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August 20th, 2022:

Texas will get a lot from the Inflation Reduction Act

Thanks, Biden!

Texas’s clean energy sector is expected to be one of the largest beneficiaries of the climate and health care legislation President Joe Biden has signed into law, according to estimates released by the White House Wednesday.

Over the next eight years, Texas is expected to see $66.5 billion in investment through the legislation, expanding wind and solar energy, advanced batteries and other sources of clean electricity — more than CaliforniaNew York or Florida.

Named the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill provides almost $370 billion in federal funding for the clean energy sector, with government officials hoping to spur far larger investment from the private sector.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan described the legislation in a press conference Wednesday as, “the linchpin to putting us on path to reach net zero (greenhouse gas emissions) no later than 2050.”

“It invests in American workers, the back bone of this country, by spurring supply chains for clean energy,” he said.

Texas has long led the nation in clean energy, with three times as many wind turbines as the next closest state. And while California still has the most solar energy capacity, Texas is beginning to catch up, with more installations last year than any other state, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Here’s a quote of interest from Bloomberg: “Of the top 10 congressional districts in the country for operating and planned wind, solar and battery capacity, four are in Texas, more than in any other state and including the No. 1 district, Texas’ 19th.” So of course every Republican voted against it. Which won’t stop them from claiming credit for the good things that will happen. It’s the circle of life.

Fortunately, at least some of the goodness should go places that can honestly claim credit.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee wants environmental justice funds in the Inflation Reduction Act to flow into northeast Houston as freely as the concrete batch facilities that have come to plague the predominantly Black area.

Legislation passed Friday includes $60 billion for environmental justice programs that can help communities such as Trinity and Houston Gardens fight polluters and reduce emissions, the congresswoman said during a Sunday event at Trinity Gardens Church of Christ attended by around 25 community advocates and concerned residents.

Issues such as the illegal dumping of industrial trash, cancer clusters stemming from creosote used by rail companies and air and water contamination from a growing number of industrial sites make the city’s northeast corner “a fitting example” of communities the legislation aims to help, Jackson Lee said.

The bill also earmarks $3 billion for community centers that can “address disproportionate environmental and public health harms related to pollution.” Northeast Houston should have one such center, she said, describing the area as the new “concrete batch Mecca.”

The bill offers a hand to advocates in communities across Texas, where restraints on polluters are lax. Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was investigating state environmental regulators accused of violating residents’ civil rights when Texas updated its standard permit for concrete batch plants.

The plants have become infamous in the community for billowing dust clouds and concrete-laced water seeping into neighboring properties. There are three schools within a half-mile of the plants, said Keith Downey, super neighborhood president representing Kashmere Gardens.

Jackson Lee told advocates the new federal funds can offer relief for a community fighting these fights largely by themselves.

That would be great. Rooting for this to happen.

SCOTx advised to leave judicial bypass rules in place

This is a pleasant surprise.

An advisory committee to the Texas Supreme Court voted unanimously Friday to keep in place a legal procedure that allows minors to get a judge’s approval to have an abortion without the legally necessary parental consent.

[…]

Texas will ban nearly all abortions on Aug. 25 under a new law that was triggered by the high court’s decision. The law includes no exception for victims of rape or incest, but it does include an exception for pregnancies that risk death or “substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” The exception has spurred debate statewide, especially among doctors and hospital groups concerned that it is too vague and creates legal liability for them.

The subcommittee that reviewed the issue on Friday noted that the situations in which minors will be seeking abortions will be extremely limited, but could plausibly arise.

Legislative mandates subcommittee chair Jim Perdue said at the meeting Friday held in Fort Worth and livestreamed online that the decision was separate from the political debate over abortion. The legal procedure available to minors, known as judicial bypass, has never had to do with whether an abortion is proper or improper, he said, but rather whether a minor should be able to make the decision without parental consent.

Texas law already allows doctors to perform abortions during medical emergencies when there is “insufficient time” to provide parental notice. Perdue, echoing what lawyers who represent the minors in court had argued, said there may still be situations that are critical to the patient’s health but not necessarily urgent emergencies.

“You don’t need to be bleeding out actively to potentially have a situation where a woman under the age of 18 is pregnant and suffering a life-threatening condition,” Perdue said.

Blake Rocap, legal director for Jane’s Due Process, which offers legal representation to minors seeking judicial bypass, said the subcommittee memo “correctly identifies the continuing need for the bypass rules and makes appropriate recommendations to acknowledge the impending change in Texas law without adding new requirements or making substantive changes that would be outside the scope of the rules committee and the judicial branch.”

See here for the background – my apologies for the inconsistency in naming standards. These are just the committee’s recommendations, the Court still has to adopt them, so the possibility that this could go sideways remains. But so far so good. This was the best possible outcome. We should know soon whether it sticks.

We’re going to have a “colder than normal” winter

What could possibly go wrong?

Make your Cancun plans now

Savor the rest of the sweltering summer because this winter in Texas is going to be “colder than normal,” according to Farmers’ Almanac.

The Almanac, which has been predicting the weather outlook for farmers and gardeners for over 200 years, says to expect a “chilly” winter with “normal precipitation.” Cold temperatures are expected to arrive in the South in mid-to-late November, mid-to-late December, and early and late January.

The Farmers’ Almanac previously predicted Texas’ deadly winter storm in 2021, in which heavy snowfall, ice storms and bitter temperatures put an enormous strain on the state’s power grid, leaving millions without electricity. Over 200 people died.

For this year, North Texas could see the most potential for snow and ice storms throughout the season. The Almanac says that heavy snowfall is expected to reach North Texas by the first week of January, followed by “significant snows” from North and Central Texas by the second week.

While this winter “will be filled with plenty of shaking, shivering and shoveling,” most of the cold weather is expected to “rattle warm weather seekers in the Southeast and South Central states, but the real shivers might send people in the Great Lakes area, Northeast, and North Central regions hibernating.”

There are a lot of qualifiers to this: The Farmers Almanac forecasts are not necessarily accurate. Other forecasters have not yet made their predictions, so this one might be an outlier. That 2021 storm really was an unusual event. But look, we know that basically nothing was done to address the power grid failures from that year, and at this point we know how bad it can get. There’s every reason to feel anxiety about this, no matter what ends up happening. That’s as much a failure as the inaction on the grid itself is. And it’s on Greg Abbott.

Hopefully the last time she will appear before a judge

For her sake, I hope it is.

Years of legal trouble for a former Harris County civil judge have come to an end with three years probation.

Alexandra Smoots on Wednesday wept as Judge Chuck Silverman granted her deferred adjudication on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge — an offense stemming from her decision in August 2020 to fire a shotgun during an argument with her ex-husband’s girlfriend. The incident exacerbated a downward spiral marked by laundry list of personal woes, including a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment, infidelity, divorce, foreclosure on her home and a federal indictment for wire fraud.

The indictment prompted her suspension from the bench in the 164th District Court.

She pleaded guilty to the federal charges later in 2020 and the case in the 183rd District Court represented the last hitch to moving on.

Smoot’s fate in the assault case was expected to be decided Wednesday during a pre-sentencing investigation, but the judge told both parties that he had already settled on a punishment and the hearing would be a “waste of time.”

“I don’t think it’s a benefit to this court and society to idle along,” said Silverman, who addressed Smoots as judge throughout the appearance. “I would like everything to continue on the up for you.”

[…]

Smoots, first elected in 2008, can no longer practice law because of her felony convictions. She now works as a legal consultant, [her defense attorney Juanita] Jackson said.

Federal investigators caught wind that Smoots was siphoning campaign money from 2013 to 2018 to purchase a Zales engagement ring, two Prada handbags, and for mortgage payments and private school tuition for her two sons.

The jurist in that case, Lynn N. Hughes, sentenced her to the 36 days she had spent jailed for a bond violation connected to the assault charge, as well as three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors in that case requested a sentence within the guideline range of 18 to 24 months in prison, saying the defendant abused her power and authority as a sitting judge. It was not known what state prosecutors planned to recommend to the judge as a punishment.

As part of her probation, Smoots must undergo 80 hours of community service and have no drugs or alcohol. Anger management therapy is also part of the court’s conditions.

Smoots’ federal plea and sentence came in September of 2020, about a month after this incident. To be honest, I don’t remember reading about it at the time, but then we were all kind of busy around then. As I said before, I hope she is getting her life back in order, and I hope the next time I hear about her it’s for something positive.