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March 10th, 2016:

Recycling contract impasse

Uh, oh.

The city of Houston’s curbside recycling program could be put on hold after negotiations between Waste Management and Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office reached an apparent impasse over a new contract Tuesday.

Though Turner said he remains committed to recycling and his office said he will be “pursuing any and all available options” before the current contract expires March 16, the standoff could see Houstonians’ recyclables trucked to a landfill as early as next week.

The mayor acknowledged the breakdown Tuesday after Waste Management rejected Turner’s attempt to shorten a proposed four-year contract extension to one year.

“They control the market. It’s like a monopoly,” Turner said of the Houston-based Fortune 500 company that long has held the city’s recycling contract. “I support recycling. But asking people to accept a bad deal now and in the future is not good business, and I’m not prepared to allow the city to be hijacked by Waste Management or any one company. I want a good deal, but I also expect people to be good corporate citizens and not utilize their monopolistic status.”

[…]

Waste Management for years has been processing and reselling Houstonians’ recyclables, taking a $65-per-ton fee from those revenues and giving 70 percent of any money left over to the city. If the firm’s costs exceeded the fee the city paid, Waste Management swallowed the difference.

With plunging oil prices dragging commodities below $50 per ton, however, the firm has been renegotiating contracts. The deal before council, which was being negotiated before Turner took office, would see the city pay a processing fee of $95 per ton for at least four years. Turner’s office said he now agrees with council that such a term could trap the city in an unfavorable rate even after the market recovers.

Turner instead had sought to shorten the deal to one year in exchange for a higher, $104-per-ton fee.

Waste Management rejected that deal Tuesday, shortly before the mayor faced residents pleading with the council not to end the city’s recycling program only one year after it was expanded to give all homeowners the popular 96-gallon green bins.

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See here for the background. The Press has an explanation for why we are in this predicament.

Melanie Scruggs, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, says a major pratfall with Houston recycling is Waste Management’s monopoly over the city.

“Dallas owns its own landfill and they have a recycling facility at the landfill, so it’s a win-win for them,” says Scruggs. “Austin, in addition to a citywide recycling ordinance, has two different companies: one on the north side of [the Colorado River], and the other on the south side.”

“There’s not a competitive market for recycling in Houston. Waste Management is the only one in town and it puts the city in a difficult decision,” adds Scruggs. “The city of Houston is trying to put as much pressure on Waste Management for a shorter and cheaper contract because they want to save money.”

I don’t know what the solution to this is if Waste Management won’t go for a shorter-term deal, which I think the city is correct to pursue. Not recycling isn’t an option, unless you really want to see Houston get another large round of negative national publicity. The timing of this just couldn’t be worse, and we’re a week away from the current contract expiring. It’s a mess. For those of you who want to do something that might help, the Texas Campaign for the Environment has a customizable email message you can send to the city. Calling your Council members (district and At Large) is never a bad idea, either.

Turner files amicus brief for Obama’s immigration executive action

Good.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The city of Houston has added its voice to a friend of the court brief in the looming U.S. Supreme Court showdown over President Obama’s late-2014 executive actions on immigration, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Tuesday.

Calling the president’s decisions “common sense and humane,” Turner urged the court to overturn lower court injunctions that have blocked the implementation of Obama’s plans.

“A favorable ruling would remove the fear of deportation and separation that more than 200,000 eligible immigrants in the greater Houston metropolitan area live with every day,” the mayor said. “This lawsuit is bad for the economy, hurts families and has stalled desperately needed changes to the federal government’s immigration policies. These are individuals who are business owners, customers, students and parents who simply want a brighter future.”

See here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release, which touts the city’s Office of International Communities and Refugee Affairs for folks who are looking to achieve citizenship and need a little help.

Also getting into the amicus game are Congressional Democrats.

More than 200 Democrats are backing a new amicus brief that will be filed later Tuesday with the high court, arguing the controversial actions Obama took in November 2014 that could defer deportations and grant work permits to more than 4 million immigrants in the United States illegally are both legal and constitutional.

The renewed effort from Democrats comes as House Republicans are also mulling whether to get involved in the high-stakes case. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that the House will vote on a resolution to allow lawmakers to file an amicus brief in Texas vs. United States, calling Obama’s executive actions a “direct attack on the Congress’ Article I powers under our Constitution.”

Now, Democrats are quickly trying to counter the GOP’s offensive against Obama’s actions.

The new amicus brief from Democrats also delves deeper into a new legal question that the Supreme Court will consider: whether Obama violated the “Take Care” clause, which essentially calls on the president to “take care” that laws are faithfully executed.

Democrats are insisting that Obama is not violating the “Take Care” clause because the executive actions are well within the authority of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose sprawling agency oversees immigration matters.

Because Congress sets aside a finite amount of money for deporting undocumented immigrants every year (that figure is generally estimated at 400,000 immigrants annually, while there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States), Homeland Security officials have to set priorities for who to deport with those limited resources. Obama’s executive actions lay out such priorities, and because Democrats believe doing so is within Johnson’s authority, it “by definition reflects the faithful execution of the law,” Democrats say.

The executive action “reflects the decision by [Johnson], acting within finite congressional appropriations insufficient to remove every removable noncitizen, to channel DHS’s enforcement efforts according to a set of removal priorities,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a draft of the brief obtained by POLITICO in advance of its release. “That is not a deviation from the obligation to faithfully execute the laws; rather, it is a fulfillment of it.”

Oral arguments are scheduled for April 18. I’m sure there will be plenty more filings before then.

More on the draft bike plan

From the Chron.

The Houston Bike Plan identifies $300 million to $500 million in improvements aimed at encouraging cycling and bringing more accessibility to every corner of the city via paths, off-street trails and safer lanes where cyclists share the road with drivers.

A key goal of the plan is to generate discussion about how to proceed as interest in cycling increases in Houston, officials said.

“Once we have consensus on how to make Houston a great place to ride a bicycle, we’re then going to need to look very carefully at all of our funding tools on how we can actually implement this as quickly as possible,” Houston Planning Director Patrick Walsh said. “I just don’t think we’re quite there yet. That’s the next step.”

[…]

Bike advocates acknowledged that the plan’s goal – creating a 1,600-mile bike system in Houston over 20 years – would not be cheap, but they said sticker shock should not dampen enthusiasm for the plan’s ideas.

“You are always going to have your naysayers because some people in Texas love their cars and don’t think anything should change,” said Regina Garcia, chairwoman of BikeHouston, one of a handful of groups active in developing the plan.

A short-term list of projects compiled as part of the bike plan would increase miles of high-quality bike lanes and trails to 709 in the next five years, including 328 miles of on-street, high-comfort lanes. Most of those lanes can be built cheaply by restriping roads and adding signs, at a cost of $24 million to $45 million.

“I don’t think there’s going to be some dedicated fund or anything to specifically deal with this,” said Councilman Larry Green, chairman of the city’s transportation, technology and infrastructure committee. “I believe, for the most part, the way we really get it done is as we rehab streets and repair streets.”

Proponents, enthused by the draft report, cheered its release while downplaying its immediate impact.

“It does not commit any city dollars,” said Mary Blitzer, government and grants director for the nonprofit BikeHouston. “Money is going to be figured out on a project-by-project basis.”

See here for the background. The vision is great. Finding funding is the key, and the more funding that can come from non-city sources, the better. I wish I could predict how this will play out, but I have no idea. Mayor Turner will have a lot of influence over the outcome, but most of the push is going to have to come from everyone who wants to see this happen. If that includes you, show up to the CIP meetings and make sure your Council member knows how you feel. The Press has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 7

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates all the winners of last week’s primary elections as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff explored the pros and cons of Universal Vote By Mail.

Libby Shaw contributing to Daily Kos argues that there are subtle tactics taking place at election polls, at least in Harris County, that discourage voter turnout. The Texas Blues: The More Subtle Aspects of Voter Suppression.

Socratic Gadfly says RIP to Ponzi-scheming fracking grifter Aubrey McClendon and his apparent suicide by vehicle.

So is Democratic turnout in primary elections to date up, or is it down? PDiddie at Brains and Eggs is asking for a friend.

This week’s Texas Primary went as expected for most races, but Texas Leftist was happy to see some history made as Democrat Jenifer Rene Pool became the first transgender candidate to win an election in Texas. With so much news dominated by Trump and Cruz, it’s great to have some Progress worth celebrating.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is sad to see the tuition at Texas public universities go up. Oligarchs pay low taxes and greedy lenders get more student debt payoffs. Republicans like the rich best.

Neil at All People Have Value visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

The TSTA Blog reminds us that elections especially have consequences for education.

The Lunch Tray interviews Sen. Debbie Stabenow on child nutrition.

BOR pens a letter of greeting to the new Travis County GOP Chair. And Newsdesk digs a few of the ads he’s placed in the Austin Chronicle from their archives.

Grits for Breakfast laments the results of the Republican primaries for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Better Texas Blog explains the Texas coverage gap.

The Makeshift Academic assures us there will not be a contested convention.

Finally, the TPA maintains neutrality in the breakfast taco wars.