OPINION COLUMNS

Energy agency chief rails against federal plan

By Ed Sterling | Published Wednesday, August 26, 2015
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Texas Railroad Commission Chair David Porter on Aug. 19 spoke against America’s Clean Power Plan, a regulatory framework rolled out by the White House on Aug. 3. Texas is one of at least a dozen states lining up in opposition.

Porter called the plan “another blatant attack on the oil and gas industry that will further impede America’s energy security, kill jobs and put even more stress on our national and state economies.” Porter was elected chair of the three-member commission that oversees the energy industry regulating state agency in June 2014.

President Obama called the final version of the plan to reduce methane emissions from the energy and agriculture industries “the biggest step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” Obama said the plan “sets the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants while providing states and utilities with the flexibility they need to meet those standards.”

The plan is designed to reduce premature deaths attributed to power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent in 2030 compared to 2005 and decrease pollutants that contribute to soot and smog and can lead to more asthma attacks in kids by more than 70 percent, Obama said. The plan also would spur the creation of tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid-reliability, the president added.

On Aug. 3, Gov. Greg Abbott reacted to the president’s announcement, saying: “Texas will lead the fight against an overreaching federal government that seems hell-bent on threatening the free-market principles this country was founded on.”

JAIL STUDY TO BE LAUNCHED

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, and Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire (D-Houston) on Aug. 18 announced an interim study on Texas jail standards.

This comes in the wake of the death of Sandra Bland, a woman who in July was found dead in a Waller County jail cell three days after she was arrested and jailed following a traffic stop. The death was ruled a suicide but questions remain.

“Our criminal justice system assumes a great responsibility for the people in our custody. In many instances, individuals have unresolved issues in their lives, particularly a mental illness, which has resulted in their arrest. It is our responsibility to make certain we have the necessary tools and resources to meet the health, welfare and safety needs of every individual in our custody,” Whitmire said.

EARLY RATINGS COME OUT

Texas Education Agency on Aug. 21 announced its release of preliminary financial accountability ratings for more than 1,200 school districts and charters across the state. Ratings are based on annual financial reports provided by districts and charters from the 2014 fiscal year.

Figures show that of the 1,024 public school districts in Texas 1,012 received a favorable rating and of the 167 charter schools in the state 155 received a favorable rating.

Any district or charter wishing to appeal its rating must submit a written appeal with supporting evidence by Sept. 8, Education Commissioner Michael Williams said.

JOB GROWTH CONTINUES

Texas Workforce Commission on Aug. 21 announced Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 4.2 percent in July, the lowest monthly unemployment rate since July 2007.

With the addition of 31,400 seasonally adjusted nonagricultural jobs in July, Texas Workforce Commission Chair Andres Alcantar said the state has added jobs in 57 of the last 58 months.

RETURNED FUNDS SET RECORD

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Aug. 20 announced his agency had returned a record $248 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners this fiscal year.

Hegar said the previous record was $205 million in unclaimed property returns in fiscal 2014.

Texans may call 1-800-654-FIND to see if the state is holding some of their unclaimed property. Those who have Internet access may visit ClaimItTexas.org.

MORE CYCLOSPORA REPORTED

Texas Department of State Health Services on Aug. 18 announced an uptick in reports of illness caused by the parasite Cyclospora. Some 243 cases have been reported in Texas this year.

Past outbreaks have been associated with the green vegetable cilantro from the Puebla area of Mexico. The major symptom of the illness is watery diarrhea lasting a few days to a few months.

MORE PATROLS ARE WATCHING

Texas Department of Public Safety last week announced the increase of DWI patrols during the Labor Day holiday period starting Aug. 21 and ending Sept. 7.

State troopers will focus patrols in high-risk locations at times when alcohol-related crashes are most frequent, said DPS Director Steven McCraw.

Ed Sterling is member services director for the Texas Press Association.

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