Tag Archive: Texas

Aug 23 2018

Texas and America Needs This Man In The Senate

Texas Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke, who represents Texas 16th congressional which includes El Paso, is running for the Senate seat currently held by first term Republican Senator Ted Cruz, probably the most disliked senator on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Lindsay Graham jokingly once said, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of …

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Jun 30 2015

SCOTUS Puts Hold on Closing Texas Abortion Clinics

In a late announcement Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court stayed a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed limits on a woman’s right to choose. In a 5 -4 decision, the court allows Texas abortion clinics to remain open.

The Supreme Court issued a brief, two paragraph order (pdf) on Monday permitting Texas abortion clinics that are endangered by state law requiring them to comply with onerous regulations or else shut down to remain open. The order stays a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which imposed broad limits on the women’s right to choose an abortion within that circuit.

The Court’s order is temporary and offers no direct insight into how the Court will decide this case on the merits. It provides that the clinics’ application for a stay of the Fifth Circuit’s decision is granted “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition” asking the Court to review the case on the merits. The Court adds that, should this petition be denied, the stay will automatically terminate. Otherwise, the stay “shall terminate upon the issuance of the judgment of this Court.”

Justce Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal judges to grant the clinics a reprieve. The court has yet to decide if they will hear arguments in the case in the fall.

Jul 11 2014

Chemical Plants Contents Kept Secret By Campaign Money

On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate chemical storage facility in West, Texas exploded killing 15, injuring 160 and destroyed or damaged over 160 buildings. The cause of the original fire is still unknown. The plant that exploded was owned by a privately held family corporation. The plant only carried $1 million in liability insurance which under Texas law, was $1 million more than it needed. One year later, no legislation has even been introduced to increase regulations or inspections.

A year after the explosion, the US Chemical Safety Board issued its findings:

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable. It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it.”

The CSB’s investigation found that at the state level, there is no fire code and in fact counties under a certain population are prohibited from having them.  “Local authorities and specifically-local fire departments-need fire codes so they can hold industrial operators accountable for safe storage and handling of chemicals,” said Dr. Moure-Eraso.

CSB Supervisory Investigator Johnnie Banks said “The CSB found at all levels of government a failure to adopt codes to keep populated areas away from hazardous facilities, not just in West, Texas. We found 1,351 facilities across the country that store ammonium nitrate.  Farm communities are just starting to collect data on how close homes or schools are to AN storage, but there can be little doubt that West is not alone and that other communities should act to determine what hazards might exist in proximity.”

The CSB’s preliminary findings follow a yearlong investigation which has focused on learning how to prevent a similar accident from occurring in another community. “It is imperative that people learn from the tragedy at West,” Dr. Moure-Eraso said.

One of the major factors that has kept any new regulations from being passed has been the large amounts of cash from families like the Koch brothers that has flowed into the pockets of the Republican politicians. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow talked with Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, about Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott allowing chemical plants to keep their contents secret, a move that benefits Koch Industries, and a campaign donor.

Hazardous chemical lists no longer public record in Texas

DALLAS — For the past 30 years, federal law has required chemical makers and handlers to disclose what’s stored on premises. It’s called the Community Right To Know Act, and it has been at the core of the safety conversation since last year’s deadly fertilizer explosion in West, Texas.

But News 8 has learned that in the past few weeks, state health officials have stopped making those hazardous chemical records public. [..]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “states and communities […] can use the Tier II information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.” In Texas, Tier II reports are kept on file at the Department of State Health Services and according to its web site, those reports are public information. All citizens “may ask for” them by simply filling out a request.

Yet, just days ago, following the ammonium nitrate building fire in Athens, when News 8 asked the Department of State Health Services for an updated Tier II report on the facility, department spokesperson Carrie Williams told us, “We’re not able to release the kind of information you’re requesting.”

Williams cited an Attorney General’s ruling from May 22, 2014, which denied public access to “Tier Two information […] because it reveals the location, quantity and identity of hazardous chemicals […] likely to assist in the construction of an explosive weapon.”

Emergency officials and responders are now the only ones in Texas able to access Tier II reports.

Abbott: Ask Chemical Plants What’s Inside

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, under fire for blocking public access to state records documenting the location of dangerous chemicals, said Texans still have a right to find out where the substances are stored – as long as they know which companies to ask.

“You know where they are if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters Tuesday. “You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

In a recently released decision by his office, Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said government entities can withhold the state records – in so-called Tier II reports – of dangerous chemical locations. The reports contain an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

But Abbott said homeowners who think they might live near stores of dangerous chemicals could simply ask the companies near their homes what substances are kept on site.

Collected under the federal Community Right to Know Act, the information was made available upon request by the state for decades to homeowners, the media or anyone else who wanted to know where dangerous chemicals were stored. But, as WFAA-TV recently reported, the Texas Department of State Health Services will no longer release the information because of the attorney general’s ruling.

Jun 30 2014

Sunday Train: Is There A Beam of Hope for Texas Rooftop Solar?

A few weeks back, I teased that I wanted to take a bit of a look at Texas Rooftop Solar in the Sunday Train (which is, recall, focused on Sustainable Transport & Energy, and so both not just about trains, and also not in favor of trains when the trains are advancing climate suicide) … and then the California budget passed and I went on a two week binge on California HSR.

But now its time to take that glance over at Texas Rooftop Solar. After all, you’d think that Texas would be an ideal state for rooftop solar, and for years we’ve been seeing articles about how Lone Star State Rooftop Solar would hit big “real soon now”. For instance, this, from 13 Jan, 2013: Solar Power Could See Explosive Growth in Texas over Coming Decades:

Still, solar is just a tiny sliver-less than 1 percent-of Texas’  electricity mix, which is dominated by coal (34 percent) and natural gas (45 percent). Wind, with a 9 percent share, is a giant compared to solar.

Yet, the economics are becoming increasingly favorable for solar to take off in a big way. The question is probably when, not if. And a recent analysis by ERCOT-the industry-funded, technocratic grid operator-has some very rosy projections for the future of the solar industry in Texas. (And some very sour news for nuclear, coal and maybe even natural gas.)

The analysis, first flagged by Colin Meehan of Environmental Defense Fund of Texas, looks at potential transmission needs in the next two decades. But, as Meehan wrote, ERCOT “found that if you use updated wind and solar power characteristics like cost and actual output to reflect real world conditions… wind and solar are more competitive than natural gas over the next 20 years.”

But if the future doesn’t start arriving, it might never get here, brought crashing down by the catastrophic impact of runaway climate crisis. So, what are the prospects that rooftop solar might really start hitting its stride really  soon now?

Jun 09 2014

Sunday Train: The Solar Fight, Is Going Right, Deep in the Heart of Texas …

Well, what do you know? I look around, and see a story saying Solar power gains momentum after long struggle in Texas. And not in “Grist” or “Solar Energy News!” or any such … but in the Dallas Morning News Business section from Wed, 4 June 2014.

According to the story,

Recurrent announced plans last month to build a 150-megawatt solar farm in West Texas after signing a 20-year power purchase deal with Austin Energy. That comes just months after First Solar, one of the world’s largest solar companies, began construction on a 22-megawatt farm near Fort Stockton with plans of eventually expanding to 150 megawatts.



And an even more dramatic acceleration could be ahead. Solar developers have been flooding the state’s grid operators with applications for more solar farms, close to 2,000 megawatts worth, said Warren Lasher, director of system planning for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. “It’s hard to say how much will actually get built,” he said. “It’s been this way for more than a year. But it’s a significant increase from before.”

Join me for utility scale solar PV, utility scale solar thermal, onshore wind, offshore wind, and grid integration …  below the fold.

Aug 12 2012

Rant of the Week: Brent Wilkins, David Dayen and Cenk Uygur

Texas executes mentally retarded man

by Brett Wilkins

Ignoring its own ruling that prohibits the execution of mentally retarded individuals, the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the appeal of a Texas man with an IQ of 61 convicted of murdering a police drug informant.

Following the high court’s denial, 54-year-old Marvin Wilson was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. [..]

Wilson’s attorneys based their appeal on the fact that his IQ was determined to be 61, well below 70, the threshold for mental retardation. Wilson’s IQ places him in the very bottom 1% of individuals for intellectual capacity. His reading and writing level was determined to be that of a 7-year-old child’s, and he could not hold down a job or even properly dress himself.

In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the US Supreme Court ruled that executing such individuals was a violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

But Texas simply redefined retardation, based in part on the fictional character Lennie Small from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.”

In establishing what are known as the Briseno factors, which Texas uses to determine whether an individual is retarded or not, the state implicitly asserts that anyone less mentally impaired than Steinbeck’s Lennie is fit for execution.

Steinbeck’s son Thomas slammed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for using Lennie as a benchmark to determine who should be executed.

Scalia Denies Stay, Allows Execution of Mentally Retarded Man in Texas

by David Dayen

The Supreme Court justices have jurisdiction over various regions of the country when it comes to injunctions, particularly when it comes to stays of execution. In the case of Marvin Wilson, the mentally retarded man with an IQ of 61 and an intelligence level of a 6 year-old, set to die today in Texas in conjunction with a murder conviction, that appeal had to go through none other than Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia wrote a dissent (pdf) in the case of Atkins v. Virginia, which established the ban on executing the mentally retarded (Texas, like other states, got to set their own standards for what constitutes “retarded,” and as such plowed ahead with the execution of Wilson today). Scalia wrote that, because “Only the severely or profoundly mentally retarded, commonly known as idiots, enjoyed any special status under the law” in 1791, around the time of the establishment of the Eighth Amendment, he disagreed with the ruling. And so it should come as no surprise that he submitted this short response to the stay of Marvin Wilson today.

The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Scalia and by him referred to the Court is denied. The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

This condemns a man with a 61 IQ to death. Scalia wrote in his Atkins dissent, “Seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously upon nothing but the personal views of its members.” That’s my sentiment exactly. Scalia has a ruling which clearly states that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment. But Scalia doesn’t agree, so he decided to allow Texas to violate the ruling.

Why Do Some Americans Have Such Tremendous BLOOD LUST?

May 31 2012

Another Blue Dog Bites The Dust

Good news for the real left: an eight term House Democrat in the Texas 16th Congressional District went down in flames in a primary against former El Paso City Council representative:

Former city Rep. Beto O’Rourke bucked a nationwide trend Tuesday night by ousting eight-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the 16th Congressional District race.

In the final tally, O’Rourke beat Reyes by 23,248 votes to 20,427, or 50.5 percent to 44.4 percent.

Nationally, challengers rarely defeat incumbents in primary elections, and only a few exceptions have occurred so far this election cycle.

When the first numbers were posted earlier Tuesday evening — the results of early voting — O’Rourke had a healthy 51.3 percent to 43.3 percent lead, but Reyes was closing the gap as the evening progressed. However, he was not able to garner enough votes to push the race into a runoff election.

Rep. Reyes had the blessing of President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who personally reaffirmed an endorsement delivered earlier in a video. The voters obviously were ready for real change by voting for O’Rourke who is opposed to the war on drugs arguing that drug laws increase profits for Mexican drug cartels and increase violence, as well as, real job stimulus by supporting government sponsored projects and a full service Veterans Hospital.

Matt Stoller, writing at naked capitalism, had this to say about Reyes’ defeat:

There are many reasons to be happy that Reyes lost.  He is and was an awful Congressman, both stupid and craven.  As Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, Reyes did not know the group Hezbollah, and he didn’t know whether Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shia.  Reyes is a proponent of any number of authoritarian policies violating our civil liberties, and he is backed by predator drone cash.  So if you like militarizing, well, everything, then Reyes is your man.  And this has been the trend recently.

So it’s nice to see voters choose peace over war, and an end the war on drugs.  Now that a candidate won a significant race while arguing for drug decriminalization, it’s going to be increasingly more difficult for politicians to avoid debating the issue.  And that’s good.

The 16th CD is located in a heavily Democratic El Paso and since it creation in 1903 has had only one Republican representative who lasted just one term. So, in all probability Mr. O’Rourke will handily defeat his Republican Barbara Carrasco in November holding the seat and moving it left.

Take that Third Way Democrats. This is how you get real change.

Feb 28 2012

Setting the Stage for Keystone XL Approval

Is anyone surprised that the White House has given its blessing to Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline plan to build an portion of the oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas despite rejection of the company’s earlier application in January? After all the protests last year to stop the construction and the Republican congressional maneuvering to force the president’s decision, it certainly appears that the Republicans and the oil companies will win but that shouldn’t be a surprise considering this president’s penchant for siding with the ruling class against the best interests of the country’s needs. This project won’t create jobs or reduce the price of gas, not now or in the future:

“As the President made clear in January, we support the company’s interest in proceeding with this project, which will help address the bottleneck of oil in Cushing that has resulted in large part from increased domestic oil production, currently at an eight year high. Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production,” Carney said in a statement. [..]

But if the argument for building Keystone is to generate new oil within the United States and bring down gas prices, TransCanada’s plans don’t deliver. In fact, environmental groups say, TransCanada’s plans for Keystone mean more domestic oil will head overseas and a potential spike in gas prices. [..]

Kim Huynh, speaking for Friends of the Earth, accused the president of trying to have it both ways by touting his commitment to clean energy “while simultaneously shilling for one of the dirtiest industries on Earth” by endorsing the pipeline’s construction.

“What the administration seems to be missing is that the southern segment of this pipeline would exacerbate air pollution in refinery communities along the Gulf Coast and threaten our heartland with costly spills — all for oil that likely won’t make it to Americans’ gas tanks,” Huynh said in a statement.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of the International Program at the National Resources Defense Council, wrote in blog post:

So what exactly has TransCanada proposed today? TransCanada announced that it has let the State Department know that the company will submit a new application for a presidential permit for the northern portion of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from the border crossing in Montana to Steel City, Nebraska on the Kansas border where an already existing part of the pipeline starts. TransCanada would supplement this application with the proposed route through Nebraska after that has been determined in cooperation with Nebraska. But there is some question as to how long this would take since Nebraska does not currently have laws in place to do this assessment. TransCanada will then apply separately to the various federal and state permits for the southern portion of the pipeline from Cushing Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast.

Raw tar sands oil going from the Midwest to the Gulf for refining means serious pipeline safety issues for landowners and environmental justice impacts of tar sands refining. Concerns of Texas landowners over TransCanada’s high-handed attempts to take their land through eminent domain will all remain the same in the case of an Oklahoma to Texas tar sands pipeline.

And the southern route pipeline will still provide the main service to oil companies that Keystone XL would provide: it will divert tar sands from the Midwest to the Gulf, raising American oil prices and likely also gasoline prices. An Oklahoma to Texas tar sands pipeline will mean more tar sands converted to diesel and available for export overseas. It will mean less tar sands remaining in the US, even while Americans bear the risks of the pipeline.

Bill McKibben, who has led protests against Keystone XL, gave the following response to the news:

“Transcanada’s decision to build its pipe from Oklahoma to Texas is a nifty excuse to steal some land by eminent domain. It doesn’t increase tar sands mining because there’s still no pipe across the Canadian border, but it’s the usual ugly power grab and land grab by the fossil fuel industry — we’ll do what we can to stand by our allies in that arid and beautiful land.”

The plight of Texas land owners was highlighted in Brain Buetler’s Talking Points Memo:

Julia Trigg Crawford, 53, of Lamar County, TX faced similar pressure. On Friday, a judge voided a temporary restraining order she’d secured against TransCanada on the grounds that the company is threatening to build the pipeline across a portion of her 600 acre property that archaeological authorities say is teeming with Caddo nation artifacts. It also threatens a creek she uses to irrigate her land and wells her family uses for drinking water.

“I do not want my place to be a guinea pig on this,” she told my by telephone. Those practical concerns lay atop a more fundamental question of whether a for-profit company should be able to seize private land for profit.

“I’m looking out my window every hour,” Crawford said. “While they don’t have a permit to build anything, they have the right to start construction…. A foreign for profit pipeline was allowed to condemn my land without my being allowed to talk to a judge.” [..]

The result: protests in Paris, Texas against the pipeline, on Crawford’s behalf.

“You could check off 20 different kinds of boxes, politically, professionally, temperamentally,” Crawford said. “We had Occupiers, Tea Partiers. This is about rights as a landowner.”

A Nebraska landowner, Randy Thompson told TPM in the same article how he was harassed by Transcanada after he withdrew his permission to survey his farm land in 2007.

“Once I found out a little bit more about what was going on, I rescinded that permission,” Thompson told TPM by phone on Sunday. “[W]e did meet with them once, maybe a couple times. We told them, you don’t have a permit yet, so we absolutely do not want this thing on our property. So until you actually get a permit we have no reason to have any further discussion about this. They continually called me, like once a month or whenever they felt like it. Kept the pressure on us. Made us an offer, $9000. Whatever the offer was, we just don’t want the damn thing on our property.” [..]

“In July 2010, we got a written letter from TransCanada, they told us if you don’t accept this within 30 days, we’re going to immediately start eminent domain proceedings against you,” Thompson said. “They didn’t say anything about a permit. I tried to contact the Governor’s office. All I got back was a form letter talking about the pipeline.”

If the White House thought for even a nanosecond that this would blunt Republican criticism of Pres. Obama, they are as deluded as the Republicans who say this will reduce the price of gas:

House Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, said he will continue to stress that the Obama administration is blocking construction of the entire pipeline, which would carry oil from the tar sands of western Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

“The president is so far on the wrong side of the American people that he’s now praising the company’s decision to start going around him,” Boehner said in a statement.

“But he can’t have it both ways,” Boehner said. “If the president thinks this project is good for America, he knows how to make it happen right away. Until he does, he’s just standing in the way of getting it done.”

The only thing that completing the southern portion of the pipeline will do is ease the glut of oil that is being stored in the Midwest. It won’t lower the price of gas because that oil will be exported to the global market where it will be resold at a higher price. That will drive up prices in the Midwest where gas prices have been kept low because of the lack of the pipeline.

The reality is oil prices will continue to be artificially high by the saber rattling over Iran. The best and easiest way for the President to immediately lower gas prices is to stop the phony rhetoric of a war with Iran. Repeat it loud and often, Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. That’ll work better than any environmentally unsafe pipeline.