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Public Citizen Celebrates 20 Years in Texas

Oct. 5, 2004

Public Citizen Celebrates 20 Years in Texas

AUSTIN – Since the summer of 1984, Public Citizen’s Texas office has worked for reforms on a broad range of issues, including consumer safety, pollution, sustainable energy, access to the courts, government ethics and campaign finance. To commemorate 20 years of protecting and defending Texas consumers, Public Citizen’s Texas office will host a downhome event at the Barr Mansion in Austin on Oct. 7.

Public Citizen set up an Austin office in 1984 to help consumers fight Southwestern Bell’s proposed rate hikes. Public Citizen had planned to be in Texas only for a few months, but after Southwestern Bell withdrew its proposed increase – a surprisingly quick victory – Public Citizen decided to stay and now has more than 5,300 members in Texas.   The Public Citizen Texas office has been organizing, researching, educating and lobbying on a broad range of consumer issues ever since. Some of the successes over the past 20 years include:

  • The establishment of the Texas Ethics Commission.
  • The creation of the Texas Emissions Reductions Plan, which reduced emissions from the dirtiest diesel engines by 30 percent and increased energy efficiency of new homes by 15 percent.
  • Passage of a law requiring at least 3 percent of Texas’ energy to come from renewable sources by 2009.
  • Passage of an improved “lemon law” for new car buyers.
  • A power plant cleanup program to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 to 88 percent.
  • Safety improvements at the South Texas and Comanche Peak nuclear power plants.

“As Jim Hightower says, ‘you’ll only get the dirt out if you agitate,’ and we have agitated a lot of the powerful people in Texas over the last 20 years,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office since 1985. “We have seen success when we’ve built coalitions with unlikely allies.  Our efforts have been magnified by a large number of great interns and staff over the years. We’ve won some and we’ve lost some, but we are getting stronger every day.”

“Our Texas office has an amazing record of achievement in the tough Texas political climate,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Tom Smith, through persistence and congeniality, has been able to persuade a lot of folks to support our environmental, ethics and other programs. As they say in Texas lingo, he’s the burr under the saddle of the power structure – and a charming one at that.”

Those who have worked with Public Citizen’s Texas office over the years include Craig McDonald, one of the Texas office founders and now head of Texans for Public Justice; Campaigns for People; the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition; Consumers Union’s Southwest Regional Office; and Texas PIRG.

Speakers at the Oct. 7 event will include Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (who is the incoming chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce), George Cofer of the Hill Country Conservancy, and McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, founder of Public Citizen’s Texas office.