Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

January 13th, 2011:

EPA 3, Texas 0

How many times will the courts have to bench-slap our Governor and Attorney General before they get the message that Texas must comply with the same laws as every other state? It’s three and counting.

Texas had asked the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block a program that awards construction permits to major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as cement kilns and oil refineries. Every other state has begun the permit program or allowed EPA to award permits for them.

On Wednesday, the court denied Texas’ request for a stay, clearing the way for the EPA to regulate major sources in Texas. A three-judge panel wrote that Texas didn’t satisfy “the stringent standards” required for a stay.

Environmental groups said the decision shows that Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have filed frivolous lawsuits that amount to political statements about global warming.

“Texas is the only state in the nation that refused to let anyone – the state or the feds – issue permits for carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming,” David Doniger, the chief global warming lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote on his blog. “The court’s ruling now assures that EPA will be able to fill that void for as long as Texas’ leaders continue their grandstanding, so that companies can continue building their projects, but with reasonable limits on all of their dangerous pollutants.

You can read that blog post here, which includes a copy of the court’s order. The story has one of Abbott’s usual whiny statements about how this will kill jobs. Which would be funny if the Lege weren’t likely to adopt a budget that will eliminate various state departments and cause school districts to lay off thousands of teachers. Anyway, Abbott and Perry will continue to shop for a court in the hope that they’ll eventually find one that will pat them on the head and tell them how very special and not like those other 49 states they are.

On a related note, those of you in Dallas will have an opportunity to have your voice heard about this. From the inbox:

EPA TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARING ON GREENHOUSE GAS PERMITTING PROGRAM

Public Hearing in Dallas on Friday, January 14, 2011

Texas Public Voices to be Unified, asking for Federal Implementation Plan to take over State Permitting process

HOUSTON – Tomorrow in downtown Dallas, the Environmental Protection Agency will come out to face public, industry and political comment regarding its recent highly controversial decision to assume greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting functions for the state of Texas Citizens from around the state will converge on the city to voice their hopes for EPA’s decision to step in to the void left by Texas’ refusal to reckon with global climate change.

In December, the EPA clarified that they will be responsible for issuing Clean Air Act permits for GHG emissions on the state’s behalf. This decision came after months of oftentimes acrimonious volley between the federal agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on the underlying flaws and limitations of the state’s air permitting process. Texas, the country’s leading emitter of pollutants which contribute to global climate change, has staunchly refused to either regulate greenhouse gases or even accept the opinions of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on human contribution to climate change.

“For the good of Texans’ health, Texas’ business and our planet’s future, our state has to be a leader in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions”, implores Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston. “Instead, our state leaders chose to stick Texas’ collective head in the sand, so we applaud the actions of the EPA in putting sensible science and policy ahead of local, shortsighted and divisive politics.”

Texans hope the proposed Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) will allow EPA to work with Texas’ industry and TCEQ for a cleaner, healthier state that abides by the same regulations as the other 49 states in our union. The time has come for Texas politicians to put the long term interests of our state ahead of their next election cycle and work with federal officials to ensure regulatory clarity and protection for public health across the state of Texas.

Here’s where the hearing will be: Crowne Plaza Hotel Dallas Downtown, 1015 Elm Street Dallas, TX 75202 map). Be there if you can.

KBH will not run in 2012

She finally says something definitive.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced Thursday she won’t seek reelection, ending the uncertainty that had largely frozen a slate of Republicans contenders itching to replace her.

In a statement, the three-term Republican who first won a special election in 1993, said her decision “would give the people of Texas ample time to consider who my successor will be.”

“I intended to leave this office long before now, but I was persuaded to continue in order to avoid disadvantage to our state. The last two years have been particularly difficult, especially for my family, but I felt it would be wrong to leave the Senate during such a critical period,” Hutchison said.

“Instead of putting my seat into a special election, I felt it was my duty to use my experience to fight the massive spending that has increased our national debt; the government takeover of the our health care system; and the growth of the federal bureaucracy, which threatens our economy. I will continue that fight until the end of my term in 2012,” she continued.

I’ve had more than my fair share of fun at her expense over this excessively drawn-out drama. What can I say? The jokes wrote themselves. In the end, she proved me wrong. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway. The Trib has a copy of her letter, which brings the state’s longest-running soap opera to a close. Look for the floodgates to open soon, though a couple of potential big players – Dewhurst and Abbott, in particular – will likely play it cool until the legislative session is over, unless they plan to rule themselves out. This announcement ought to also clear the way for Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who’s been playing his own “will I or won’t I?” game lately, to make his intentions officially known. I imagine we’ll be hearing from John Sharp in the near future, too. Sure hope you’ve recovered from the 2010 election, because 2012 just got underway.

UPDATE: As if on cue, it’s now Dewhurst’s turn to waffle. It’s going to be a long two years.

The sanctuary scam

I’ve been thinking about Governor Perry’s designation of so-called “sanctuary cities” as an emergency item for this legislative session, and there are a few inescapable conclusions.

1. Perry is a big flaming hypocrite. I know, I know, big shock. But as the Trib has pointed out, Perry’s definition of “sanctuary city”, as was applied to Houston, applies equally well to the state of Texas given the current policies of the Department of Public Safety. Perry is speaking in platitudes while avoiding the subject of his own flip-flop on the issue. Even by his standards, it’s amazingly shameless.

2. I will say again, this is a clear sign that whatever Perry may say about an “Arizona-style immigration bill” not being “right” for Texas, he’ll sign whatever damn bill comes to his desk. Somewhere along the line there will be enough of a fig leaf to enable him to claim that Texas’ version of the bill is somehow different.

3. He really is desperate to downplay the budget deficit, isn’t he? As always, he is a master of timing and distraction.

4. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a connection between the deficit and this alleged “emergency”. I think Campos has this right:

When the details of the 2010 census are released next month and it shows tremendous Latino population growth across the board, Dude’s team will get some rabid supporter to spew out crap along the lines that paperless folks make up the population increase and so there is no need to increase health care and education funding.

The professional reality-deniers are already out there claiming Texas doesn’t need to take things like population growth into account for its budget. This is just an extra hook on which they can hang their hats.

5. In the meantime, all of this has and will have real consequences for many people. But at least Perry has accomplished his main political objective.

The gambling industry keeps trying

I’m not sure how successful an approach this will be, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Expanding gaming requires a vote of two-thirds of the legislature, with voters getting the final say. A new poll done for the Chronicle and the state’s other major newspapers found 60 percent favored an expansion of gaming.

Expanding gaming may be a last-ditch attempt at saving racing. Without slots, Texas track operators say, they won’t have the additional revenue to increase purses and attract quality horses .

“You will likely see the fall of several players,” predicted Andrea Young, president and chief operating officer of Sam Houston Race Park . She wouldn’t say whether Sam Houston would be one of them.

Bryan Brown, chief executive of Retama Park in Selma, had an even more fatalistic view if lawmakers can’t be persuaded.

“Our industry, over a period of years, will just disappear,” Brown said. Retama hasn’t turned a profit since opening in 1995.

I blogged about the poll in question the other day. I have to say, this is not an approach I’d take if I were the horse racing industry. There were plenty of Republicans who were perfectly content to let the US auto manufacturers die back during the early days of the economic crisis. If this is the pitch, I have no trouble imagining it being recast as a “bailout” in the 2012 primaries. Stick with your projections of economic benefit for the state and hope for the best, I say. The gloomier the budget picture and the harder it gets to make cuts, the better it’ll sound to them.

To be fair, the racetracks did also talk up the economic benefits they say allowing them to have slot machines would bring:

Under the racing industry’s proposed legislation, the state would get 30 percent of the slots revenue. The tracks would keep 58 percent, and the remaining 12 percent would be earmarked for purses and other items for the horse and greyhounds industries, Hooper said.

If slots pass, Sam Houston’s Young said it will spend $350 million for new facilities, gaming terminals and other amenities. Retama expects to spend $200 million.

Young pointed to Parx Casino in Philadelphia as a venue she’d like to emulate, raving about how well it has integrated slots (and table games) with horse racing.

“It feels like you’re walking into a Vegas-style casino,” she said, referring to the layout and finishes.

I still don’t think much of their odds of success, but this is as sensible an approach as you could expect.

I nearly did a spit take when I read this:

The Texas Gaming Association, which represents casino operators, is proposing four to eight casinos. Three would be in the largest counties – Harris, Bexar and Dallas – and at least one other would be in a coastal town, said spokesman Scott Dunaway.

Whoa! I’ve been following this issue for awhile now, and this is the first time I can recall seeing any specific location mentioned for a casino, especially Harris County. In the past, the talk has always been that there would be local elections to determine whether or not a given city would allow a casino to be built there. (Go take a listen to my interview with Joe Jaworski, now Galveston’s Mayor, in which we discussed this issue, for an example.) I was sufficiently surprised by this that I contacted Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, to see what his position was. Judge Emmett told me that it was the first he had heard of it as well. As such, I don’t know if this is something new, something that’s always been there but is just now coming out, or if the story got it wrong.

Whatever the case, the casino interests say they will be releasing their financial projections next week. I can hardly wait to see it, and I’ll be sure to write about it when I do.

Cities and counties prepare to play defense

It’s going to be a rough session for cities and counties, who have every reason to believe that a large part of the Lege’s budget-balancing strategy will be to foist expenses on them.

“As will all of the big cities in Texas, we’re going to primarily play defense,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “They have a huge budget hole that they’re going to have to work through in Austin, and we want to make sure there are no unfunded mandates coming at us.”

Possibilities abound for what local officials consider unwelcome meddling. Proposals already on the books for caps on property taxes or appraisals could have the effect of shifting control over local affairs to the state, officials said. If cities and counties collect less money, they may grow increasingly dependent on state funding, a development that has been disastrous in California, said Darrin Hall, director of the mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

I’d almost forgotten about appraisal caps on the wingnut wish list item. You want to turn Texas into California in the bad way, that’s an excellent place to start.

Harris County government’s highest legislative priority is to limit state cuts to mental health services.

“All the other stuff is inconsequential when you start looking at this,” said Cathy Sisk, director of the county’s office of legislative relations.

[…]

[County Judge Ed] Emmett said he is worried the new crop of legislators will harm the state’s interests on matters such as investment in transportation if they take a short-term view of the budget crisis.

“Too many of them are just saying, ‘No, we just want to cut spending,’ ” Emmett said. “Long-term, that’s a disastrous decision for the state of Texas to make.”

I’m really glad to hear Judge Emmett say that. We sure didn’t hear a whole lot of it from anyone before the election. I mean this very sincerely when I say good luck getting anyone in Austin to listen.

A few words with Alex Bunin

The Sunday Chron had a brief conversation with the head of Harris County’s new public defender office, Alex Bunin.

Q: You don’t know if the office is going to save taxpayer dollars for attorneys per case, but you say it will be a better value for the money spent?

A: Absolutely. If you’re asking me to give you a dollar figure that says it’s going to save this amount of money, I can’t tell you that. But we think we’re going to do it in a more efficient manner and provide better representation.

Q: Why is that?

A: You’re going to have lawyers who have access to the assistance of other lawyers and investigators on a round-the-clock basis. You’re just going to have a greater body of knowledge and assistance.

Q: But the hope is that it will save the county money, especially in jail beds?

A: Right. You can’t just compare what you’re paying assigned lawyers to what you’re paying us. There are so many interrelations in the system that are outside of what the courts pay lawyers. There’s the jail cost, there’s the social services, there are a lot of things that are affected.

Good stuff. Mr. Bunin is high on the list of people I’m looking forward to interviewing in the future. I wish him and his office good luck in completing their mission.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 9

The Texas Progressive Alliance is keeping all of the victims of the Arizona shooting in its thoughts as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)