquifer and pump as much as you were able to pump with that particular pump. And that was what was causing the over pumping of the aquifer. No regulation of the amounts to be withdrawn. And the whole idea about trying to come up with some limitations was to get the federal government or the state government to take action and set some limits on the pumping from the aquifer.
[End of Reel 2261]
DT: Ken, earlier we were talking about the—the problems Edwards Aquifer and the issues of—of over pumping and—and the gaps and holes in the Rule of Capture. I was wondering if you might be able to give some specific examples may—perhaps about the catfish farming case that illustrates some of the oddities of what happens under the Rule of Capture.
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KK: Sure. Around the time that the whole issue of the Edwards Aquifer was coming to the forefront and getting into the courts there was a proposal—well, more than a proposal, I guess—there was a land owner who owned some land or purchased some land over the Edwards Aquifer with the intention of establishing a catfish farm with the idea that he was going to pump water from the aquifer in order to provide water for the pools in which the catfish would be raised. And that particular catfish farm was going to basically sink a well into the Artisan part of the aquifer—artesian in that respect means that basically you don’t really have to pump per say, the water was going to flow out
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because it’s under artesian pressure. And in that case—I don’t remember the exact volume we were talking about, but the catfish farmer was going to take an enormous volume of water for his catfish operation—something akin to what, you know, at least a small city would use on a daily basis. And that really showed that just one person with one piece of property over the aquifer under the Right of Capture was going to be able to take an exorbitant amount of water out of the aquifer for just that one operation. And if that were multiplied many times that would be a serious draw down on the aquifer, a serious competition with the City of San Antonio and others that depended upon the
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aquifer for their water supply. In fact at that time, and it’s still almost the case today, of the City of San Antonio depended solely upon the Edwards Aquifer for their water supply—municipal water supply. So that catfish farm illustrated the fact that just one business person or one land owner with one type of operation could take an enormous amount of water from the aquifer and basically deprive other people in low-flow or low-rainfall conditions from having adequate water supply. And the catfish farm sort of became the poster child if you will for the concerns about the Right of Capture. Fortunately for us the federal court decision in early 1993 that gave the Texas Legislature the opportunity while they were in session in ’93 to come up with a regulatory program
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for regulating pumping from the aquifer was successful in getting the Texas Legislature to act. And so during the 1993 regular session of legislature they did pass legislation to establish the Edwards Aquifer Authority. Basically they took an existing ground water district—Edwards Aquifer District—and refashioned it into a regulatory authority to put limitations on the amount of water that could be pumped, set up a permitting system for getting permits or giving permits to individuals who have the right to pump, and putting limitations on the overall pumping, a cap, if you will, on the overall pumping from the aquifer. Now there were a number of sort of false starts in terms of the implementation of that law, some challenges to the law for some valid reasons and in some cases for not
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so valid reasons. Eventually by 1996 I believe, the Edwards Aquifer Authority had withstood all of its legal challenges against it and went into actual operation and began the process for setting up the regulatory system and trying to put limitations on withdrawal from the aquifer. And so that process is—is continuing. It’s no totally finished yet. We have some problems with some of the ways in which the Edwards Aquifer Authority has interpreted the law or attempted to carry out the law. But the bottom line is that in that area served by the Edwards Aquifer Authority which includes several counties, including Baylor County, you have modified the Right of Capture and basically set up a regulatory system for withdrawal of water from the aquifer. And that
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regulatory system is intended among other things, try to maintain aquifer levels so that you adequate springs flow and Comal and San Marcos Springs to sustain endangered and threatened species at the springs, and also to maintain that base flow for Guadeloupe River System for the remainder of its flow to the coast. And so that was, in my opinion, a major accomplishment that The Sierra Club really played a critical role in bringing about. And a very good illustration of how to use the court system to accomplish a very important goal which had not just endangered and threatened species protection implications but also implications for water.
DT: Was there also a saline intrusion issue then, in addition to the endangered species question that you all were working on?
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KK: There was a concern expressed. There was—been some controversy about this. But there was a concern expressed that if the aquifer levels in the Edwards were drawn down too far that that might allow some incursion into the fresh water zones underground from more saline or brackish waters zones that might have negatively impacted the water quality of the Edwards water. The water quality for the Edwards water is really quite high. I’m not saying it’s totally pristine because you do have various non-point sources of pollution entering the aquifer from various places, but basically very high quality water, really did not require much of any treatment before being put into municipal system. But if the fresh water zones were drawn down too far then some of the brackish
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water zones at somewhat higher elevation might have moved in and affected the quality of the water. That was not per say part of our litigation, but it was a concern and another reason for trying to put limitations on pumpage from the Edwards.
DT: While we’re talking about ground water supplies, I was wondering if you had any comments about some of the well fields either out in West Texas section, Dell City or some of those that have been recently proposed by—and I think constructed by T. Boone Pickens up in The Panhandle.
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KK: Well, the Right of Capture still is in place in many parts of the state. We have some exceptions like the Edwards Aquifer authority area, the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District over in Houston/Galveston area. But in most of the state there is at least the Right of Capture, although maybe in somewhat modified form. And that then still allows a surface landowner to pump water from underground without very much of any regulation. Now over the years there have been some groundwater conservation districts established that do put some limitations directly or indirectly on the Right of Capture. For example, there are ground water conservation districts established in The Panhandle that may not regulate the exact amount of water that you can pump from underground, but they do regulate the spacing of a well from proximity to another well in
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order not to have too much a draw-down from two different wells being in the same area pumping at the same time from the same underground formation. And that may indirectly limit the amount of water that’s being pumped from underground. In some districts, not too many, there actually have been management goals established that try to prevent draw-down in the aquifer, or at least draw-down beyond a certain point. But the bottom line still is that in most areas of the state outside of these major districts we’ve talked about like the Edwards Aquifer Authority and Subsidence District you basically still have the ability to pump water out and to pump it out in amounts that are simply determined by the type of well you have. And as a result there are a lot of schemes out there right now to establish well fields in rural parts of the state and pump water in large amounts and transport that water to cities that are looking for additional water supplies.
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You see that down in the far West Texas area with the regard to people—or, well actually in this case with regard to the City of El Paso—buying a property in far West Texas to establish the right to pump water from under that property and eventually transport it to El Paso. You see other ideas that have come up like T. Boone Pickens in The Panhandle—and Roberts County has a ranch several thousands of acres and is also joined in a partnership with some of his neighbors—to establish a well field there and pump water out and sell it to a variety of potential customers, maybe in as far away as Dallas or San Antonio where the water would have to be moved to by pipeline. These are people that are being referred to as water marketers. Sometimes the term “water ranching” is being used. But they’re looking at taking ground water in a part of the state where they don’t feel the ground water is going to be used any time in the near future by that
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populations of that area, and trying to sell it elsewhere in the state. Now in the case of Boone Pickens there are some limitations on the amount that he can pump if he does go through with this project because he’s in a ground water conservation district that has set a goal for pumpage from the aquifer, which is still not really a—a sustainable goal, if you will, but would basically limit anybody pumping from the aquifer to taking out no more than fifty percent of the water from that aquifer over the next one hundred years. And so there is some limitation that’s been placed upon the permits issued to well owners in that particular district, and that’s the district where T. Boone Pickens has his ranch and his operation. So he does have a quantifiable limit on the amount of water he can take out, but it still translates into a large amount of water that could be moved. The problem is
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the cost in moving it. It’s not—I mean there’s partly a problem in terms of the cost of pumping out from the ground. There’s an energy cost. But the big cost is really establishing a pipeline and moving it by pipeline to potential customer. So we don’t know how all these different ground water marketing or transport schemes are going to play out, but it is a very hot topic of conversation in Texas right now in 2003, and I think it’s going to be in the forefront of the water issues in the state at least for the next decade or so. A lot of rural areas are saying—beginning to rethink the Right of Capture which heretofore I think the strongest proponents are advocates of Right of Capture have usually been farmers and ranchers and—rural land owners who felt that by God, the
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water under my land is my water and I should have the right to use it as I see fit and pump as much as I want to pump out. And then they begin realize but if my neighbor takes that same attitude and you have an aquifer that doesn’t recharge very much, and as you pump the water levels are going to go down, and my neighbor starts pumping—puts in a bigger pump or whatever, well, maybe I don’t really have a—a full right to my water under the Right of Capture in a practical sense. And especially if some big city on the far horizon decides that they want to come into your area, buy up some property, establish a well field, and pump water out to the city, perhaps bringing down the aquifer in your area and making it more difficult for you to get water from that aquifer, then the Right of Capture doesn’t really do much good for the local land owner. So you’re beginning to
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see some changes in attitude among rural Texans about the Right of Capture as they realize that the dynamics of the situation are changing, that the people with the big bucks were able to buy the land and pump the water maybe the ones that have the right under Right of Capture and that it’s going to potentially negatively affect local areas and the ability of local land owners to pump water. And all those things are beginning to change some people’s attitudes about the Right of Capture.
DT: While we’re talking about water transfers from well fields to municipalities, perhaps you can just touch on some of the transfers of surface water that had been discussed, particularly from the Colorado River begins in San Antonio, from LCRA to the SAWS Agency. Could you discuss some of that and how The Sierra Club figured into it?
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KK: Ground water transport isn’t the only form of movement of water that’s being discussed. As you pointed out there are a lot of proposals out there for moving surface water as well. There are some constraints on moving surface water because in many instances that constitutes what’s known as an inter-basin transfer of water—transfer from one river basin to another. And under the Surface Water Law in Texas there are some legal constraints on your ability to move water from one basin or another. I won’t go into what all those constraints are, but one of the more recent constraints adopted in 1999—or sorry, 1997—as part of what was called Senate Bill One, was the imposition of a “junior water rights” provision on inter-basin transfers. Just to step back a minute, under surface
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water law in Texas there is what is known as the Seniority System, and there is an allocation system for surface water rights unlike what you have in ground water in most areas. Whereas the State has basically the ownership of the surface water but can give you a right to use a certain amount of surface water through an allocation or appropriation process. If you get a water right, when you got that water right determines the seniority of your right in contrast to the rights of others. So let’s say on a particular river basin like the Colorado River Basin, that you obtained a water right or your family obtained a water right to part of that Colorado River water back in 1910, that is a Senior Water Right to anybody who got another water right after that time. And so in times of
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shortage or drought, potentially the so-called “junior water rights” holders, the ones that are less senior than that first one or earlier one, might have their water cut off. In inter-basin transfers, what is the case now is that if you transfer water from one river basin to another, at least if you sell that water right, that water right becomes junior then to any other right in the basin of origin. And that’s sort of an impediment to transferring surface water because if you’re a customer in a basin needing water or wanting water and you buy water or water right from somebody in another basin, that water right then becomes junior to all the other water rights in that basin of origin. That means in times of drought or shortage you may have your water right cut off. So there’s no dependability, if you
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will, in times of real need for that water. That’s put a pretty serious constraint on inter-basin transfers of water. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to happen. There have been many inter-basin transfers approved prior to the time of this new provision. But basically there are still some proposals out there for transfer of surface water, and one of them is a transfer of water from the Colorado Basin to San Antonio under a deal that would be worked out between the Lower Colorado River Authority, which has the rights to much of the water in the Lower Colorado, and the San Antonio Water System, which is basically the municipal water system for the City of San Antonio. They’re looking for ways to augment the use of the Edwards Aquifer in San Antonio so they’re not totally dependent upon the aquifer and therefore they are not limited by the pumping limitation put on the Edwards Aquifer. So they’re looking at other places for supply, and the
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Colorado River is one of those places that they’re looking for. So there is a tentative agreement between what’s know as LCRA, Lower Colorado River Authority, and SAWS, San Antonio Water System, for eventual transfer of water from the Colorado to San Antonio in return for money being spend by San Antonio in the Lower Colorado region to effectuate some agricultural water conservation techniques and equipment and all that in the Colorado, which is ag-water needs in the Colorado are considered one of the areas where the Colorado can not meet future demands in the next fifty years. But trying to come up with the money to pay for additional water for agriculture is very dicey. And so the idea is to work out an arrangement with San Antonio where as they would pay to implement certain type of ag-water conservation in the Colorado, allow the
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rice farmers to meet their goals, and free up some water to go to San Antonio. Now that is in its early stages right now in terms of, you know, of basic initial agreement has been worked out to study this. There’s no final agreement on it. And there may be as much as a seven-year or more study period to look into the implications and the effects of moving that water. One of the big concern is the environmental concern, because if you move too much water out of the Colorado Basin, that may negatively impact upon fresh water inflows to the Matagorda Water Basin Bay system at the mouth of the Colorado. And the Lower Colorado River Authority said we’re not going to go through this project if there is environmental harm, at least environmental harm that can’t be mitigated. And so there’s sort of an elaborate study process that’s been envisioned to try to pinpoint the
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environmental impacts of that movement and see if there are environmental impacts that can be mitigated before any final agreement is reached between SAWS and LCRA.
DT: You know, while these sort of private arrangements and quasi-public, I guess, among agencies, contracts are being made whether it’s T. Boone Pickens or the City of El Paso, or the City of San Antonio and SAWS, it appears that the legislatures continue to try and create some sort of consensus or regulation through SB1 and SB2 of surface and ground water use and movement around the state. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the—those processes have gone along and what Sierra’s role has been in it, yours?
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KK: Well, Senate Bill One was sort of the major change in State Water Policy in the late 1990s. It was passed in 1997. It basically sort of turned state water planning on its head, whereas before these other water plans for the state had been developed by the Texas Water Development Board, a state agency, with, you know, some input from the public along the way. The whole concept behind Senate Bill One was that we’re not going to have this top-down planning process anymore where the state agency makes the state water plan. We’re going to institute a sort of bottom up, grassroots planning process where different regions of the state come up with regional plans for their region and then those get aggregated into a state water plan so that there is more input, there’s more, you know, comprehensiveness to the plan, etc. And Senate Bill One was really sparked by a
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very serious drought throughout the state in 1996 when then Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who was presiding officer of the Texas Senate, among others but especially Bullock, suddenly woke up to the fact that the state did not have a drought management plan, whereas we are a state that is sort of periodically impacted by drought, we did not really have a plan for dealing with that kind of situation. And planning for our future water needs was being done primarily by a state agency and not everybody was necessarily buying into the plan that the state agency developed. It wasn’t really, you know, credible basis of support for that plan. So Senate Bill One established a regional planning process. It did give the Water Development Board the authority to divide the state up into regions and to choose regional water planning groups initially for each of those regions to develop a regional plan and to administer the funds for the development
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of those plans. Among many things Senate Bill One did, but that was the probably the—the key thing in terms of making a major change in state water law and state water planning. And so from that 1997 law there began a process which is supposed to be repeated every five years, developing a regional plan for each of sixteen water planning regions around the state, and then amalgamating those regional plans into a state water plan every five years, thus allowing it to be kept updated and reflect new circumstances that may development. So that planning process got under way really 1998. It produced some regional plans by the end of the year 2000 and then a State Water Plan by the end of the year 2001, but officially known as the 2002 State Water Plan. Frankly, that initial round of regional planning was a mixed bag. There were regional planning groups
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established in each region. Different interests were represented on each of the regional planning groups, but primarily the dominance on most of those planning groups was from people with an interest in developing more water. And many of the regional planning groups, if not all of them, depended heavily upon consultants to develop their plans for them. And most of those consultants were people from engineering firms that also potentially would benefit from the building of water reservoirs projects and pipelines and other infrastructure like that. So there was what we would perceive from the
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environmental community as sort of a built-in initial bias in many of those regional planning processes toward development and not as much concern about conservation, not as much attention to environmental impacts. Now there was some exceptions to that among the regional plans. But basically the regional plans came out with a lot of proposals for new water infrastructure like seventeen billion dollars worth of projects including almost six billion dollars just in the North Central Texas—or for the North Central Texas region alone—Dallas/Fort Worth area.
DT: Did you see Marvin Nichols?
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KK: Marvin Nichols is one of those. It would cost several billion dollars. Marvin Nichols is a proposed reservoir in Northeast Texas that would primarily serve as a water supply for Dallas/Fort Worth and the suburban cities around Dallas/Fort Worth. And it is I think probably the biggest single expenditure that would be anticipated if these regional plans were to be implemented. So we were very concerned about the lack of attention of water conservation in most of the plans. There were a few that stood out as being in support of conservation. And the lack of attention to environmental concerns and environmental water needs in most of the plans. And to some extent Senate Bill Two, which followed in 2001, made some changes in the planning process so that in the second
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round of regional planning, which is under way now in 2003, there has to be a much greater attention to water conservation. Basically each of the regional plans are going to have to point out why they are using water conservat—or whether they’re using water conservation. If not, why they’re not using it. They’re going to have to justify not using water conservation to meet a—a particular perceived water need. And then there’s also some language that was passed in Senate Bill Two to try to emphasize the importance of environmental concerns as well. But the passage of Senate Bill Two alone is not going to make the difference in terms of making the regional plans and the state water plan sufficient in terms of conservation or environmental protection. What really needs to be done is to have as much input and pressure on the regional water planning groups to try
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to develop and incorporate those idea as soon as possible. And fortunately Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense were the recipients of several grants about three years ago now that have allowed us to up our level of participation and monitoring and input to the regional water plans around the state through what we call the Texas Living Waters Project, which is a joint project among the three environmental organizations that really tries to educate the public about the planning process, educate the public about the need for water conservation, protecting environmental water needs, and give the public the tools to participate in the process and try to fashion new regional plans, or revisions to regional plans, that take into account conservation of the environment. So that’s really where we are in 2003. We’re trying to build upon the
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concept in Senate Bill One which is not a bad concept, but trying to do a grassroots approach to planning for our future water needs, but making sure that there’s adequate attention to conservation management and environmental protection and not just this focus on building projects in order to meet supposed demands when many parts of the state—cities like Dallas and Fort Worth—are not practicing efficient use of water—water conservation, but being in a position now of asking for money and the right to build new projects.
DT: Ken, we’ve talked about a number of legislative issues and initiatives from some of the early bond referenda all the way through to SB1 and SB2 in just the last four or five years. And through many of these steps you’ve been involved in lobbying the legislature and trying to persuade in the environmental concerns and The Sierra Club’s position is important for the consideration. And I was wondering if you could talk about some of those negotiations and some of the characters and personalities that you’ve dealt with and how this whole legislative process works?
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KK: Well, the Texas legislative process is pretty fascinating. Horrifying sometimes, but fascinating in the long run. When I was in academia and studied government legislature and taught courses dealing with the legislative process I really hadn’t had a lot of practical experience with the legislative process, although I did do in my latter years of teaching some volunteer lobbying and that gave me a little additional perspective. But when I moved to Austin and started doing contract lobbying for The Sierra Club back in the early 1980s, I guess the thing that impressed upon me the most about the difference between the theory of law making and the practice of law making is that the law making process is really heavily dependent upon personalities and personal relationships. I mean I guess this should not come as a shock to many people that a legislative body like the
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state legislature is a group of people, and so they go about their business in much the same that other people do and other groups of people do in their everyday lives, that there are situations where you have to negotiate with other people in order to get what you want. You have to often times get to know somebody on a very personal level in order to be able to interact with them in business or in academia or whatever in an effective way. And that’s really what happens in the legislature, too. I can’t tell you how many laws I’ve seen pass or fail not on the basis of the substance of the law or the merit, or demerits, of the law, but upon who was carrying the legislation and whether or not the person carrying the legislation had a basically good relationship with most of the other legislators. That was really the key. It’s, you know, sort of surprising and shocking in
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some ways, but I guess in some other respects somewhat the norm in humans interactions that personalities count. And so you could have a great piece of environmental legislation that you would thing that everybody would find a no-brainer. Sure we’re going to pass this particular law. But if it’s carried by a person who does not have a great deal of credibility with other legislators then you’re chances of passing that law are not as great. So that is one thing that is probably impressed upon me the most. And therefore, since I’ve been lobbying the legislature now for over twenty years in one fashion or another, I’ve come to accept the fact that in order to really get things done at the legislature, what you have to do is build relationships with legislators and with legislative
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staff, and with other people who influence or impact upon the legislative process, other lobbyists and representatives of other organizations. And that has been a very eye opening experience, in some ways very challenging experience because coming from an academic background, and I think of myself as a semi-intellectual I guess, I’ve always tended to focus on ideas and tried to logically come up with reasons for doing certain things. And now I’ve found myself for the past twenty years still thinking in those terms in some respects and also understanding that just have to spend a lot of time in human interaction and getting to know people at the legislature, building a credibility with people at the legislature so that they trust you. One of the key things, for example, that a
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lobbyist does is provide information to a legislator, legislative staff. They have to deal with thousands of bills, lots of topics. They’re—they can’t be experts on everything. And so you as a lobbyist are often times a major source of information for them about particular topics or bills that they have to deal with. And to the extent that you have can provide them with that information and be a credible source over a period of time, you know, tell them the truth. If you don’t know something make sure they know that—you don’t know that, but you’ll find out that information. Don’t lie to them. Build that kind of trust. And that can go a long way for getting things passed. I can’t tell you the name
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of this particular legislator but—because of implications that will follow, but I at one point had a very good relationship with a pretty powerful legislator. And this particular legislator carried, you know, some piece of legislation for The Sierra Club. And some of the industry lobbyists or business lobbyists that I came into contact with would come up to me and say, well, how did you get this person to carry a piece of legislation for you because I find I practically impossible, you know, to get this person to do it, and yet this person’s not necessarily anti-business or whatever. And the truth of the matter is I just had a good personal relationship with this legislator and was able to get them to carry
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legislation for The Sierra Club when they were not as willing to carry legislation for some other organizations or—or business interests. And it just drove home the point to me that, you know, looking from the outside you would think, well, these business lobbyists are, you know, able to hone, sway, and do whatever they want to do, and the environmental lobbyists were probably not as powerful or able to accomplish certain things, but yet just on the basis of building a personal relationship I was able to get a legislator to carry some bills that the business lobbyist was not able to do so. So I think that’s, you know, the key point that I’ve learned over these years is that in politics and the
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legislature just as in human life, a lot of it depends upon who you know, how well you know them, how well they know you, and how much trust and faith in each other you have as a basis, or as a result of your relationship and interactions.
DT: What about business lobbyists? They might assume, and we’ve heard this from I think Mr. Scanlon and others, they know that these people come in with checks from corporations. And they know that environmental lobbyists seldom come in. They may have votes maybe behind them, but even that’s marginal compared to campaign money. How does well-founded facts on your place trump or doesn’t always trump checks? And I was wondering where that balance plays in, if you could address that (inaudible)?
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KK: Well, I think that it’s very true that money does have a great deal of influence in politics and especially at the legislature. And those people that provide campaign contributions to legislators have access to legislators that other people may not have access to. And increasingly in Texas politics and elsewhere money is a major factor in determining whether or not somebody wins election or reelection. You can’t get away from that. People running for public office today need money. They need campaign contributions in order to be able to have a chance of winning and being able to do the
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things they want to in office. So that gives the organizations with the ability to provide campaign contributions and edge over other organizations that may not be so economically advantaged. And although Sierra Club has a political action committee, there is a Texas League of Conservation Voters that’s a political actions committee and we do provide monetary support at some levels to candidates running for office. We can’t compete in most instances with the business political action committees and others. So in that respect they’re always going to have an edge on us in terms of being seen by the legislators as sources of campaign support that are necessary, and that as a
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consequence those interests have to be listened to and, you know, at least some attempt made to try to address their concerns and issues. However, I do find that legislators understand, at least those in certain parts of the state, that they can’t necessarily get away with just going with their biggest political campaign contributors. That their constituents, the voters, are interested in certain things, and that if there is particular interest in a certain issue that that may immobilize voters to come out to vote either for or against them, and as a result that they have to pay attention to what those constituents want and what the major issues are for them. We’re fortunate for example in the Austin area where we’re located that there’s a pretty high level of environmental sensitivity and awareness in this community. And so a person running for the State Legislature in Austin is likely
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to pay more attention to how environmentalists feel about a particular issue than might be the case in some other parts of the state. And campaign contributions aren’t going to be the sole factor in determining what positions a candidate for the legislature may take if successful in—in becoming a legislator. I also find that on some issues there is not always a clear business viewpoint that may be at odds with an environmental viewpoint or environmental group viewpoint. And in those instances where, you know, there’s not that type of sustained pressure from the business community to vote a certain way, that there’s more freedom or flexibility for those in the environmental camp to push their
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viewpoint and try to get legislators to adopt goals and objective that we’ve favor. So it’s a—it’s a mixed situation. I think that’s it’s very easy to say that campaign contributions dictate the outcome of legislation, but I think it’s an over-simplification. I think it’s a major force. You can’t deny it. When there is a strong difference of opinion between those forces that provide campaign contributions to a legislator and those that aren’t able to do so, then the likelihood is that those forces that contribute the money are going to have the upper hand. But that’s not always the case. And sometimes you can use information, ingenuity, creativity, and the fear of what my constituents think as a way to overcome the influence of money.
DT: Maybe you can give some examples of how you’ve worked with particular legislators with some folks who are out of office. Maybe Billy Clayton or Bill Hobby or Bob Bullock. People who, you know, were certainly involved in it but no longer are, and you can name names.
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KK: Well, let me give you an example in terms of working with Bob Bullock. When Bullock ran for lieutenant governor in 1990, at that time he was the state controller—Public Account—he was looking to environmentalists for ideas about things that we felt were important environmental issues to deal with on the campaign trail and if elected as lieutenant governor. And a number of us who representatives of environmental organizations had a lunch meeting with Bull—Bullock while he was running for lieutenant governor, and talked about some of our ideas about what we thought needed to be done in Texas to forward environmental protection. At that time the state environmental agencies were pretty fragmented. There were several different agencies
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dealing with different aspects in the environment—Texas Water Commission dealing with water, Air Control Board dealing with air pollution control, environmental programs over at the Health Department—and we felt that that system did not work as well as a more unified type of system, more like an Environmental Protection Agency for Texas would work. And so we promoted the idea of reorganizing the state environmental agencies into basically one major regulatory agency that would have the clout and the cohesion to be able to deal with various environmental problems at the same time. And to try to lessen the potential impact of doing something on water quality that might have
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some negative impact, unintentionally, on land, disposal or air quality. And Bullock as a person coming from the State Controller viewpoint where he had looked at reform of state agencies trying to achieve new efficiencies and state agency operations really took to that idea from that one meeting, and basically developed an environmental platform that focused on the idea of reorganizing the environmental agencies into one agency. And of course he won the Lieutenant Governorship in 1990. And one of the first things he did after taking over as Lieutenant Governor was to initiate legislation to combine the environmental agencies into one environmental agency and make a lot of significant changes in that. And we worked with him throughout the process in negotiation with
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other groups to fashion a compromised proposal that passed the senate that was pretty good from our—our viewpoint in terms of what it accomplished. It did get muddled a little bit in the House. There was always two Houses to deal with in the State Legislature. And the final version that passed wasn’t as comprehensive as we might have liked, but it was never-the-less I think a positive step forward and creating a combination of agencies, and it was something that was accomplished mainly because Bob Bullock wanted it to happen. The people in the House, the representatives, did not want it to happen or they weren’t as keen on it. But as most people probably know, Bob Bullock
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was a rather strong personality and was able to win his way on that particular bill and at least in getting the agency established. But interesting little side note to that was that right at the end of that process when the bill came back from the House and the Senate had the option of either accepting the House changes or not accepting the House changes and going to Conference Committee and try to get something a little closer to the Senate version of the bill, we actually—“we” meaning several members of the environmental leadership—met with Bob Bullock and tried to convince him that the Senate ought not to accept the House changes, go to Conference Committee, try to come out with something
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better or a little closer to the Senate version. And basically, Bullock being the master politician that he is and—or that he was—and a person who has a very clear line of thinking and once he develops his position is going to stick to it, basically he told us sort of in the context of you neophytes and politics need to understand how the real world operates. We’ve gotten what we’re going to get from the House on this issue. And so we’re going to accept what the House has done and let the bill stand as it is and become law. We’ll have a combined agency, you know. We’ll work on some other things about it later. But I know politics. I know we’ve gotten as much as we’re going to get. That’s
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it. We weren’t too happy with that but there wasn’t really any thing we could do at that point. But the bottom line is that we were able to bring an idea to Bullock on the campaign trail. He embraced it because it was something that was in keeping with what he felt to be important political goals of reforming government and making it more efficient and more effective. But at the same time, once he got to a certain point in the process, at least from his viewpoint, he felt that everything had been accomplished that could be accomplished at least in the session and that was it. So no matter what our arguments about the logic to trying to get something better in the final analysis basically said this what you—what you have and so take it or leave it. And so we took it.
DT: I was curious if you could also comment on some of the people that are—some of your I guess handmaidens for getting legislation passed. All the lobbyists. There’s a huge core of lobbyists in Austin throughout the state and they have a big impact I would assume on legislation. Maybe you can talk a little about the impact interplay they have with environmental laws.
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KK: Well, the lobby team, if you will, at the Capitol which includes people from lots of different backgrounds and viewpoints is I think quite extensive and quite powerful for a lot of the reason that I’ve talked about earlier in terms of being able to provide information to legislators. Campaign contributions, pipeline to constituencies, what have you. It’s also the case that as an environmental group lobbyist I see in all to many occasions that we’re vastly out numbered and out-gunned in terms of—of the number of lobbyists and the tools that they have at their disposal on the other side of an issue from us. Probably one of the best examples, or worst examples maybe, of the power of the
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lobbying team is the lobbying team that Waste Control Specialists put together over the last several sessions to push for a private license for a nuclear waster disposal facility in Texas. Without going into details of all that, and basically a particular company, Waste Control Specialists, has wanted to get pretty much the exclusive rights to dispose of low-level radioactive waste and ultimately Department of Energy nuclear waste in Texas. But they needed a change in the law to do that to allow a private company to hold the license for that and to make some other changes. And so in 1999, 2001, and 2003, and to some extent in one previous session, they pulled together a lobbying team that basically tried to cover every base in the legislature to get the change in the law that they needed in order
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to try to obtain a private license for their radio active waste dump. They had—I don’t remember the exact number of lobbyists in the last session of legislature but I think it was somewhere around sixteen people on their lobbying team to push for the change in the law that they wanted. It included former legislators, former members of Congress, people with connection to legislators from other types of arrangements, and they really, you know, went to work with every court of the legislature to try to build sufficient support for making that changes that they wanted. On the other hand, from the environmental community, there was really only about three lobbyists working on that particular issue who could spend the time to try stop that effort from taking place. We
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were successful in 1999 and 2001 for a variety of reasons in stopping Waste Control Specialists from getting what they wanted. But in 2003, in part because of the change in leader ship in the Texas legislature, they were eventually were able to get the change in law they wanted. And so now we’re in the Administrative Agency process trying to slow them down or stop them from getting their license in the Administrative Agency. But it’s very disheartening as a lobbyist for an environmental group to stand outside the House Chamber for example, trying to buttonhole legislators as they go in and out of from the House session, or calling legislators out to talk to them about a certain issue to see basically sixteen other people on the other side there calling out legislators, buttonholing
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them, when you only have two to three people on your side able to do the same thing. And to know that many of those lobbyists among the sixteen are people who have given large con—campaign contributions to the legislators. They’re people that take them hunting, take them out for dinner or whatever. They have those kinds of associations that they’ve built over the years. And it’s a little daunting to see that, you know, in a very bold way you’re—you’re out-numbered and out-gunned in that respect. So that’s one example I would use of the problems you run into as an environmental lobbyists of the
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Texas Legislature. It doesn’t mean that you don’t win on some occasions. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when all that fire power, like in ’99, 2001 with Waste Control Specialists, still ultimately fails, but it’s sort of hard to sustain the effort against that kind of fire power over a period of several sessions.
DT: Ken, I was hoping that you might be able to take a step back and tell us what you think you’ve learned over the past twenty years, and then give us some outlook for what might be coming up in the future for environmental protection in Texas.
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KK: Well, I think that one of the things that I’ve learned over the past twenty years is that there is a vast reservoir of support for environmental protection. I saw it in the students I taught at the universities. I’ve seen among the people that I’ve worked with within The Sierra Club and other organizations. And also just with the general public that I’ve come into contact over the years. Many people may not want to call themselves environmentalists for one reason or another. Maybe there’s a connotation about that term for some people that implies radicalism or what have you. But at heart the majority of
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people are basically concerned about environmental protection. They want clean air. They want clean water. They want to have land preserved for future generations, for their kids and their grandkids. And if you look at every public opinion poll that’s been taken over the past thirty years in the United States, and even in Texas, you see a strong reservoir support for the environment. And there’s really not that much difference if you poll Texans as compared polling people around the country and the strength of that support. And it cuts across party boundaries. It cuts across political philosophies. And that is an encouraging thing from my perspective. It’s one of the things that keeps me
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going as an environmental advocate is knowing that it’s something the majority of the people want and believe in. But they’re not always able to affect that. They’re not always able or don’t necessarily perceive themselves at being able to do something about that. And part of my role and the role of the other people in groups like The Sierra Club is to make that connection, to tap into people’s reservoirs support for the environment and give them the tools to be able to affect decisions that have an impact on the environment. To show them how they can have power. To show them how they can influence what their legislator does or what somebody at the state agency does. How
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they can really shape the things that affect them and shape—and affect the environment. So that’s probably the thing that I’ve learned the most over the years is that there is a strong support among the public for environmental protection, that part of the role of myself and other environmental advocates is to be a bridge for the general public and the policy makers. Sometimes we have to be the ones there to represent the public interest with the decision-makers. Sometimes we can be the ones that mobilize the public to have the biggest impact upon the decision makers, either through voting or through communication with legislators, you know, through public rallies to show support for a particular issue, however that’s done. But that’s really what our role has been and that’s something that I’ve learned to be very important over the years.
DT: I understand that you’re a hiker and a camper. And I was wondering if you could tell me what those experiences might mean to you being in the outdoors.
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KK: Well, one of the things that I’ve learned as an environmental advocate is that I really have much time to do hiking and camping. And that’s sort of the irony of working for The Sierra Club. It seems like the longer you work for environmental organization and the more immersed you get into the policy and the conservation action, the less time you have to simply enjoy the out-of-doors. But I do try to make it a point every year to go on a backpacking trip and do some small hikes in between from time to time. And basically it’s sort of a spiritual replenishment of my energy for doing this kind of job. It
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helps me to remember why it is that I’m interested in this in the first place. The connection with nature, the connection with the out-of-doors, which gives me a—an inspiration to continue doing what I’m doing. And I think also just sort of, you know, replenishes the energy supply to be able to do it. One of the things that I really like about The Sierra Club is the connection that The Sierra Club has with bringing people and taking people into the out of doors through outings, through camping trips and hiking trips and canoeing trips and kayaking trips and all that, because I think that it’s a way to try to demonstrate to people the values that so often we lose track of in our usually urban everyday lives, and the whole reason why it’s important to push for clean air and clean
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water, especially when you’re in a wilderness area where you see the nature and as pristine a condition as it can be in our modern society. You understand that there is a difference between that kind of environment and the environment that too many people find themselves in our modern American cities and other cities around the world. And that if we lose that wilderness connection, then we’ve lost a great deal in terms of the quality of our lives and the values that many of us feel to be important. So it helps to remind me when I get out in the outdoors and do hiking and camping that this is what we’re striving for. We can’t make every area where people live as pristine as these wilderness areas, but we can try to improve the air and the water and the other aspects of their environment so that they have a clean, healthy environment to enjoy for the future.
DT: Awesome. Thank you.
[End of reel 2262]
[End of interview with Ken Kramer]