When it was time to appoint a new TCEQ commissioner last summer, Texas Gov. Rick Perry selected the agency’s own Deputy Executive Director Carlos Rubinstein.
Governor Perry swears in Carlos Rubinstein, as his wife Judy holds the Bible and the Chumash.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich
The Pan American University graduate, who has a degree in biology and chemistry, comes to the post with more than 16 years experience as an employee of the agency and its predecessor the Texas Water Commission. In addition to holding the position of deputy executive director, he has also served as area director for the Border and South Central Texas, as regional director for the Harlingen and Laredo offices, and as the Rio Grande Watermaster.
As watermaster, Rubinstein was in charge of allocating, monitoring, and controlling the use of surface water in the Rio Grande basin from Fort Quitman to the mouth of the Rio Grande.
He was also largely responsible for finding a solution to Mexico’s water debt to the United States.
Under a treaty signed in 1944, the United States and Mexico share water from the Rio Grande and the Colorado River. Mexico’s obligation is to transfer from six Rio Grande tributaries a minimum average of 350,000 acre-feet (af) of water per year.
In 1992, Mexico began falling behind and accumulating a water debt. By 2002, the debt had grown to 1.5 million af. Negotiations to resolve the dispute between the two countries reached the highest governmental levels on both sides of the Rio Grande, including Gov. Rick Perry and then presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox.
As the TCEQ’s point man on water-debt negotiations, Rubinstein met in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of State, the International Boundary and Water Commission, and the National Security Council. He also conferred with Mexican officials on viable water delivery and debt-repayment plans.
In early 2005, a repayment schedule was agreed upon and Mexico finally began paying down its debt, which was now 12 years old. On Sept. 27, 2005, the last transfer of water owed by Mexico was credited to the United States.
"Being able to work with dedicated public servants from the U.S. and Mexico on the Mexico water debt and to ultimately find resolution was an opportunity I truly treasure. It was very much a career-defining moment."
For his work in helping to resolve this long-standing issue, Rubinstein not only received recognition from the TCEQ, but also from the governor and the State Department.
“Being able to work with dedicated public servants from the U.S. and Mexico on the Mexico water debt and to ultimately find resolution was an opportunity I truly treasure,” says Rubinstein. “It was very much a career-defining moment.”
Rubinstein’s ability to negotiate was recognized early on.
Jeff Lewellin, who is currently the leader of the TCEQ Emergency Response Strike Team, was a section leader at the Texas Water Commission when Rubinstein was hired as a petroleum storage tank investigator, in 1989.
“Carlos was known as the ‘bulldog’ in field operations back then,” recalls Lewellin. “We gave him that nickname because once he got hold of you, he didn’t let loose until he was through. And we said that with the greatest fondness and respect for the excellent level of work he did, as well as the level of detail in his work.”
Importance of Family
Judy and Carlos Rubinstein with granddaughters Joslin and Sammie.
Born in Mexico City, Rubinstein moved with his family to the Lower Rio Grande Valley when he was ten years old. He didn’t speak any English until he was ten or eleven. “I spoke Yiddish and Spanish at home in Mexico,” he says. “Yiddish helped me learn English.”
Family is an important part of Rubinstein’s life. He met Judy, his wife of 27 years, during their sophomore year in high school.
“Judy will tell you that it took me an entire year to get up enough nerve to ask her to be my girlfriend,” he says. “I asked her to be my girlfriend on May 15 and we were married six years later, to the day, which was also the day before we graduated from college. We renewed our vows 17 years later.”
The couple has three daughters. The oldest, Jacqueline, is a nurse in Austin; Tiffany is studying to be a pediatrician at Baylor Medical Center in Houston; and Jennifer, the youngest, is finishing her art degree at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Jacqueline has two daughters, Sammie and Joslin.
“My grandchildren are my whole life,” says Rubinstein, beaming with pride.
“My first job right out of college was as epidemiologist for the City of Brownsville, where I tracked all the communicable diseases that were reportable,” says Rubinstein.
Within the year, he was promoted to city health director. By 1987, he was given the additional responsibility of being director of EMS. “It really puts things into perspective when you have to save lives,” he says.
Rubinstein served as Brownsville’s city manager from 1997 to 2000. He compares his charge at the TCEQ as deputy executive director with that as city manager, where he learned the importance of balancing the need to continue to provide good service that’s responsive, with the need to grow the tax base and the city’s economy.
“Here we protect the environment commensurate with a sustainable economic development,” he says. “They go hand in hand. They are not competing interests.”
The commissioner speaks with nostalgia about his accomplishments in his hometown.
Commissioner Rubinstein meets with water irrigators in the Rio Grande Valley.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich
“When you go back and see things you know you had a role in—such as the expansion of an expressway or the construction of a new international bridge or a new hospital—you know you have made a difference. And if something you worked so hard to build has a plaque with your name on it, you have to be proud of that.”
Rubinstein is also proud of his accomplishments, and those of his colleagues, at the agency.
“I take great pride, as does everyone here, in the successes we have been able to achieve statewide in protecting the environment,” he says, adding that over the last eight years, ozone has been reduced by 22 percent, and NOx, a limiting component of ozone production, has been reduced by 35 percent. In addition, water quality protection efforts have been refocused to streamline the process, improve regulatory flexibility, and establish a tailored approach for addressing individual water bodies.
Having moved up the ranks at the TCEQ gives Rubinstein unique insight into agency operations and firsthand knowledge of many of the issues that affect Texans on a day-to-day basis. And he is especially looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.
Carlos Rubinstein (far left, back row) represented Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Monterrey, Mexico, at the 2009 Border Governors Conference. The group is comprised of 10 governors—four from the United States and six from Mexico.
“Internally, I want to continue to put emphasis on growing the talents and skill sets of TCEQ employees, facilitating their ability to grow into leadership positions, both as managers and as scientists” says Rubinstein. “That’s very important.”
“Externally, we’ll be going through Sunset Review, and it will give us an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done for the last 10 years,” he says. “The Legislature gives us guidance and directs funding for the programs we undertake and provides direction on how we should be carrying them out. This will offer additional opportunities.”
“I also look forward to hearing from the public, because they tell us what they think we should be doing differently or better,” he adds.
Rubinstein feels deeply honored by the appointment. “It’s also humbling,” he says. “I am very grateful to the governor for having afforded me this opportunity.”
Ask anyone at the TCEQ how they feel about “one of their own” being selected to one of the agency’s three policy-setting positions, and you’ll likely see a smile, followed by the comment, “I think that’s pretty cool.”
That is exactly what happened the day Judy Rubinstein visited the agency to accompany her husband to the swearing-in ceremony. When she gave her name to the security guard, he immediately told her he thought it was “cool” her husband had been selected for the appointment.
She smiled and replied, “So does he.”
“It has been very rewarding to have received so many positive comments from TCEQ employees,” says the commissioner. “This also means that I have a bigger responsibility to those employees. I am one of them and I always will be. I’ll take that on, though. That’s a good thing.”
Appointed to a term that extends through 2015, Rubinstein’s foremost goal, he says, is “a better Texas.”
In Brief - Carlos Rubinstein
Texas Southmost College, Brownsville
Associates of Arts, 1980
Pan American University (now UT-Pan American), Edinburg
Bachelor of Science, 1982
City of Brownsville
Director of Public Health and Emergency Medical Service, 1983–1989
Texas Water Commission and TNRCC, Weslaco
Waste Program Manager, 1989–1995
City of Brownsville
Health and Permitting Director, 1995–1997
City Manager, 1997–2000
Regional Director and Rio Grande
Area Director (Border and South Central Texas) and Rio Grande Watermaster, 2006–2008
Deputy Executive Director, 2008
Rubinstein is a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee, which provides advice to the EPA administrator on environmental concerns regarding NAFTA, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. He is also a member of the Western States Water Council and the Environmental Council of States. He serves as a Texas representative to the Water Worktable of the Border Governors Conference and as a representative to the Environmental Flows Advisory Group. He is a former member of the Joint Advisory Committee for the improvement of air quality in the Paso del Norte air basin.
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