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November 10, 1999 - BUSH POLICY SHIELDS 1,000 POLLUTION VIOLATIONS

Austin...More than 240 Texas companies have obtained immunity from prosecution for more than 1,000 environmental violations under the "environmental audit privilege" law championed by Governor George W. Bush, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Texas PEER). Texas state environmental employees are forbidden from disclosing secret corporate audit results, even when the violations have public health implications.

Since the 1995 of the audit privilege law, one of the earliest environmental initiatives of Gov. Bush, 242 companies have filed 1,040 privileged internal audits with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC). Texas corporations averaged more than four environmental violations in each privileged filing. Under the Texas law, corporations are protected from prosecution for violations they "self report."

Another hallmark of Texas audit immunity law is secrecy filings are treated as confidential by TNRCC and may not be released to the public. Supporters of the law claim secrecy is needed to minimize the "potential for adverse community reaction" when corporations admit the extent of environmental violations or the public health impacts become known. Similarly, TNRCC employees may face legal jeopardy or discipline for releasing corporate audit filings.

Companies affiliated with campaign contributions to Governor Bush filed just 17 percent of all privileged audits but account for fully 38 percent of all requests for immunity from prosecution, according to records complied by Texas PEER.

NOTE: More on polluter immunity. Next week, we list the corporations who have escaped prosecution and the extent of their financial gratitude.



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