We want to begin this first Texas Environmental Almanac by telling you what it is not. It is not a prescription for change. It is not a definitive description of the environmental health of the state. It is an environmental road map of our state, drawn from documentation compiled by state agencies with a mandated responsibility for various components of the state's environment. By studying this road map, we can begin to understand where we are in terms of our state's environmental health. We can begin to decide where we want to be in terms of the future environmental well-being of Texas.
The Texas Environmental Almanac was created to provide timely information on the state of the state's environment. This information can help citizens and their elected officials plan for the future and design future policy. While various state agencies maintain on-going documentation of key components of the state's environment, this documentation rarely reaches the public or elected officials in a format that is useful for public debate or for guiding public policy decisions. Never before has the environmental documentation by various state agencies been brought together under one cover to provide a comprehensive look at the Texas environment. It is our hope that the Almanac will serve as a useful reference book for anyone studying the Texas environment as well as for those engaged in public debates shaping environmental policy.
Environmental protection continues to be a major concern of most Texans, according to a 1994 survey conducted by the Rice University Department of Sociology and sponsored by the Southwestern Bell Foundation. "Most Texans continue to believe that greater efforts should be made to protect the environment, and they are willing to make some economic sacrifices to do so," the report concluded. "...[T]he commitment to environmental protection remains surprisingly strong in Texas."(1)
A study released by the Institute for Southern Studies indicates that environmental protection and economic development are not necessarily as incompatible as conventional wisdom would have us believe. In fact, some elements of an environmental protection policy may enhance economic development. "States with stronger environmental standards tended to have higher growth in their gross state products, total employment, construction employment, and labor productivity than states that ranked lower environmentally," reported Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, after tracking 20 years of economic performance by state.(2) In a report for the Economic Policy Institute, Dr. Eban Goodstein reports that "when the job creation aspects of pollution control policies are factored in, environmental protection has probably increased net employment in the U.S. economy by a small amount."(3)
According to the Rice University survey, however, most Texans are more concerned about the detrimental effects of pollution than they are about the impact of environmental regulation on the economy.(4) In the long run, the economic health of a city, region or the entire state depends upon the integrity of the natural resources upon which that city, region or the state depends.
Looking at some of the information in the Texas Environmental Almanac allows us to see how this plays out in our own state. We are, for instance, doing some things right. Since 1972, the amount of pollution discharged in wastewater by Texas municipal facilities has decreased by approximately 70 percent. While the population of Texas grew from 14 million in 1980 to 17 million in 1990, the amount of water Texas residents, industries and agriculture consumed declined from 17.8 million acre-feet in 1980 to 15.8 million acre-feet by 1990. Texas industries have reduced their release of toxic compounds into the air by more than 25 percent since 1987.
But the evidence suggests we could do a better job in many areas. Texas industries, for instance, inject more hazardous wastes and toxic chemicals underground than any other state in the nation. We release more toxic waste into the air, water and land than any state except Louisiana. Approximately 150,000 Texas residents living on the border do not have basic wastewater treatment service. Texas loses approximately 225 acres of Gulf shoreline per year to erosion. The state has lost one-half of its coastal wetlands and 60 percent of its terrestrial wetlands over the past 200 years. Forty percent of Texas cropland is classified as highly erodible, making Texas one of the eight worst states for soil erosion rates. Environmental losses such as these, if not addressed, could have a seriously detrimental effect in years to come on the quality of life and the economic prosperity of thousands of Texans. By using information found in the Almanac, we may be able to avert growing environmental problems before it is too late.
The Texas Environmental Almanac is divided into five sections. We've taken the classic environmental elements once believed to characterize all material substance: earth (land), air, fire (energy) and water. To this we've added a new element: waste. Taken as a whole, these sections provide a comprehensive portrait of the state of the state's environment.
The Texas Center for Policy Studies (TCPS) has been responsible for writing and organizing the almanac. Mary Sanger directed the project. She and Cyrus Reed, both TCPS staff members, were the chief writers and researchers for the almanac. Mary Kelly, Antonio Diaz, Loretta Baron and Geoff Rips, also from TCPS, provided research and editorial assistance. Free-lance writer Robert Bryce contributed the section on energy. Susan Raleigh Kaderka provided first-round editing. Worldwise Design Creative Director Harrison Saunders designed the Almanac and saw it through production. Sherry Matthews Advertising and Public Relations (Austin) provided copy editing, conceptual and design assistance and was crucial to final publication.
The Texas Environmental Almanac depended upon the cooperation and collaboration of many state agencies, including the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the General Land Office, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the Consolidated Farm Service Agency, the Texas Water Development Board and the Railroad Commission of Texas. All these agencies provided access to technical reports and other data, as well as offering guidance and helpful comments.
Finally, the Texas Environmental Almanac would not have been possible without the generous support of the Meadows Foundation in Dallas. The Foundation's support and encouragement are gratefully acknowledged.
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