AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Gov. George W. Bush's appointees to the three-member commission overseeing state environmental affairs are a former chemical company employee, a former consultant for engineering firms and a member of the Texas Farm Board.
Environmentalists are critical, saying those who serve on the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission should not come from the industries they monitor.
Aides to Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, and the commissioners themselves say their business backgrounds do not make them partial to industry. And one commissioner says his experience gives him the upper hand because he understands industry tricks.
``I know how the industry works. I have been there myself,'' said Ralph Marquez.
Bush appointed Marquez, who worked for Monsanto Co. from 1963 to 1993 before leaving to start his own consulting firm; John Baker, who was on the board of the Texas Farm Board and was agricultural adviser to Environmental Protection Agency chief William K. Reilly from 1991 to 1993 while Bush's father was president; and chairman Robert Huston, whose consulting firm represented industry and government agencies.
Bush's environmental record has become campaign fodder for Democrat Al Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who has criticized Bush for appointing commissioners with industry ties.
``Given a chance to stand with people, families or side with the polluters, Governor Bush has too often chosen to side with the polluters,'' Lieberman said on a recent swing through Texas.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush believes the commission does not favor industry.
``Governor Bush believes he's picked people who will work hard to improve the air, water and land in the state of Texas,'' Bartlett said.
But Texas environmentalists say Bush and his appointees have left the state in trouble, with Houston leading the nation in poor air quality and Texas ranking fifth in release of toxic emissions.
``The Bush appointees have not been folks that have been working for the environment,'' said Robin Schneider, director of Public Research Works. ``They have been working for the polluters interest.''
Environmental groups failed to get a state review board to adopt a rule preventing anyone who had earned a significant part of their income in the previous five years from industries regulated by the TRNCC from becoming a commissioner.
The commission, created under the tenure of Gov. Ann Richards, had a more favorable rating with environmentalists under her watch, but industry and business groups complained it was too strict in enforcing environmental laws. Richards' commissioners included a former county commissioner and attorney; a judge from West Texas; and a former employee of the Texas Land Commission and the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Of Bush's appointees, Marquez has received the most criticism.
Bartlett, the Bush spokesman, said Lieberman is a hypocrite for criticizing Marquez because the Clinton-Gore administration named him to the EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee.
Lieberman's spokesman said Gore did not appoint Marquez but he was selected by the EPA to serve as one of 10 local, state and federal representatives on a committee of 60 people. Marquez was selected because Texas is one of the most polluted states in the nation, Gerstein said.