AUSTIN –– All three members of the Texas Railroad Commission last week followed suit with the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker and state attorney general in protesting a federal air pollution rule proposed in August.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is meant “to reduce interstate transport of ozone and fine particle pollution from the air.” If it takes effect in its present form, the rule would tighten operating methods and oversight of industries in Texas and other states generating emissions that blow into other states.
In their October 25 letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the commissioners wrote that the oil and gas industry in Texas would be significantly impacted and result in an expansion of EPA’s authority to regulate and control oil and natural gas activities in Texas and other states.
“Here we go again with EPA trying to stifle one of this nation’s top job creators—the oil and gas industry in Texas, which supports 2 million Texas jobs, Railroad Commission Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones said in an agency press release. “The Commission has been effectively regulating our oil and gas producers since 1919 and we do not need EPA hampering our efforts to boost this nation’s domestic energy production.”
Meanwhile, in energy-related news, the average rig count in Texas as of October 21 was 905, representing about 46 percent of all active land rigs in the United States. In the last 12 months, Texas total reported production was 374 million barrels of oil and 7.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the Railroad Commission reported.
Drought measures on ballot
Seventy-three percent of Texas is still in exceptional drought and though September was not nearly as hot and dry as the past few months, the period from April to September is the hottest and driest period since 1895.
Also, 229 counties have burn bans and 1 in 5 (941) of the state's public water supply systems have been impacted by the drought and statewide reservoir storage is declining and is at a record low of 60 percent. So said Mark Wentzel of the Texas Water Development Board at the agency’s October 20 meeting. And the outlook is for the drought to persist into next year.
Two of the 10 propositions on the Nov. 8 election ballot would amend the Texas Constitution to address the state’s chronic water deficit. Democratic State Sens. Kirk Watson of Austin, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville said the two measures, if approved by voters, will “help protect water supplies for Texans, our children, and future generations.”
The three lawmakers jointly stated on October 20, “If there's any lesson from this terrible drought, it’s that nothing is more important to Texas than a clean, reliable water supply. And on November 8, you'll have the chance to protect it.”
Prop. 2 would allow the state to issue bonds that will provide money to partner with cities, counties and other local entities to create water, sewer and flood control projects. The total amount of bonds could not exceed $6 billion outstanding at any time.
Prop. 8 would enact a law passed in the legislative session that ended in May, encouraging landowners to manage their property to conserve water and improve water quality.
Arson cases to be reviewed
The Texas Forensic Science Commission on October 28 approved the creation of a program to review past arson cases.
Under the program, reviews are to be conducted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office (part of the Texas Department of Insurance since 1997) and Innocence Project of Texas, a non-profit organization dedicated to securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas.
A primary subject of review will be the controversial case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a Corsicana man convicted of the 1991 deaths of his three daughters in a fire ruled arson. Willingham was executed in 2004.
The commission's recommendations include the creation of a questionnaire for inmates convicted of arson to see if their cases are worth reviewing. The panel also recommended a review of death certificates in cases where the murder charge is listed as arson, new certification criteria for expert witnesses, adding rules and regulations to prevent the use of outdated science and improving the quality of testimony and analysis.