Innocence Found

It’s been nearly ten years since I became aware of Anthony Graves [“Innocence Lost,” October 2010]. It seemed as obvious then as it does now that he is another victim of Texas justice. It is incomprehensible that he was ever considered a viable suspect, much less one who could be convicted and sent to death row. I hope and pray that true justice does prevail.
Ken Moore

Editors’ Note: On October 27, 2010, the Burleson County district attorney’s office dropped all charges against Anthony Graves. He was released from prison after serving eighteen years.

Off Balance

Paul Burka missed an opportunity to have some fun with his budget-balancing story [“The Eighteen Billion Dollar Man,” October 2010]. He could have called for a cut in the hair spray allowance for Rick Perry or a plan for using Bill White’s head to collect and generate solar energy, but sadly he pushed forward with his “I think I’m an economist, therefore I am an economist” gibberish. Gall aside, he insulted all rural Texans with his obvious disregard for any current budget item geared toward the rural lifestyle, economy, and population. Where does he think his all-important fellow urbanites go for vacation? Where does he think they get their cotton clothing, fruit, vegetables, meat, and wine?
Harley D. Belew

I applaud Mr. Burka’s effort to solve the state’s budget crisis. However, in light of the tragic BP offshore rig explosion and subsequent major oil spill in federal waters offshore, I would argue that now is not a good time to shut down the Texas agency in charge of regulating public safety and environmental protection for the oil, gas, and pipeline industries. Texas is the nation’s top producer of oil and natural gas and has been for years. Even with all the massive energy production going on in Texas, there has not been a major oil spill with an impact anywhere near the magnitude of the recent BP spill occurring in Texas. The reason for that is due in large part to the rules and regulations that the Railroad Commission requires oil and gas companies to follow when drilling and completing their wells.

Along with shutting down the Railroad Commission, Mr. Burka proposes to use some $4.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to close the state’s anticipated $18 billion budget gap. It is important to note that the industry that primarily finances the Rainy Day Fund, as well as the Foundation School Account, is Texas’s oil and gas industry, which pays taxes into general revenue and these funds. Specifically, over the past four years, a whopping 73 percent of the Rainy Day Fund has been derived from oil and gas severance taxes. A recent federal moratorium shut down drilling in federal waters after the BP rig disaster and the associated dollars, jobs, and taxes tied to this drilling. However, thanks to the commission’s world-renowned rules and regulations enforced by our agency’s staff, there has been no moratorium that shut down domestic drilling in Texas.

Every state agency should be willing to listen to the public comments regarding how to improve services and evolve with the times as our state grows and changes. The Railroad Commission will do the same. In its wisdom, the Texas Legislature created the Railroad Commission more than one hundred years ago, and its farsightedness, combined with the dedication and talent of the many elected commissioners who have run the agency since then, has ensured that Texas’s energy industry remains a vital and safe resource to our citizens, state, and nation.
John J. Tintera
Executive Director, Railroad Commission of Texas

Mr. Burka’s suggestion that the federal government should simply take over the state’s environmental protection responsibilities is both un-Texan and irresponsible.

First, let’s just look at the numbers. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is almost an entirely fee-based agency. Only 3 percent, or roughly $29 million, of our budget comes from the state’s general fund. So Mr. Burka’s math is wrong, and his claim that the state budget would save almost $900 million is absurd. Second, he makes the argument that a federal takeover would result in cleaner air. Not true. Texas’s programs are more effective and more protective than current federal programs. Texas programs have made it possible to virtually eliminate older, dirtier grandfathered industrial facilities around the state. Our air is cleaner—we’ve achieved a 53 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions, and overall statewide ozone levels have declined 22 percent since 2000.

Finally, why would anybody argue that Washington, D.C., should tell Texas businesses how to operate? Texas is a model on how reasonable environmental policy can coexist with a robust economy. Don’t just take our word; look at the results—one of the strongest economies in the nation and the cleanest air in twenty years.
Bryan W. Shaw
Chairman, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Field of Dreams

Thank you for the endearing and overdue tribute to Mr. Herbert Kokernot and his legendary Alpine Cowboys [“King of Diamonds,” October 2010]. My father, Adrian Burk, was a pitcher—first baseman on the 1950 Texas semipro championship team. After completing his All-American senior year as a quarterback at Baylor, and his subsequent pick as number two in the 1950 NFL draft, my parents were married in early summer in Henderson and drove all night so Dad could pitch the second game of a doubleheader the next day in Alpine. He homered in that game, and the entire team signed the baseball, inscribing it “Honeymoon Homerun King.” That ball adorned our mantel for many years.

Thank you for creating a great family trip down memory lane and a slice of Texana of days gone by too soon.
Robert Adrian Burk

Editors’ Note: The image on page 111 of the November issue should have included the following credit: “Derived from American Gothic, 1930, by Grant Wood. All rights reserved. Wood Graham Beneficiaries/Licensed by VAGA, New York, New York.” We regret the oversight.