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October 30th, 2022:

Weekend link dump for October 30

Yeah, Bill Murray is a jackass and has been for a long time. I’m just going to have to accept that.

Happy 100th birthday, BBC.

“I happen to agree that there has been, in fact, a Mitt Romney radicalization process. But it is quite the opposite of what this narrative suggests. It isn’t rooted in Republican anger on behalf of Romney but in Republican anger against Romney, and over time that anger has grown to be not just against Romney the man but also against the values he represents.”

“Which means the Sandy Hook families, who are now creditors for both Jones and Free Speech Systems, could find themselves in a very odd position: Trying to get their hands on all of Jones’s personal assets while also working within a legal system that is designed to keep Free Speech Systems and Infowars — which only really works if Jones works there — up and running.”

“We’re about two weeks away from Election Day, but some voter intimidation efforts are already underway in Arizona, painting an ominous picture of just how far some Big Lie activists may go to push their debunked voter fraud narrative during the midterms.”

Two words: Robot tentacles. Yeah, I don’t know either.

“In advance of election night, I think it’s useful to calibrate expectations to the fundamentals, not to polls or vibes.”

“It would be hard to find a clearer example than this of the difference between government negotiation of drug prices and the private market.”

“States passing abortion bans reflect what only a small minority of their constituents actually want”.

Turns out, HR Haldeman was absolutely right about Billy Graham. And once you know that, it’s a lot easier to understand how the much-beloved Billy Graham begat his shitbird son Franklin.

Long live Larry the Cat, who has now served as Chief Mouser to the UK Cabinet Office through the terms of four prime ministers. And counting.

RIP, Ash Carter, former Secretary of Defense who opened military combat jobs to women and ended a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

RIP, Jules Bass, animator, producer, director and composer who partnered with Arthur Rankin Jr. on the stop-motion and animated holiday TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.

“This idea that vote by mail is a form of voting that inherently advantages Democrats is just flat wrong. It is a mode of voting that creates opportunities for political parties to mobilize their supporters.”

“Let’s talk about why the price of gas drives people crazy”.

RIP, Jerry Lee Lewis, rock and roll pioneer and Hall of Famer.

Lucianne Goldberg has died. I have no further comment.

What will Tarrant County do this year?

Hoping for a blue result at the top and at least closer races below it, but we’ll see.

Eight years after voting for Gov. Greg Abbott, Angela Martinez found herself waiting in line Tuesday to snap a photo with Beto O’Rourke, his challenger in this year’s nail-biting gubernatorial contest.

Martinez, a 33-year-old marketer for a pediatric home health agency, has never identified as strictly liberal or conservative, she said, and sometimes feels like “a walking contradiction.” If there’s a spot for her on the traditional political spectrum, she hasn’t found it. When she voted for Abbott in 2014, Martinez identified with what she saw as the then-attorney general’s Christian family values.

But since then, Martinez has soured on Abbott. She feels Abbott didn’t do enough in the wake of the deadly winter freeze in February 2021 to prevent the state’s electrical grid from collapsing should a similarly catastrophic weather event hit Texas in the future. As someone who values “the sanctity of life,” Martinez is uneasy about the state’s blanket ban on abortions that took effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.

“My mother had the freedom (to seek an abortion), my aunts had the freedom,” Martinez said while waiting to meet O’Rourke at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. “Why shouldn’t we?”

Voters in Tarrant County, the state’s last major urban county dominated by Republicans, just barely broke for Democrats at the top of the ticket in the last two elections — O’Rourke won there during his 2018 Senate bid and so did President Joe Biden two years ago — stoking Democrats’ hopes that the path to the governor’s mansion, and the end of their decadeslong exile from statewide office, goes through Tarrant. Boosting those hopes is infighting this year among Tarrant County Republicans — who insist the party is united.

The year that O’Rourke carried Tarrant during his near-miss bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Abbott won the county by more than 66,000 votes and nearly 11 percentage points — outperforming every other statewide Republican on the ticket.

Four years later, Abbott’s team is “confident” the governor will win Tarrant County once more, Abbott’s chief strategist Dave Carney told reporters last week while acknowledging the county is competitive. “It’s going to be a battle,” Carney said.

At his campaign stop at the UNT Health Science Center, O’Rourke expressed optimism that 125,000 people who have been added to the county’s voter rolls since he ran in 2018, combined with discontent over the power grid failure during last year’s winter storm, the state’s abortion ban and Abbott’s response to school shootings would help deliver him the county.

“Abbott has given us a huge, huge opening” in Tarrant County, O’Rourke said. “So many people are looking for the common ground and the common sense that’s been missing from our state government.”

But as Democrats express optimism because of O’Rourke and Biden’s victories, Republicans continue to dominate down-ballot races in Tarrant County — a sign of the GOP’s enduring dominance here.

“They have now a little bit of history that suggests that Democrats might be able to win in Tarrant County,” said James Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “On the other hand, there has not been a countywide Democrat elected for county office in Tarrant County in this century.”

Statewide Democratic candidates in 2018 and 2020 slightly outperformed their cumulative margins in Tarrant County. In 2018, the small number of local countywide candidates did a tad better than the statewide slate as a whole, scoring in the 47-48% range. In 2020, the same slight improvement was still there among a larger collection of local countywide candidates, but they finished in the 46-47% range for the most part.

Tarrant, as noted before, had been a reliable bellwether of the state as a whole through the 2016 election, but as with the other large urban counties, and several of the large suburban counties, it became more Democratic than the state. It’s just that Tarrant started in a redder place than the others, so they still lag behind by a bit. I suspect they will again be slightly bluer than the state as a whole, but if there’s a step back from 2018 or 2020, that will be reflected in Tarrant’s numbers as well. I believe the larger trends will continue, whether this year is in line with that or not. I hope that means a blue Tarrant sooner rather than later – as we know, there are a plethora of State House districts that were drawn to be modestly red, and CD24 looms as the best future pickup opportunity – but whether that’s this year or not I couldn’t say.

Texas Central insists they’re still alive

It’s something, I guess.

A lawyer for nearly 100 property owners who are living with the threat of their land being seized said he will seek legal action against Texas Central, the company that for a decade has promised to build a bullet train between Dallas and Houston, if the company does not provide more details about the looming project.

Landowners whose property could be in the path of the train track have petitioned the company to answer their questions. Patrick McShan, the lawyer representing property owners, said he’s prepared to ask a judge to allow him to depose the company — which has said little about the project — to get answers for his clients.

[…]

McShan’s list of questions included inquiries about the company’s leadership and permits for the project.

Robert Neblett, Texas Central’s attorney, said the company spent a “considerable sum” of money acquiring property for this project. Neblett added the company owns hundreds of tracts of land purchased for this project, but he did not confirm The Texas Tribune’s analysis of property owned by Texas Central.

“Texas Central’s chief executive is Michael Bui. Texas Central is not currently looking for a CEO to replace him nor is it looking for a new Board of Directors,” Neblett said in an emailed statement to the Tribune.

Neblett added that Texas Central plans to obtain any and all federal Surface Transportation Board certifications required to construct and operate the project.

Bui is a senior management consultant with FTI Consulting, a business advisory that lists corporate recovery as one of his qualifications. Bui also served as an adviser to a private energy company that provided power to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas following its court-ordered restructuring after the February 2021 freeze that caused hundreds of deaths while knocking out power and heat to millions of people.

According to a news release Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office released Thursday, unnamed representatives of Texas Central said, “the landscape changed since March 2022, when the company underwent a restructuring effort, and the future of the high-speed train remains bright.”

Houston and Dallas leaders have long championed the project that would connect the two cities. Turner said the bullet train would be an economic stimulant for the entire state.

“We had some very productive and constructive discussions about the train in Japan,” Turner said. “The leadership in Houston is very supportive and wants it to happen. I look forward to working with Texas Central and our state and federal partners to advance this project. If you build it, people will take full advantage of it.”

Still in contention is how much land the company has acquired in the 10 years since the project was announced, and how much land is still needed for the bullet train.

See here, here, and here for the background. As noted in the story, the Texas Central Twitter page had its first new post since July, so that’s something. I’d like to see more activity than that, but at least the mirror test shows that there’s still some breath in there. For now, I’ll take it.

The Corpus Christi desalination plant fight

This ought to be interesting.

Texas regulators issued an environmental permit Thursday for the Port of Corpus Christi to build what could become the state’s first seawater desalination plant — but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may refuse to accept it.

The state permit for a desalination plant on Harbor Island represents the culmination of years of business strategy, political maneuvering and lawyering effort on behalf of the port, which wants to build a large-scale facility to convert seawater from the Gulf of Mexico into freshwater. The marine desalination plant is expected to cost at least half a billion dollars to construct; an estimate provided to the Texas Water Development Board puts the cost at more than $800 million.

Environmental groups have fought the project for four years on the grounds that wastewater from the plant could harm sensitive coastal ecosystems.

Now the port also will have to spar with the EPA, which can refuse to recognize the state permit on the grounds that it doesn’t comply with the Clean Water Act. The federal agency is concerned that Texas’ permit may not be sufficient to protect aquatic life and water quality, according to letters obtained by The Texas Tribune, and that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did not send the permit to the EPA for federal review.

The dispute centers on what type of permit is required: The EPA believes the desalination plant needs a “major” environmental permit — which requires EPA review — while TCEQ says the facility should be considered a minor project, which does not require federal review.

“If the TCEQ issues [the permit] without responding to the EPA … the EPA’s position will be that it is not a validly issued [permit],” Earthea Nance, regional administrator for the EPA’s Dallas-based Region 6, wrote in a Sept. 2 letter to TCEQ Commissioner Jon Niermann. Some experts speculated that the EPA may sue the TCEQ to determine whether Texas is legally obligated to consult the EPA on such seawater desalination permits.

TCEQ commissioners on Thursday seemed to dismiss the EPA’s concerns. Commissioner Bobby Janecka said he considered the federal agency’s objections but called them “outside our window of decision” on whether to issue the permit.

The Harbor Island plant is one of five marine desalination facilities proposed for Corpus Christi Bay — all racing to be the first built in Texas. Two are proposed by the Port of Corpus Christi and two by the city of Corpus Christi. (The port and the city have soured on one another as partners on desalination.) The fifth plant was proposed by a now bankrupt plastics company, which has since been taken over by Corpus Christi Polymers.

Water demand in the Corpus Christi region’s water planning area — pushed by a growing population and a boom in manufacturing and petrochemical facilities that need water to cool their plants — is expected to outstrip supply by more than 31,000 acre-feet, or about 10 billion gallons, by the end of the decade if new water sources are not secured, according to the state’s water plan.

The water planning area — made up of 11 counties in South Texas’ Nueces River Basin along the coast — projects that 70% of its new water resources will have to come from desalination plants by 2030.

“The potential for water independence from these kinds of facilities is very big,” said Manish Kumar, an associate professor of environmental and chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who has worked on and advised desalination projects. “The significance is huge, because we have the coastline, we have energy and in many places, we have a need for high-quality water.”

While Texas already has more than 50 plants that desalinate brackish groundwater into freshwater, according to a state database, seawater desalination is much more technically difficult, energy intensive and expensive to achieve on a large scale because ocean water is much saltier than brackish groundwater.

The seawater plants also give less bang for buck: Marine desalination plants are able to convert around 40% to 50% of seawater into freshwater, while groundwater desalination plants convert closer to 80%, Kumar said. The remaining water — made saltier by removing most of the now fresh water — is discharged as waste.

There’s a lot more, so read the rest. The environmental groups stress that they are not opposed to desalination, but they don’t think the TCEQ has done enough to ensure that the wastewater will be disposed of safely – basically, they want it dumped farther out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it can be more easily dispersed. I don’t know how much that might add to the cost of the project, or how big an effect it might have on future projects. I do know that the lawsuit that will result if the EPA decides this is a “major” project and requires their review will be another opportunity for the right-wing legal machine to attack the regulatory state, and I would rather that be avoided if possible. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: I drafted this a couple of weeks ago, and more recently a lawsuit has been filed by residents of a historically Black neighborhood in Corpus Christi to stop this construction on the grounds that it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We’ll see how that goes.