Vol 29, Issue 32 Print Issue

Electricity transmission lines in Houston.
Electricity transmission lines in Houston.

Electricity Concerns Persist After Pollution Ruling

With temperatures projected to soar during the final days of August, the state of the Texas electric grid will once again be on policymakers’ minds — though some reliability concerns may be eased since a federal court struck down an EPA rule that could have affected coal plants.

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

A federal appeals court ruled that an Environmental Protection Agency policy went outside statutory bounds in its attempt to regulate air pollution across state boundaries. The EPA crafted the cross-state rule to apply to power plant emissions that would be carried over state lines. State officials and power plant operators argued the rule would be detrimental to the state’s power grid by reducing production capacity of the affected plants.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave Texas the green light to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood clinics pending the outcome of an upcoming trial on the issue. A law passed in the last session cuts off funding to any clinic linked to abortion providers, although no state money went to pay for abortions. Planned Parenthood received state money through the Women’s Health Program to provide health services to about 130,000 low-income women, including cancer screenings. Federal dollars previously made up 90 percent of the funding for the program.

A state district judge ruled that a group representing charter schools could remain a party to the school finance lawsuits set for trial in October. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund had asked that the charter school group, Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, known as TREE, be excluded from the lawsuit, contending that its concerns were legislative and not constitutional. But Judge John Deitz sided with TREE, allowing the lawsuit to proceed as planned.

Gov. Rick Perry told state agencies that the new federal policy of deferred action announced by the Obama administration in June would not confer any new state benefits to those who qualify for the two-year deportation reprieve. In a letter to state agencies, Perry emphasized that illegal immigrants still may not receive state services because of the plan. Perry criticized the policy, but didn’t go as far as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who issued an executive order denying benefits and driver’s licenses to those eligible for the program.

Galveston faces a Sept. 1 deadline to present a plan to replace public housing damaged by Hurricane Ike or lose state and federal funds. The state notified Mayor Lewis Rosen the city would be required to pay back $56 million in state funds if the terms of the program are not met. The city also faces a threat from the federal government to withhold aid if the deadline is missed. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified officials in Galveston that $586 million in disaster payments is on the line and the city could also be sued by the U.S. Justice Department if it doesn’t comply with the terms of the grants. City officials are pessimistic that they’ll be able to get a plan in place by the deadline to replace 569 public housing units.

For the first time in six years, the Houston Housing Authority has opened access to the voucher program that provides assistance to low-income families. Online applications flooded in for the 20,000 spots, necessitating a lottery to determine which of the expected 125,000 applications will be selected. The waiting list only guarantees that the applicant will be eligible to receive assistance when a current recipient of assistance no longer qualifies. 

A predicted El Niño developing in the Pacific could lead to much-needed rainfall for the state this winter. El Niño raises tropical temperatures and tends to lead to wetter weather for Texas. The state’s climatologist characterized the current El Niño as weak to moderate and warned that the increased rainfall is likely, but not guaranteed.

Political People and their Moves

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus announced that Frank Battle will serve as his general counsel and House ethics advisor. Battle has previously served as general counsel and policy advisor to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and worked in the House before he took that job.

Straus also named Shalla Santos the new assistant parliamentarian and special counsel. Santos will work alongside Chris Griesel, who has served as parliamentarian since 2011.

This is partly connected to that: Dewhurst hired Constance Allison as senior policy advisor, Bryan Hebert as general counsel, Lauren Hensarling as scheduler and Matt Hirsch as press secretary. Allison most recently served as the chief of staff for Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who is retiring after this term. Hebert, who worked previously for the lieutenant governor, most recently served as co-founder and executive director of the Texas Conservative Roundtable. Hensarling served as the director of constituent services for Straus. And Hirsch was the communications director for Dewhurst’s recent U.S. Senate campaign.

Chuck McDonald is handling communications for Paul Sadler’s U.S. Senate campaign, signing on to help the Democrat while also keeping his public affairs business. McDonald works mainly for corporate clients now, but has lots of politics — notably working for then-Gov. Ann Richards — on his resume. 

Democrat Lyndon Laird dropped out of the SD-22 race against Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, leaving the incumbent without a major party opponent. Libertarian Tom Kilbride is still in the race. 

Gov. Rick Perry named Bill O’Neal of Carthage as the Texas state historian. O’Neal is an award-winning nonfiction author and a history instructor at Panola College.

Perry has also appointed Anna Hundley of Dallas and Calvin Turner of Austin to the State Independent Living Council, and Stephen Gersuk of Plano to the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP added Erika Benson as a partner in the firm’s Austin office. Benson, a former senior advisor for the Americas in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, has more than 13 years of experience in energy, government relations and Latin America law.