It’s softly raining again today. I think all Texans will join me in being thankful.
Even in the rain, folks are burning. While those of you who live in towns may not be affected by the burn ban. Those of us out in many of the county areas are thankful that we can burn our piles of clearing debris to be ready for spring.
Shortly after moving to this area, I talked with Jimmy Parker (Emergency Management Director) about how he determines whether to request a burn ban. (A burn ban is ordered by the County Judge, in conjunction with the Commissioners.) Mr. Parker explained that his recommendations are based on soil moisture and dryness of duff layers.
That certainly makes more sense than what I lived under in California. In that highly regulated state, “no burn days” are called based on what’s going on in the air. A “no burn day” doesn’t apply to just outdoor burning, but fireplaces and wood-burning stoves as well (with a few exceptions).
Our rural agricultural county was lumped in with urban areas. So a “no burn day” could be called because of high ozone levels in a city more than a hundred miles away. If this type of clean air policy were instituted in Caldwell County, our favorite bar-b-ques couldn’t burn their wood fires on “no burn days.” And it may be on its way here.
Before you quickly dismiss what I’m about say with “This is Texas, it couldn’t happen here,” hear me out. I didn’t move here to bring California with me. But sadly I’m seeing a trend that concerns me, and I hope it worries you.
Caldwell County is a member of Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), which is “linked” to Central Texas Clean Air Coalition (CAC). The CAC is made up of five counties in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). From Caldwell, the county judge and mayors of Luling and Lockhart serve on the CAC.
Because of regulations handed down by the EPA, CAC has developed the 8-Hour Ozone Flex Program. This program is currently being revised for new standards from the EPA. Caldwell County is lumped in with the urban areas of Austin, Round Rock, and San Marcos for air quality programs. Problems in Austin could determine what is implemented in Caldwell County.
I urge you to read the various websites and documents yourself. But here’s a couple of disturbing things I noted. First, Caldwell County appears to have the best air quality in the MSA, but we are tied to some of the worse air quality in Texas.
Second, it takes very little to include the entire county in some of the same programs as Austin and Round Rock have. For example, on page 43 of the Flex Program (2008), it says the same vehicle and inspection program that is in Travis and Williamson counties “could be expanded to Bastrop, Caldwell or Hays Counties if the county and largest city in the county request that TCEQ include that county in the program.”
All it will take is the Lockhart City Council and Caldwell Commissioners Court to decide we need that program, and boom – we have it. I know, there would probably be a public outcry. Given recent events in Caldwell County, the majority of the Court cares little about public sentiment and outcry.
Third, buried in the back of the document is a study that has determined that vehicles driving on dirt roads emit more pollutants than those on paved roads. (Appendix E) The recommendation is to pave the dirt roads. What does that mean? Raising the funds to take on such a project and that ultimately means raising our taxes.
Caldwell County has already had discussions about raising funds for roads through a general election bond or a county road district tax. No matter the source, the tax=paying property owners will pay the bill.
I don’t want decisions for Caldwell County, burning or otherwise, to rest in the hands of an unaccountable regional NGO. Yes, Caldwell County has representatives. But our rural interests are outnumbered by the urban interest.
I’m often asked, “What can we do it about it?” Here are some seemingly trite suggestions:
1) Educate yourself. Yes it takes time to click through and read the information. As more people become familiar with what’s happening the better the chances of it being exposed. Our way of life in Caldwell County is worth the time and effort.
2) Tell your neighbors, friends, and family. Help them learn what’s going on behind the scenes.
3) Tell our elected officials to get out of the regional organizations. You will be told that we need to belong because we then have a voice and the NGOs are sources of grant money.
Well, we have very little voice compared to the urban areas, so we’re likely not heard. In spite of any objection that Caldwell may have, by virtue of membership we’re obligated to the urban majority.
The second most popular reason for NGO membership is grant money. Grant money through the NGOs usually comes down from Washington D.C. In the case of air quality, it comes from the EPA. When the money is given, so are the rules. Caldwell then becomes more entangled in EPA rulings.
4) Start right after the New Year and get to know candidates for the Commissioner Courts. Support those who want to retain control of Caldwell County in Caldwell County. Elect those who will stand with the property owners, not with the NGOs.
I’m saddened that this is coming to Caldwell County. I moved away from California to get away from an overbearing regional government. The good news is I don’t think it’s too late to protect our rights and liberty. For that I’m thankful.
Who do you think should make decisions for Caldwell County?
What should we do if our elected officials aren’t representing us?