Environmental Issues and Voting for the Future
In previous newsletters you’ve read about questions and answers that came up during meetings of the District Advisory Committees, which are helping identify issues that can be taken to the Legislature.
I am very appreciative of the time that these citizens give to our mutual goal of developing solutions through constructive dialogue where everyone is at the table, giving us the benefit of being thoroughly informed about the challenges.
Another District Advisory Committee looked at the Environment, and proposed two ideas for legislative action, which I’ve written about below.
It’s also moving into campaign season, and I have a few thoughts and notes about that as well.
ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE ISSUES
Solving the Problem of Scrap Tires
The committee looked at both global and local issues.
One issue that is both is how to solve the decades-long problem of discarded or “scrap” tires, which too often are dumped in the desert where they become an eyesore and a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests. The issue is particularly acute in our community; Ciudad Juarez has the largest tire pile in the U.S.-Mexico border region, with four to five million tires in its landfill, and dumping in the El Paso desert is common.
The issue of illegal dumping affects us locally but it is also a statewide problem. The Texas Department of Transportation estimates that Texans generate 24 million scrap tires each year – more than one tire for every Texan. In addition, there are about 25 million scrap tires already littered across the state, especially along the border and in east Texas. This issue poses such a serious problem that it has been recognized by all 10 U.S. and Mexican states that make up the Border Governors Conference.
Last legislative session, I filed Senate Bill 615 to help prevent the majority of these used or scrap tires from accumulating in various parts of the state as well as from crossing the border by requiring tire retailers to render tires “unusable” when the tires do not meet existing safety standards as set by rule by the Department of Public Safety. How would tire retailers render a tire unusable? When a tire doesn’t meet the minimum tread depth required by DPS, the retailer could either punch a large enough hole in the tire so that the tire cannot be patched or anything else that will ensure that the tire will not be used on a vehicle again. The bill passed the full Senate but didn’t make it through the House in time to become law.
Another solution that the committee recommended would be to require that a percentage of Texas Department of Transportation-funded street and road projects use the product from the shredded tires in the paving. This provides a market-driven incentive to re-use the tires, not dump them, and adds a proven product to new streets and roads.
There are multiple issues to work through, however. We’ve been at this for many years – I dealt with the issue of dumping as county attorney — and I’m going to keep at it in Austin.
The Rule of Capture
From a statewide perspective, the committee reviewed the “rule of capture,” which essentially means you can stick a pipe into the ground, as long as you own the surface area, and suck up whatever is under it. Since water flows across boundaries, this means the person with the longest pipe or the strongest pump can take their neighbor’s water.
Now, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld this, and it’s difficult to imagine the Legislature moving on an issue this consequential and tricky, but it’s worth thinking about, as it affects every Texan, even those in conservative parts of the state. And we’re increasingly going to have to find new ways to apportion and use water, as Texas continues to suffer from one of the worst, longest droughts in our state’s history.
Safety for Canal Superintendents
One issue addressed by the committee relates to our canal system. Rio Grande water in El Paso has three owners — the city; county residents who live on land that used to be farmed and still comes with water rights; and, farmers, represented by the El Paso County Water Improvement District.
Water comes off the river and into a series of canals, dirt-lined conduits that deliver Rio Grande water from one end of El Paso County to the other. This system is managed by canal superintendents, who are volunteers and perform such tasks as opening and closing the sluice gates that deliver water to a given property at pre-specified dates and times.
Those volunteers, about 800 of them, sometimes have to deal with hostile people who want more than their allocation, or want it at times when they’re not entitled. The volunteers’ duties are not codified, which adds to the confusion. They ought to have a list of duties, and perhaps most importantly, be insured by the water district in case of on-the-job injury.
IT’S OUR TIME!
Last week the Democratic Party Executive Committee had its swearing in. Congratulations to the new and returning committee members. Congratulations also to the new and returning precinct chairs who were elected on the July 31 runoff election date and sworn in last week.
However, we have some unfinished business. Not all our precincts have chairs, and we have many fine nominees. We must choose from among them, and then work together toward the November elections.
We have only 68 days left, and every one of them is an opportunity to support our nominees, from President Obama to Senate candidate Paul Sadler to our Democratic El Paso nominees, from the federal level with Beto O’Rourke to the state with Joe Moody to the county with Vincent Perez, and from the competitive judicial races to other local positions.
This is important for El Paso, but also beyond. We have the voters who can make a difference in state and national politics. Texas is changing, and we are in the vanguard. A small difference in percentage points can shift the balance of power, and everyone knows it. That’s why they go to the lengths they do, distracting us from vital governance issues to address problems that don’t exist with “solutions” that violate the country’s core, the Constitution.
I think El Paso can double its rate of voting from the last general elections, in 2010, when only a quarter of El Paso’s 380,000 registered voters voted. We did it in 2008, and we can and should exceed it this time around.
My campaign coordinator, George Ybarra, will be working toward that goal. I ask all El Paso Democratic Party precinct chairs to also publicly commit to this goal. I will offer my assistance and support to the partners in this effort.
More details will come, but in the meantime, I am asking those who have the belief and ability to make a difference to contact me at my campaign office.