Joe Muench: Saving smokestacks might be political posturing

By Joe Muench / El Paso Times

Stop making our favorite human bulldozer, Roberto Puga, jump through even more hoops over in the environmental laboratory.

That is, unless you’re a local politician who can get some political love from the citizenry and cover your behind at the same time. Then it’s jump, Roberto, jump.

Puga’s the trustee in charge of scraping Asarco off the face of El Paso. And that’s what so many here have wanted before and after the smelter closed in 2000.

So let the man do his job.

Scrape, Roberto, scrape! And ka-boom! Bring down the two smokestacks, as planned, on April 13.

But here come some local politicians who all of a sudden have environmental concerns. Maybe Puga should leave them up, they seem to ask.

Seems fishy — or at least political. You know, after all this time.

First, there was an effort by a local group of citizens to save the stacks for historical or memorial/monument purposes. Asarco was more than 100 years old.

Pancho Villa once worked there. I mean, it was a big economy deal here. It even had a cemetery next door in Smeltertown.

But that well-meaning group couldn’t get up the “saving” money. Mayor John Cook even stepped in and bought them some more time.

Still no money. Stay of execution over.

So now comes another plan.

If there’s no money to save them, maintenance you know, then … OMG! Let’s say we fear the stacks may be too polluted on the inside to come down and lay buried on the site. Might poison our water.

Oh, please! The whole acreage is already a dumped-out chemistry set. Half of it isn’t even dirt anymore.

Thus, I think this is just a little political posturing. After all, there are some in town who sided with the “Save the Stacks” group.

In fact, unscientific polls had “save ’em” and “knock ’em” going at about 50-50. What a political move!

And here are the names that appeared in an El Paso Times story on the subject March 8.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, state Sen. JosĂ© RodrĂ­guez and state Rep. Marisa Marquez said they planned to sign the letter to be sent to Bryan W. Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

So did County Judge Veronica Escobar and city Rep. Susie Byrd.

Wait a sec! Count me in. I want to cover my behind, too.

Because, they want to ask the TCEQ whether risks associated with dropping the stacks have been adequately addressed. One of the risks, not counting the poisonous crud, is the question: What if the whole thing turns into a disaster?

You know, 800- and 600-foot smokestacks going a lot more than just “plop” when they hit the ground.

So let me join my political leaders in, you know, just being concerned for the safety of all El Pasoans, Juarenses, Sunland Parksters, everybody.

Psst. Here’s the real deal:

  • The stacks are likely coming down, anyway. So curry favor with the “save ’ems” while not making enemies with the “drop ’ems.” If they’re dropped, nobody’s going to hold a grudge. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • And also, when the stacks go bump-bump, then the pols and I can say we just had some questions about the environmental impact, that’s all. We never said we were definitely opposed to bringing down the stacks. Nooooo.
  • And if there is a disaster, like the stacks falling wrong and landing in Juárez … or causing 20-foot-deep fissures across Interstate-10 … or the bumps knock the statue off Mount Cristo Rey …

Anyway, we’re covered.

Joe Muench may be reached at