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January 14th, 2012:

Saturday video break: My World Is Empty Without You

Song #86 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “My Life Is Empty Without You”, originally by Diana Ross and the Supremes, covered by The Afghan Whigs. First up, the original:

No mistaking that voice, or that Motown sound, is there? There’s quite a few Motown songs in this list, both as originals and as covers. No real mystery why that’s the case. Here’s the Afghan Whigs’ cover version:

Interesting. It’s structurally the same, but still quite different. I confess that I’d never heard of these guys before, but I like their sound. What do you think?

SOS sends voter registration info to DOJ

Took them long enough, not that I’m complaining.

The only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Two weeks after Texas’ voter ID law was scheduled to go into effect, the measure is back in the U.S. Department of Justice’s hands.

The Texas secretary of state’s office on Thursday submitted its latest batch of data in hopes of satisfying the federal government’s request for proof that the law, SB 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, will not disenfranchise minority or lower-income voters. The law, passed during the 82nd Texas Legislature, would require voters to furnish a state-issued ID before casting a ballot.

Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted. The federal government now has 60 days to review the recently submitted information and render a decision.

The rest of the story is a review of how we got here, plus the information that the SOS doesn’t think the data it sent was very reliable. Though the SOS has now finally complied with the DOJ’s request, the state is expecting the law to not be precleared, as was the fate of South Carolina’s law. Assuming that happens, you can expect the whole thing to wind up before the Supreme Court. It’s going to be a long year.

Here come the HOT lanes

Metro's HOV system

Those of you who commute from the ‘burbs into the central core will have new options for how to get there, if you don’t mind spending a few bucks.

Solo drivers willing to pay extra to breeze through heavy traffic could get their chance soon, with Metro expected to start opening its high-occupancy toll lanes early this year.

Metro officials had previously projected a January start to the high-occupancy toll lanes but now say they don’t have a specific date, agency spokesman Jerome Gray said Friday by email.

“We are undergoing final testing of the infrastructure,” Gray said. “In addition, we are completing the integration of the toll processing with HCTRA (Harris County Toll Road Authority). Once that is complete we should be ready to go.”

The Metro board approved this change in November. There have been HOT lanes on the Katy Freeway since 2009 – they call them managed lanes, but it’s the same thing with lower tolls. The thing I’ve always wondered about is how they know whom to toll, and whom to ticket if they’ve neither a tag or enough passengers.

Metro’s tolls will apply only to drivers with no passengers who opt to use the HOV lanes for a price. Single-occupant vehicles will enter the lane through a designated path that allows tolling.

Vehicles with at least two occupants will not be charged a toll.

Booth attendants will monitor the number of passengers in vehicles entering the HOT lanes, and Metro police will patrol the lanes.

Violators who evade the toll will be assessed a $75 fine, while “occupancy violators” (solo drivers who use the lanes when they are designated for HOV use only) will be issued a citation requiring a court appearance.

More on that is here. Maybe it works simpler than it sounds. Anyone have experience with the Katy lanes? Hair Balls has more.

It’s hard to get beyond coal

The city of Austin is trying, but there are many obstacles along the way.

Fayette County coal plant at dusk

In Austin politics, it’s almost an article of faith that the city must aggressively curb its contribution to global climate change, regardless of what transpires across the rest of the country. That philosophy has led environmentalists to target the Fayette Power Project, a coal-burning plant 83 miles east of downtown Austin.

The plant’s fate is sure to be among the city’s most hotly debated political topics this year. A major rate increase for Austin Energy customers is coming regardless of what the utility does with Fayette, and Republican legislators already skeptical of Austin-style environmentalism have indicated they would not look kindly on additional increases.

But after failing to persuade Congress to enact coal restrictions in recent years, the Sierra Club has focused its lobbying efforts on local decision-makers — a change that includes targeting Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Leffingwell won environmental plaudits when he pledged to move Austin off coal during his re-election campaign kickoff in November. Other council members have also committed to the idea in the abstract. But their statements are carefully parsed, and they have avoided committing to a time frame, particularly the 2016 date sought by the Sierra Club.

Many details — most notably the cost to the average customer — will probably remain murky until Austin Energy finishes a comprehensive study next fall.

But ahead of the heated debate that is sure to come, another question has emerged: How environmentally ambitious should Austin be?

Should activists push Austin Energy to shut Fayette down? Should they push for the city to sell? Should the city stick with a plan already in place to begin weaning Austin off coal over the next decade?

All of those plans have advantages — and significant drawbacks.

That picture is of the Fayette Power Project, which you’ve seen if you’ve driven along Highway 71. Part of the problem is that the Lower Colorado River Authority, which jointly owns the FPP along with Austin Energy, plans to continue to use it even if Austin Energy pulls out, meaning that just getting Austin weaned off coal won’t actually reduce coal consumption. It’s cheap energy, so someone will buy it if Austin won’t, and Austin will need to figure out how to pay for energy sources that are more expensive, at least for the foreseeable future. There are legal issues as well, not to mention the possibility of legislative meddling. It’s a noble and worthwhile goal, one at which I hope they succeed, but the path forward is long and unclear.