Incest at the Courthouse
When I read the Insider column [November 30] about Judge Debbie Stricklin, I could only think incest.

We (the citizens) should be thanking the grand jurors who had the courage and decency to speak up about what they perceived to be improprieties in the grand jury system, as well as Jennifer Lenhart of the Chronicle for her fine investigative reporting on the shooting death of Travis Allen. I think what is really bothering District Attorney Holmes and Stricklin is that the public got a good view of how the grand jury selection process takes place and the biases that can occur as a result of that process. If there should be any investigation at this time, it should be of the grand jury system and the incest between judges and the district attorney's office.

David Atwood

In the Cartoons
A colleague of mine in Houston recently shipped me a copy of the Press, complete with its cartoon cover picturing House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. ["The Exterminator," by Michael Berryhill, November 23]. While the cover art was amusing and original, Berryhill's article was neither. In investigative journalism, one hopes at least to find new information and at best to find information of some social relevance. By all accounts, the article was reconstituted dribs and drabs of ground well-covered elsewhere.

Worse yet, on the specifics of Tom DeLay's environmental record, the article was misleading and inaccurate. For example, the recent controversy concerning appropriations "riders" dealing with EPA programs was mischaracterized. Berryhill says DeLay authored all 17 riders; he did not. DeLay is only one member of a subcommittee that supported the riders by consensus -- including support from several Democrats. Berryhill implies that the riders would endanger human health and the environment; they would not. Remember, a rider is only a one-year pause in an EPA program. In most cases, this period would allow the EPA to collect adequate data, to make a sound legal case and to allocate resources in a way that better protects the environment. Fairly stated, some of the riders would stimulate recycling of waste, honor EPA requests for more time on key water programs and stimulate corporations to audit themselves in order to improve compliance with environmental laws. Of course, we hear none of this in Berryhill's article. We hear no hint of the other side!

As an environmental attorney and adjunct professor of environmental management at the University of Maryland, I have had a number of opportunities to work with the majority whip and his staff. I have found Tom DeLay to be open-minded, to select his battles carefully, but to be committed to his positions. That's pretty refreshing in Washington, D.C. In the future, I would hope that the Houston Press would keep the caricatures where they belong -- in your cartoons and not in your "news" articles.

Scott H. Segal
Kensington, Maryland

Drink, Breathe and Vote
Thank you for running "The Exterminator," Michael Berryhill's excellent piece about our local anti-environmentalist turned majority whip, Tom DeLay. The story did a good job of showing how DeLay and his colleagues are using amendments to the appropriations bills and other stealth attacks, with little debate or public input, to get rid of regulations that protect our public health and environment. Although it is more difficult under public scrutiny, they also are directly attacking laws which people have counted on for more than 20 years, such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Clean Water Act passed the House in April in a version which should better be called the "Dirty Water Act." It was largely written by the same business interests whom it would regulate, and who, coincidentally, gave generous campaign contributions to Congress.

The next bill on the chopping block will likely be the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects public health by setting standards for the water that comes out of our taps. Currently, nearly one million people get sick and 900 die each year from drinking their own tap water. In Houston, arsenic, a known human carcinogen, has been detected in our tap water at levels of 0.8 parts per billion or higher. At a level of 0.5 ppb, there is a fatal cancer risk of one in 5,000.

Despite these problems with our drinking water, "reformers" in Congress are poised to gut the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill under consideration would weaken the act in several ways. It would delay a new arsenic standard (one that takes into account that arsenic causes cancer) until 2001, weaken health standards for other drinking water contaminants and, among other things, weaken our right to know what is in our drinking water.

These proposals are likely to move through Congress very quickly and with very little public debate, because they are bipartisan and because more than $46 million in PAC contributions were made to Congress by corporate coalitions lobbying to weaken federal drinking water laws. We must let Congress know these attacks to our environmental laws are unacceptable. Now is the time to write or call your representative, even Tom DeLay, and urge them to vote for safer water, not additional contamination.

DeLay is right about one thing. Republicans' families "drink the same water and breathe the same air as the families of Democrats." Even though average Houstonians don't give as much PAC money as the corporate interests funding both parties, don't we drink, breathe and, most important, vote?

Beth Niederman
Houston campaign director
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

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