AUSTIN — A crowd of Texans gathered peacefully outside of Austin city hall beginning on Oct. 5 to launch a multi-day, non-partisan public demonstration titled “Occupy Austin.”
Sign-waving and banner-carrying people and speakers expressed their views on such topics as government bailouts, home foreclosures, lack of job opportunities, corporate greed, hard-to-repay loans and general economic gloom.
Similar events emerged in other cities across the nation, inspired by the world media attention-grabbing “Occupy Wall Street” gathering that began in New York, N.Y. on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.
The Austin crowd, swelling to more than 1,000 at times, generated a carnival-like atmosphere with cautious police on scene. Many participants identified themselves as “The 99%” — meaning those who would not be classified as in the top 1 percent of Americans, by wealth. By the third day of Occupy Austin, and with long-awaited rain falling intermittently, the number of demonstrators ebbed and flowed, sometimes shrinking to fewer than 200. But on the morning of Oct. 10, the Columbus Day holiday, a crowd had assembled again at the city hall plaza.
Austin police closely monitored the demonstration, prepared to enforce the city’s ordinance that prohibits the use of a public area to carry on cooking activities, dig, store personal belongings, make a camp fire or use a tent, other shelter or vehicle for a living accommodation.
EPA proposes looser air rule
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 6 proposed a tweak to its Cross State Air Pollution Rule that would allow Texas to emit more smoke than originally approved from its coal-fired power plants.
Gov. Perry issued a statement following the EPA’s announcement, saying, “The changes proposed today by the EPA prove there are undeniable flaws with the CSAPR rule that would cause job losses and higher energy costs with no definite environmental benefit to Texas. The EPA added Texas in the 11th hour, circumventing the appropriate comment period for this rule without regard to the harm it would cause to Texas families and employers. We will continue to fight the job killing mandates passed down by this administration and the unelected bureaucrats at the EPA.”
The Dallas-based power company Luminant called the EPA proposal “a step forward” but said the proposed revisions would have to undergo an analysis.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Abbott reiterated his and the governor’s position that the CSAPR regulations “threaten job losses for hardworking Texans undermine electric reliability for Texas families.” But Abbott went further, asserting, “making minor technical corrections cannot make these regulations lawful.” Abbott’s office said plans are to continue the state’s legal challenge to the federal clean air rules.
Personnel changes at agencies
Deirdre Delisi on Oct. 6 resigned as chair of the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, the agency that oversees the statewide activities of the Texas Department of Transportation. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Delisi chair in April 2008. Her term was to expire in February 2013.
Gov. Perry on Oct. 7 promoted Texas Transportation Commission member Ted Houghton to the chairmanship, replacing Delisi.
Houghton was appointed to the Commission in 2003 by Perry and reappointed in 2009. The El Paso native is self-employed in the financial services industry and he is the first resident of El Paso to serve on the Commission.
In late September, the Texas Transportation Commission selected former Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson as executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, effective Oct. 17.
Wilson, currently a high level executive for the power company Luminant, also has chaired the Governor’s Competitiveness Council and served on Gov. Perry’s staff. Wilson succeeds Amadeo Saenz as chief executive of the 12,000-employee agency. Saenz, who had held the post since 2007, retired at the end of August after 33 years with TxDOT.
Wildfire assistance made available
Victims of wildfires may apply for disaster unemployment assistance with the Texas Workforce Commission as a result of an expansion of the Presidential Disaster Declaration, FEMA 4029, the agency announced recently.
Assistance now is to include workers who lost their jobs and self-employed individuals who have been unable to work due to wildfires in Anderson, Caldwell, Fayette, Henderson, Hill and Rusk counties. Similar unemployment assistance previously was approved for Bastrop, Cass, Colorado, Gregg, Grimes, Harrison, Houston, Leon, Marion, Montgomery, Smith, Travis, Upshur, Walker, Waller and Williamson counties.
To apply for assistance the toll-free number to call is 800-939-6631 and the website is ui.texasworkforce.org.