Beyond City Limits
Farmers around the world know it's common courtesy not to kill another farmer's livestock, but in Colorado, it's not only courtesy, it's the law – namely, the "open range" statute, passed in the 1880s and still binding today. So Austin-based businessman Jeff Hawn has hit headlines nationwide and is heading to court over allegations he had hired guns slaughter his neighbor's herd of domestically raised bison after they got onto his land in Park County, Colo. In a suit filed April 17, in Park Co. Combined Court, rancher Monte Downare claims that Hawn hired hunters to kill the bison and that their carcasses were left to rot over a wide area, including land not owned by Hawn. And in addition to Downare's private suit, Hawn and the hunters could face criminal charges. The Park County Sheriff's Office and district attorney are meeting Thursday to discuss the evidence. Hawn's Colorado lawyer was contacted for comment but did not return the call. – R.W.
As if coal plants weren't busy enough worsening climate change and smog, they also happen to be the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S., which is why the Sierra Club and Public Citizen went on the offensive this week, announcing a seven-state legal action to hold nearly 30 new and under-construction coal plants accountable for failing to include necessary mercury pollution controls. A potent neurotoxin, mercury is being increasingly linked to autism and a range of other illnesses and birth defects. The Sierra Club points to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showing that one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put a baby at risk. "There are affordable technologies widely available today that can substantially reduce mercury and other toxic pollution," said the club's environmental law director, Pat Gallagher, in a statement. "In their rush to build new coal plants, developers have turned a blind eye to these technologies and correspondingly the health of children everywhere." In Texas, notices of intent to sue were filed Monday against LS Power's Sandy Creek plant and TXU's two-unit Oak Grove coal plants, both northeast of Austin, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act. This comes on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling in February that tossed out lax Bush administration mercury regulations for coal plants. On Wednesday, the Lone Star Sierra Club held events at salons in Austin and Dallas to collect hair samples for mercury testing. Yours truly participated; results are expected in two weeks. See www.lonestar.sierraclub.org. – Dan Mottola
Gov. Rick Perry's April 30 decision to make his former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission has been met with muted optimism and even downright hostility from two members of the all-important Senate Committee on Nominations. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was cautiously receptive to naming Delisi (the daughter-in-law of Perry loyalist Rep. Diane White Delisi, R-Temple) and North Texas Tollway Authority Vice Chairman William Meadows to the oversight board for the Texas Department of Transportation. He said he hoped it signified an end to the "us versus them mentality at TxDoT." But GOP freshman Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, condemned Perry's choice and said he would vote against confirming Delisi. He called her a "political yes-man with little or no practical experience involving transportation issues other than carrying out the governor's myopic vision that relies solely on building more toll roads." – R.W.
Could the days of Republican dominance in Texas be coming to an end? As we've noted before, the GOP's majority in the Texas House of Representatives is down to a slender five (out of 150) seats. Another big prize for the Democrats would be cracking the complete stranglehold the Republicans have over every single statewide elected office – and on Monday, a poll by Rasmussen Reports indicates that Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega actually has a real shot at unseating incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Another Rasmussen poll shows what would have been pure fantasy just a couple of elections ago: Texas could actually be in play in the presidential race. In a telephone survey of 500 likely Texas voters on May 1, Cornyn polled at 47%, Noriega at 43%; the margin of error is plus/minus 4 points. In the presidential race (with the same sample and margin of error), Sen. John McCain polls at 49% vs. Sen. Hillary Clinton's 43%, and 48% vs. Sen. Barack Obama's 43%. – Lee Nichols