Protect Our Air & Our Teachers

For Immediate Release (Wednesday, April 3, 2013):

For More Information: Lone Star Chapter Director Scheleen Walker – 512-477-1729 (office), 512-481-1448 (cell)

Sierra Club Calls on Texas Legislature to Protect

Vital Clean Air, Teacher Retirement Programs

Environmental Group Says Proposed House Amendments to Appropriations Bill Unnecessarily Pit Retired Teachers against Clean Air Advocates and Student Health

In a move of clear political grandstanding, Texas state legislators are attempting to force a political fight between clean air advocates – including families with younger students – and Texas’ teachers.

A proposed amendment to Senate Bill 1, the appropriations bill that is set for Texas House floor action on Thursday, would eliminate $6.4 million from clean air programs at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in FY 2014-FY 2015 and transfer that money to the Teachers’ Retirement Program. The amendment was filed by Representative Craig Goldman of Fort Worth. Other amendments filed by Representative Jonathan Stickland of Bedford recommend a similar approach.

“We have an opportunity to invest our surging state revenues into programs that will drastically improve air quality that directly impacts school childrens’ health in polluted areas and provide our teachers with much-needed retirement security,” said Scheleen Walker, Director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter. “The right to clean air and the right to a secure retirement are not mutually exclusive. We strongly encourage Texas House members to invest in a cleaner, more secure future for all Texans.”

Under the House Appropriations Committee version of SB 1, the total dollar amount of TCEQ’s air quality grants available under the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP) would be less than half – only $65 million of the roughly $190 million generated per year by clean air fees dedicated to the program. The Senate included $90 million per year for TERP.  The program was created over a decade ago to clean up old, air-polluting diesel equipment in Texas’ major urban areas in violation and near violation of air quality standards for human health protection.  Proposed TERP cutbacks are being pursued despite expected tougher EPA rules in 2014 that will likely increase the number of areas that do not attain those air quality standards (primarily San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Tyler-Longview).

Similarly, both the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill would shortchange the Drive a Clean Machine (LIRAP) program designed to help working Texans clean up their cars or purchase newer ones to meet emissions standards. Currently the programs would continue to be funded with only $7 million per year, despite auto emission inspection fees that raise nearly $40 million per year for the program.

“Public education, our Teacher’s Retirement System, and vital clean air programs in Texas are all drastically underfunded,” said Walker. “But we won’t solve that problem by forcing Texans to choose between clean air or a more secure retirement.”

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