Today he is chair of the Gulf Coast
Region Mental Health and Mental
Retardation Foundation. She also served
as the Foundation's Treasurer for three
years. Of that experience, she says, "I
was responsible for the disbursement
of millions of dollars every year. I developed some expertise in how to get along
in Austin—what to do and how to go
about doing it."
turned 'belly up.' "
The following spring, when the Railroad Commission held its hearing on the
Coastal-LoVaca proposed settlement, the
final witness was the homemaker from
Brazoria. Buchorn called the plan a
"now-you-see-it, now-you-don't proposition" in which the utility consumer had
no rights. She went on to label it a case
of "rape the ratepayers."
Vm not an economist. I'm a housewife and a
mother of four and a grandmother of three. Vm not
paid and Vm the only person here representing the
Neighbors and other customers of
Jackson Electric in Brazoria County
utilized that expertise in 1976, when they
because disgruntled over pass-through
fuel charges. "None of the utility payers
understood the pass-through fuel charge
they were paying," Buchorn recalls. "The
co-op that we are on had not had a rate
increase since 1973, yet our bills had
doubled and quadrupled because of the
"Everyone was ready to tar and
feather the nearest person who happened
to be the manager of the local co-op. I
said, 'Look, let's find out some things
first. Maybe they—the co-op—are just
passing on to us what has been passed on
The non-profit Citizens for Equitable
Utilities (CEU) was formed soon thereafter, with the goal of making energy
and utility industries more responsive
to the rights and needs of citizens. Its
first battle was against LoVaca Gathering Company and its parent, Coastal
States Gas Corporation.
In 1973, the Texas Railroad Commission had allowed LoVaca to effectively
increase rates by passing along their
higher gas costs, thus voiding earlier gas
price contracts still thought to be valid
by its client co-ops. Several of these
smaller utility companies had already
filed suit against LoVaca and Coastal
States, and Buchorn's group intervened in
the Railroad Commission action on their
After more than three months of
hearings in Austin, the Railroad Commission, in December of 1977, ordered
LoVaca and Coastal States to sell natural
gas at the lower pre-1973 contract prices
and to refund the $1.6 billion in overcharges to their customers. Coastal.
States and LoVaca claimed they could
not comply without going bankrupt;
in March of 1978, the Railroad Commission suspended its order and decided
to consider a settlement plan drawn up
by Coastal States and LoVaca.
"That was the most cruel hoax that
has ever been perpetrated on the citizens
of this state by anyone," Buchorn
charged. "People have a hard time understanding how the Commission could
allow these people to void their contracts. They are never, ever, going to see
any bit of that money whatsoever, because the Railroad Commission just
"I can't see how this could possibly
be in the public interest," she testified.
"I'm not paid, and I'm the only person
here representing the individual
consumer. The only other ones here are
the attorneys for the utilities and the private companies."
As the Coastal-LoVaca situation went
into a "holding pattern," Buchorn
traveled to and from Austin representing
ratepayers from all over the state in various cases before the Public Utilities
Commission. Then, on January 5, 1979,
she was asked by another CEU member
to look into the problems of a project
in her own back yard-the South Texas
Nuclear Project (STNP).
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) was planning a pre-hearing conference leading to a decision on whether
to issue the STNP an operating license.
With only one week's notice of the conference, Buchorn promised the CEU
member she would be there.
"From what I was able to learn [in
one week], I made a statement at the prehearing conference that I would be filing
a late petition to intervene in the licensing process for the STNP," recalled Buchorn. As her research into the project
mulated nine points on which she based
official intervention by CEU in the South
Texas Nuclear Project.
Her nine-point argument raised critical
questions concerning structural and
equipment safety during high wind
She also pointed out possible dangerous consequences of radioactive pollution to the waters and animals in the area.
Finally, she charged that evacuation plans
in case of plant failure were inadequate
to insure the safety of residents, including
school children in the area.
Buchorn hand-delivered her intervention document and her list of allegations
to the NRC in February of this year. In
May, the NRC delivered its final ruling
that CEU did indeed have some viable
contentions and should be allowed to
intervene in the licensing process. The
NRC, however, requested CEU redraft its
On May 9th, the homemaker from
Brazoria walked into a meeting room and
sat down at the conference table facing
NRC and Houston Lighting and Power
staff attorneys. Buchorn's first move
don't want to be maneuvered into a point
where we will have no public hearing,
because the people deserve it. . . They
know that there are serious problems
. . . They are entitled to a public hearing.
"We know that there are risks to nuclear power and people need to know
what these risks are so they can properly
evaluate them. That's the reason I'm
neither anti-nuclear nor pro-nuclear.
Neither is this organization. We represent
the utility ratepayers. They are the
people who pay the money for the
Last month, the Atomic Safety and
Licensing Board of the NRC stated that,
"it does no disservice for the staff to find
that a better record will likely be created
if CEU participates in the resolution of
Buchorn was pleased by that cautiously worded ruling. "There has never been
a license request denied by the NRC,
regardless of the problems that were
found and questions asked," she said.
"Because of the Three Mile Island incident, the NRC is being forced to go with
the rules and regulations for the first
The NRC attorneys were telling me I could trust
everybody.. . "Let me tell you something, "I said.
"1 wouldn't trust HL&P any farther than I can
throw my Brahma bull. "
was to place her tape recorder, tapes and
microphone in front of her.
"They were very nervous that I had a
tape recorder sitting on my end of the
table-out in the open," she recalled.
"I took out tapes. I didn't want them to
be able to say later on that I had agreed
to something that I had not agreed to.
I wanted to be sure that I knew who said
what, when. If they could get me, in my
inexperience, to agree to certain wording,
then they could maneuver around (the
The Railroad Commission allowed Coastal States
and LoVaca to avoid their contracts. The citizens of
Texas are never, ever going to see any bit of that
money whatsoever, because the Railroad Commission just turned belly up!
deepened, she claimed not all of the
project documents were on file at the
county courthouse, as required by the
Buchorn, however, did find a copy
of the Environmental Impact Statement
for the project. "There were so many
things glaringly wrong in the report,
that I had no problem getting my contentions against licensing together." She-
felt the worst discrepancies were portions of the study dealing with violent
After a trip to Washington, D.C.
to complete her research, Buchorn for-
contentions). They were attorneys. I
"The NRC staff attorneys were telling me I could trust everybody. I am
intervening in the licensing of the STNP,
so why in hell would the people who
were trying to get that license help me
with my intervention? ... I said to the
NRC staff, 'Let me tell you something.
I wouldn't trust HL&P any farther than
I can throw my Brahma bull!' "
After that May 9th meeting, Buchorn
revised and reworded CEU's contentions
for intervention. While awaiting the
NRC's verdict, Buchorn declared, "I
The ASLB also ordered CEU be allowed to submit questions about the project to HL&P and that HL&P must
answer the questions by the end of this
year. Both sides will then be permitted
to ask additional questions of each other.
Finally a public evidentiary hearing will
be held in late 1980 or early 1981.
Peggy Buchorn and CEU have been
successful in getting the attention not
only of government, but also of the
industries they have been battling.
HL&P would not admit at first that there
had been some possible construction
errors. Recently, they mailed a lengthy
memorandum to the NRC pointing out
the voids in the roof of the containment
building and outlining the procedure they
will use to repair them.
In the beginning, three years ago,
Peggy Buchorn knew very little about the
utility gas situation or nuclear power or
filing legal briefs. In 1976, CEU was a
small local group of citizens from Brazoria and Matagorda counties. Now it's a
state-wide organization claiming 30,000
* Peggy Buchorn last month received a
certificate from the Texas Department of
Health signifying her successful completion of a training course in radiological monitoring. In Austin, when the
Railroad Commission continues its hearings on the Coastal States-LoVaca controversy, Peggy Buchorn will be there
again—this time, as an "expert witness."
Jill Cropper is a freelance writer.
1728 Bissonnet • Houston 77005 • 713 527-8522
Fine feminist books and magazines including
Heresies, Chrysalis, Woman Spirit and Women Artists News