by Jane Dale Owen
I’ve spent a good part of my life in Houston, where oil is king. My family certainly has benefited from the prosperity this industry has afforded. My grandfather, Robert Lee Blaffer, was one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, parent company of ExxonMobil. My mother, Jane Blaffer Owen, married Kenneth Dale Owen, renowned geologist and founder of Gulf Shore Oil Company. I am a shareholder in ExxonMobil who votes for change that helps protect the environment and public health. For many years, I have supported efforts such as Campaign ExxonMobil to educate shareholders about the power they hold by voting to press the company to make environmentally responsible decisions.
In the early days of new oil wells and the discovery of all that this energy source could do for our country, no one could predict the environmental and health consequences of drilling and processing fossil fuel we are facing today.
“Like every benefit, it can turn on itself and, in time, turn on us. Oil is beneficial — the greed and power that come with the production and selling of this energy source is out of hand,” my mother said in a 2006 interview for Citizens League for Environmental Action Now. “I was born into a conservative family. My father was a president and treasurer of an oil company. He would be appalled at the squandering of money and resources today.” My mother, who died a year ago last June, also believed that this country, once a republic with “one spirit, one body, many limbs” had become a “depersonalized empire.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has turned a blind eye to the damage this industry is causing to the environment and public health.
He brags about the lack of industry regulations that could help reduce toxic emissions from oil refineries, protect our children from mercury emissions spewing out of coal-fired power plant smoke stacks and prevent contamination of our precious aquifers.
In all his wisdom, he has even sued the Environmental Protection Agency over new rules that would help reduce air pollution, and he has slammed the EPA for the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule that requires 27 states including Texas to improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine-particle pollution in other states.
Perry seems unaware that our state is at the top of the worst list in a number of categories, including No. 1 in the United States for carbon dioxide emissions. If Texas were a nation, it would rank 8th in the world for CO2 emissions.
Texas also leads the nation in generating hazardous waste and is well known as a hazardous waste dump for our country. Our Texas Gulf Coast city of Port Arthur has received the Army’s VX nerve gas waste product and incinerated it at the Veolia waste treatment facility. A paper company’s waste pits, hidden in sand dunes under water for many years, contaminated the San Jacinto River and much of Galveston Bay with high levels of dioxin before anyone knew it was there.
With Perry’s support, the dumping gets more dangerous. The Texas Legislature this year approved a radioactive waste facility that will receive nuclear waste from all across the nation. Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is building the facility in Andrews County, dangerously close to the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in the world. By the way, WCS happens to be owned by Harold Simmons, who donated $1.12 million to Perry’s campaign, according to a 2010 report by Texans for Public Justice.
Perry ignores reality. Texas has literally been on fire in a summer of extreme drought and record-breaking heat, yet our governor continues to deny that global warming exists. He criticizes the EPA and suggests that we pray for rain. The governor loudly boasts about jobs in Texas. Does he know anything about solutions that could really help the environment and our economy, like green jobs? Does he know or care that more than 60 percent of Americans think that public investment should go to create clean energy jobs?
If we continue business as usual under people like Rick Perry, we will not be able to protect the health of citizens, the environment or the economy. Please, do your research. Get to know the records and platforms of presidential candidates. Look at how the real issues like health, the environment, education, as well as the economy, affect your life. And please get involved in the American political system before it is too late.
— Owen is president and founder of Houston-based Citizens League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) www.cleanhouston.org, an organization that works to educate the public about solutions to environmental issues. This was post was first published on the Houston Chronicle website.JR: I have known Owen for many years and have been on the board of CLEAN. For more on Perry’s pollution leadership, see the reports “Texas #1 in the Nation for Mercury Pollution” and “Texas’s Carbon Footprint.”