A concrete boat in a cement pond.
A concrete boat in a cement pond.
Courtesy of University of Houston

ConocoPhillips, Art Car Shenanigans and Concrete Canoes

Thanks to the eternal vigilance of Banjo Jones, Brazoria County's most dedicated refinery watcher, we learn that Conoco­Phillips has been fined $228,900 for various pollution-related infractions.

Andrea Morrow of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality confirms the news, saying a "routine inspection" by TCEQ caught the energy giant in seven air violations.

These included such things as exceeding "allowable emissions levels of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide," thus leading to the somewhat hefty fine.



If, by "somewhat hefty," you mean "an amount that ConocoPhillips can find under the cushions of its couch."

The company made $11.8 billion-with-a-B in profits last year. So fining it $228,900 is like fining a family with Houston's median income of $40,000 a grand total of 80 cents. Like we said, couch-cushion time.

Morrow says TCEQ doesn't take a company's profits into consideration when it sets a fine, unless the specific act of polluting that it is being fined for helped it turn a profit.

"If there's a direct correlation between the environmental event and the profit, then it would be a factor," she says. "But in terms of how much money they make overall, no. It's gonna be the same against a small business as against a large business if the impact to the environment is the same."

So dig deep, ConocoPhillips. Struggle mightily to come up with the equivalent of 80 cents.

And please, for appearance's sake, try to keep a straight face as you mail the check.

Highway Robbery?

The Art Car Parade is a great tradition in Houston, and one of its own great traditions is controversy. It really wouldn't be an Art Car Parade without griping.

This year the grumbling — overshadowed a bit by the tragic death of Art Car legend Tom Jones — is over the winner of one of the biggest prizes.

"It has been four years since I had been back to Houston for an Art Car Parade [and] I could not help noticing how corrupt the judging has become," says Tom Kennedy, an Art Car artist from San ­Francisco.

The judges, he says, gave a premiere award "to a creation that one of the judges had commissioned; the conflict of interest seemed to go unnoticed."

Where is the peace and love, dude?

Stephen Bridges of the Orange Show, which puts on the parade each year, admits there have been complaints about the prize awarded to "Lady of Transportation," which was created by Amber Eagle and Todd Parsons.

But he says the complaints are the result of "rumors" and "misinformation."

Ann Harithas, the founder of the Art Car Museum and one of this year's five judges, is alleged to have commissioned "Lady of Transportation." Bridges says that is overstating things.

"The idea and design for the 'Lady of Transportation' was solely Amber Eagle's," he says. "As a longtime supporter of the Art Car movement and generous patron to artists of all genres, Ann Harithas helped Amber Eagle apply for a grant and loaned her the use of a vacant studio/garage."

Bridges says the situation was explained to the other judges, who decided that since Harithas "did not own or enter the car there was no reason to rule it ineligible."

Harithas recused herself from the vote, he says.

Art's a subjective thing, of course, but we guess it isn't too extreme for some participants to find it difficult to imagine the other judges saying, "Ann, that car you played a role in developing just really, really sucks."

Then again, "Lady of Transportation" also won the Participant's Choice, voted on by everyone who entered a car in the parade.

Kennedy is not convinced.

"Ann Harithas and [longtime Art Car power] Marilyn Oshman should be embarrassed and ashamed...Other Art Car events across the country are gaining prominence due to the decay and corruption of the Houston event."

Bridges, on the other hand, says that "overall we think the parade went extremely well."

Like we said, it wouldn't be an Art Car Parade unless there were two entirely divergent versions of some aspect of it.

Like a Lead Zeppelin?

A team from the University of Houston is headed to the finals!!

The football team? Basketball?

No. It's the concrete-canoe team.

Engineering students from UH dominated the recent Texas/Mexico Regionals with sterling finishes in several races and in oral presentations about — well, about their concrete canoe.

"It is science that makes the boat float, the same way as the steel battleships and cruise ships," says team leader Wade Barnes. "You know, regular buoyancy...makes it float."

He said other stuff, but it was all ­engineer-level boring.

But congrats anyway to the Coogs.

If you can't get to the Final Four or the BCS Championship, a concrete-canoe title is the next best thing. We guess.


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