While you were smoothing on suntan lotion or stoking the barbecue this weekend, Texas state legislators were madly finishing up work before their midnight May 31 deadline. Gov. George W. Bush‘s tax cuts and education initiatives got most of the attention, but we kept our gaze trained on the environmental bills likely to come up in debate as “Dubya” leaves the friendly confines of Austin and hits the presidential campaign trail this summer.

Bush managed to slip out of the legislative session with a compromise on industrial plant emissions — not strong enough to satisfy the likes of Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club in Texas, but perhaps moderate enough to mollify conservatives in the Republican primaries while neutralizing an “anti-environment” label in a general election battle.

Enviros had wanted mandatory emissions reductions for industrial plants built before 1971 and exempt from federal Clean Air Act emissions standards. Instead, a state House-Senate conference committee worked late into the night on Saturday to produce a compromise bill that keeps emissions reductions voluntary but imposes some new financial penalties on the dirtiest of plants. Copies of the revised bill were stuffed into legislators’ mailboxes just before midnight on Saturday, and the measure easily passed both the House and Senate on Sunday after only minimal debate. Muckraker wonders how many legislators actually read the final bill …

The Sierra Club’s Kramer said the bill’s stiffer penalties for the dirtiest plants will affect only a handful of the many plants in the state spewing toxic stuff, making the alleged compromise not much of a compromise at all. Bush is expected to sign off on the measure.

The real enviro success, according to Kramer, was passage of an electricity deregulation bill that will effectively close the grandfather loophole for electrical plants, which make up one-third of all the state’s pre-1971 plants. State Rep. Steven D. Wolens (D) of Dallas gets the credit for driving the dereg bill.

Any Muckraker fans out there who have followed this saga and would like to weigh in on its significance or shed more light on what really happened, please drop us a line.

New York, New York

Turning our eyes from legislative battles on the dusty plains of Texas, we noticed some interesting happenings up north in the New York legislature where lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would provide funding for alternative energy technologies such as solar and wind power. This legislation, flagged for us by the Natural Resources Defense Council, is particularly important in New York where, as in Texas, utilities are being deregulated, which will mean more competition and potentially more pollution. The New York legislation would also create an advisory committee to decide how the clean-energy money should be spent. Sounds like the kind of bureaucracy Republicans love to hate, which should mean a juicy fight. Muckraker will have a look into this issue and report back …

Calling a Slade a Slade

Didn’t take the Sierra Club long to put the wood to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) for his mining rider on the massive Kosovo emergency spending bill. According to Sierra Club spokesperson Allen Mattison, the group has made a “significant buy” on Seattle radio this week to read Gorton the riot act for his rider that allows the Crown Jewel Mine on Washington state’s Buckhorn Mountain to go forward despite an Interior Department ruling that found Crown Jewel in violation of the 1872 Mining Law. Interior’s solicitor general argued that the cyanide-leach mine would produce more waste than the law allows. Gorton’s rider said, in effect, tough luck: The mine will be built anyway.

From the 60-second spot: “No. That’s what the law said to opening a giant gold mine on Buckhorn Mountain in the Okanogan National Forest. No. To the 30 million pounds of water-polluting, poisonous cyanide needed to mine the mountain … No. To dumping 97 million tons of mining waste on public land and streams. No. So, Sen. Slade Gorton did a favor for his friends in the mining industry, shamelessly sneaking a provision into the must-pass emergency spending bill for Kosovo and disaster victims …”

Mattison says the Gorton ad will run through the end of this week on half a dozen Seattle area stations. He would not give a figure for how much Sierra Club is shelling out for the buy, but we don’t think it’s all that much. It’s not TV, after all.

We tried to reach Gorton’s office for a reaction early Tuesday evening, but, with Congress out of session, the Senator’s press office had shut up for the day. Should they decide to mount a counterattack against the Sierra Club, you’ll read about it in this space …