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January 19th, 2012:

Don’t say “We won’t have Rick Perry to kick around any more” just yet

So long and thanks for all the corndogs

By now everybody knows that Rick Perry has suspended his Presidential campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich as his preferred not-Romney. The news of this was on the TV screen in the lobby of my office building as I entered this morning, which amused me greatly because the front page headline in the Chronicle was about him vowing to stay in the race after South Carolina no matter what. Events really do move fast, don’t they? But while the news has led to an outpouring of mocking and scornful press releases from just about every Democratic official in Texas “welcoming” Perry back to the state, I just want to say how sad I am to see this end now, because let’s face it, any day Rick Perry isn’t in Texas is a good day. For Texas, anyway. Not so much for wherever else he is.

What’s more, Perry may be looking to put down roots again.

On his future, Perry is heading back to Texas today and will stay there during the weekend to jump back into the governor’s job he largely has left in check for over five months.

[Perry spokesman Ray] Sullivan said that the governor is still “leaving the option open” to run for re-election as governor in three years — Texas has no term limits — and for another presidential run.

Go ahead and laugh – or cry – at the thought of a Perry 2014 campaign. A lot of respected establishment commentators – Burka for one, and as PDiddie notes Harvey Kronberg for another – think Perry is “damaged goods” whose “aura of invincibility” is gone. They may be right. Lord knows, I hope they are. Perry absolutely made a fool of himself for all to see. But all levels of government are still stuffed full of people who owe him something, and I don’t have any faith that a Republican-controlled Legislature would have the guts to stand up to him on something, and if they did it’s not clear to me that it would be for anything good. And unless the Democrats get their act together over the next two years – go ahead and laugh or cry again – even if Perry steps down or gets tossed aside, whoever comes next may be at least as malevolent but more intelligent, like Greg Abbott. So enjoy this moment of schadenfreude for someone who totally deserves it, but recognize it for the passing moment that it is. EoW has more.

Lykos appears before the grand jury

DA Pat Lykos

And that’s all we know about it.

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos testified Tuesday in a grand jury investigation of the Houston Police Department’s controversial mobile DWI testing vehicles.

Because grand jury subpoenas and testimony are secret, it is unclear how long the elected district attorney testified or what she said, but a source close to the investigation confirmed that she appeared and answered questions about HPD’s breath alcohol testing vans.

The rest of the story is basically a rehash of what we know so far, which also isn’t very much where the grand jury is concerned. Here’s some of what I’ve blogged about it so far. If and when the grand jury returns indictments, then we’ll know more.

How gassy are we?

I’m talking about greenhouse gases, of course. And the answer is, now you can find out for yourself.

Martin Lake coal plant

The greenhouse gas wars are about to heat up again in Texas. Next month, a federal court hears oral arguments in lawsuits that Texas has filed to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency, which began regulating heat-trapping emissions a year ago.

The EPA is hardly backing down. On Wednesday, the agency released an easily searchable database of big greenhouse gas polluters across the nation, prompting Texas environmentalists to immediately list the largest polluters in the state. Topping the list is the 1970s-era Martin Lake coal plant (pictured) in the East Texas city of Tatum. In 2010 it emitted nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, about 13 percent more than the runner-up, the W.A. Parish coal plant in Thompsons, southwest of Houston. In third place is the Monticello coal plant in Northeast Texas, which narrowly avoided a shutdown when a federal appeals court issued a last-minute stay to an EPA pollution rule last month.

“This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities,” wrote Elena Craft, a health scientist with the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund, in a blog post. Power plant data has always been available, she said, but now industries like pulp and paper and landfills must also report it.

The photo above, courtesy of Think Progress, is of the Martin Lake plant in Tatum, TX, which has the distinction of being the nation’s top mercury emitter in 2009 (click the TP link for the chart) as well as Texas’ top greenhouse gas emitter last year (the Trib has that chart). No wonder the Sierra Club has targeted it for closure. Note that the other two plants named in that report appears on each of those lists I mentioned – Texas had four of the top five mercury polluters in the country in 2009, with Martin Lake #1, Big Brown #2, and Monticello #5. And as Patricia Kilday Hart reminds us, we have Rick Perry to thank for a lot of this.

Remember in 2006, when Perry issued an executive order fast-tracking permit requests for the construction of new coal-fired power plants? (This occurred, not surprisingly, while he was accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from power and coal interests.)

Back then, Perry predicted the new plants would be an economic boon. Well, yes, says one of his toughest critics, Environmental Defense Fund attorney James Marston.

Wyoming, Marston says, sends rail cars full of coal south to Texas power plants, and we refill them with cash and send them home. To the tune of $1.9 billion a year. This, at a time when Texas is awash in cheap natural gas, a cleaner alternative for the production of electricity.

[…]

Meanwhile, Marston said, Perry’s policies in Texas mean “we have dirtier air and we’re sending money to Wyoming. Both were avoidable if we had better leadership and better vision.”

And about the promise that coal plants would create new jobs? We were hoodwinked. According to a national study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, proponents claimed the $2.3 billion Oak Grove project in Texas’ Robertson County would produce 2,400 construction jobs. But total construction employment for the entire county increased by only 329 during the peak construction year, the researchers found.

Similarly, in Milam County, the construction of the Sandow project was supposed to produce 1,370 jobs, but only 463 positions materialized.

The researchers concluded: “These findings strongly suggest that the economic development argument for coal plants is relatively weak, especially when compared to the job creation potential of alternative means of addressing demand for power.”

And yet Perry and his henchman Greg Abbott keep up their crusade to let these polluters have free rein. It’s clear whose interests they have in mind.

Even in the absence of enforcement, publishing these data may have a positive effect, as Brad Plumer notes.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, compared the new greenhouse-gas reporting law to the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a database that was passed by Congress back in 1986 to measure and publicize the release of more than 320 toxic chemicals from industrial facilities around the country. “[The TRI] had a tremendous impact in terms of providing opportunities for reduction, and we’re really hoping this information will do the same,” McCarthy said. And, in fact, a variety of analyses suggest she might be onto something.

One recent book, “Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance” charts the impacts that the Toxics Release Inventory had on polluters. As Mark Stephan, a professor at Washington State University, Vancouver, explained to me, he and his co-authors conducted interviews with a variety of companies about their responses to the new public database. Many companies didn’t even realize they were spewing out so much pollution until forced to start keeping records. And that proved to be a big deal.

For instance, when the inventory was first disclosed in 1987, Monsanto executives realized that the company was one of the largest emitters in the country and pledged to reduce its toxic air releases 90 percent by 1992. This wasn’t in response to any new laws — Monsanto wasn’t legally required to do anything. The company was simply reacting to public information. Stephan adds that many other companies soon followed suit, in response to a fusillade of newspaper stories about toxic waste and pressure from community groups and local environmentalists.

That’s good news, but I have a feeling we’re going to need more than just bad publicity to get some real action around here. Still, forewarned is forearmed. At least we know what we’re up against.

Area job growth in 2012

We’ve seen a prediction for job growth in Texas for this year, now here’s some soothsaying about job growth in the Houston area for the year.

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

The Greater Houston Partnership predicts the Houston area will add 84,600 jobs this year. Some economic observers are speculating the estimate may be conservative – especially since the most recent data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that Houston-area employers created 87,900 from November 2010 to November 2011.

We asked experts in finance, real estate, recruiting and economic development to assess the area economic picture. Here is what they said:

Q: Where is Houston’s economy headed in 2012?

A: “I think it’s headed up,” said James Weston, associate professor of finance at Rice University. “Everything I see points to a return to moderate economic growth.”

He ticked off the factors: Energy prices are stable; housing prices were essentially flat in Houston last year even as they fell nationwide; and Houston is adding jobs at a faster clip than the nation as a whole.

The likelihood of a double-dip recession – which was a worry not that long ago – has faded, he added.

Regina Morales, director of economic development for the city of Sugar Land, characterized 2011 as the year of recovery, when the region regained the jobs it lost during the recession.

“Now we’re poised for expansion in 2012,” said Morales, who predicted that energy, technology, health care, education and food service will drive the growth.

The real estate community looks at job growth, and those 87,900 new jobs last year are a good sign, said Bruce McClenny, president of Apartment Data Services, which gathers information on pricing, occupancy and rents on apartments.

Job growth is tied directly to the demand for multifamily housing, especially from people who are moving to Houston from other states and new college graduates.

That sets the stage for the same kind of growth in 2012, McClenny said.

Here the distinction between the city of Houston and the greater Houston area is made more clearly than in the earlier story about real estate projections. Note that the region has about a quarter of the state’s population but nearly half of its projected job growth for the year. Either one of those projections is out of whack or the state isn’t in such great shape overall. The story also notes the likelihood of flat property tax revenues and a continued shrinking of the government sector. Some different policy decisions, mostly but not entirely at the state level, could have led to a better outcome, but it’s way too late for any of that now. Maybe we’ll get lucky with sales tax revenues and not have as big a problem this year. We can hope, anyway.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff takes a look at Democratic primary races as they now stand in Harris County and elsewhere in Texas.

Refinish69 thinks sometimes you just have to say “What the Hell???

Bay Area Houston says it is Time for a Joe Driver law.

CouldBeTrue wants you to know that Vermin Supreme almost beat Rick Perry in Vermont.

The Texas Tea Party had a rally and a straw poll in Houston, a few rich white bigots showed up, and Rick Perry got his ass whipped again. In other words, as PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes, nothing has really changed for the TeaBaggers.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw gets us up to date on who is calling who a vulture capitialist, or Pot, meet Kettle. See her piece: Vulture Capitalist Supporters Perry, Gingrich Demonize Vulture Capitalism.

It’s been a little quiet on the issue of transportation funding lately, but that’s changed. WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the latest polling nonsense about how to pay for new roads, Here we go again.

Neil at Texas Liberal offered the 5th annual posting of his Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. There are 3 new additions for 2012. This list is the best starting point to learn about M.L.K. to be found on the web.