AUSTIN — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week announced its award of $57,041,000 to the Texas Water Development Board to support the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. The funds are for loan assistance to eligible water systems for infrastructure improvements needed “to ensure safe drinking water is available to Texas residents.” The fund program was established under the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 authorizing the EPA to award capitalization grants to states, which in turn are authorized to provide low-cost loans and other types of assistance to public water systems to finance the costs of infrastructure projects needed to achieve or maintain compliance with the act’s requirements.
States are also authorized to use a portion of their capitalization grants to fund a range of set-aside activities including source water protection, capacity development and operator certification. The program helps to ensure that the nation’s drinking water supplies remain safe and affordable and that public water systems that receive funding are properly operated and maintained, the EPA said.
In other news, President Obama appointed Ron Curry of New Mexico to head Dallas-based EPA Region 6, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. Curry is the first non-Texan to serve as director of the region since the EPA was created in 1970. Curry succeeds Al Armendariz who resigned six months ago.
Texas leads in job gain
Texas added 38,000 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in August, leading the nation in number of jobs gained for the month, the Texas Workforce Commission and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. Closest to Texas in monthly gains were Florida with 23,200 jobs gained, and Missouri with 17,900 jobs gained.
Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in August, the same as for the month of July. A year ago, Texas’ unemployment rate was tabulated at 8.1 percent. Texas’ job growth rate has been positive for 28 consecutive months and has been at or above 2.0 percent since December 2011, Texas Workforce Commission reported Sept. 21.
The largest over-the-year percentage gains in overall employment occurred in the states where oil and gas exploration are robust: North Dakota, 6.7 percent, followed by Oklahoma, 2.9 percent, and Texas, 2.5 percent.
‘FAST’ ratings released
Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Sept. 19 published the 2012 Financial Allocation Study for Texas ratings that chart academic progress and cost effectiveness in 1,136 public school districts and charter schools. Ratings are from one to five stars, in half-star increments. A district that achieves the highest rating of five stars ranks among the top 20 percent of all Texas school districts in academic progress, while keeping expenditures among the lowest 20 percent of fiscally comparable districts. Forty-five districts received the highest rating of five stars. Rating information for all Texas public school districts, campuses and charter schools, which is meant “to fairly compare the state’s diverse school districts” is available at http://www.FASTEXAS.org
Federal funds up for grabs
Texas Department of Transportation on Sept. 14 announced that Texas communities may apply for federal aid for their transportation related projects such as pedestrian and bicycle trails, roadway landscaping, water runoff abatements and historical preservation.
Up to $70 million in funding through the federal Transportation Enhancement Program is earmarked for cities across Texas. Selected projects are eligible for reimbursement of up to 80 percent of allowable costs, TxDOT said, and applications must be received by Nov. 16.
Radioactive cylinder missing
The Texas Department of State Health Services on Sept. 13 reported it is looking for a piece of equipment lost Sept. 11 by an oil and gas crew in a rural part of West Texas.
The stainless steel cylinder and attached plug about seven inches long and an inch across, contains Americium-241/Beryllium. The device is not considered highly radioactive but could expose someone who comes in close contact with it for an extended period of time to a harmful dose of radiation. “A Halliburton crew was transporting it from a well outside of Pecos to another well south of Odessa. On arrival, the crew noticed the shielding was not locked and the device was missing,” the health department reported.
High court justice resigns
Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright earlier this month announced his intention to leave the high court at the end of September to join an Austin law firm and return to private practice.