News briefs from Austin, the region, and
Generation Plan Needs You
The Austin Energy 2020 generation plan proposal, two years in the making, will soon go before City Council for a final vote. But before that happens, the mayor is hosting a public forum on Monday night, Feb. 22, to ensure ample opportunity for everyone to ask questions and have their say. The exchange, moderated by community activist Jim Walker, could be lively, as passions have flared between those who believe the proposed plan doesn't go far enough to wean AE off coal and those who believe it will cost too much. (The Austin American-Statesman has collaborated with KLRU and KUT-FM on a report trying to delve into the complicated issues surrounding the future of energy in Austin. Austin @ Issue: Energy for the Future will air Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7:30pm on KLRU and at 8pm on KUT 90.5FM.) Participants on Monday will include AE General Manager Roger Duncan as well as representatives from industrial, environmental, and low-income stakeholder groups – plus you. Attendees will be able to ask questions via text, so bring your cell phone (note cards and pencils will also be provided). Forum: Monday, Feb. 22, 6pm, Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd. For more on the plan, see www.austinsmartenergy.com. – Nora Ankrum
Texas to Take EPA to Court
Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced plans on Feb. 16 to take legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency. In December, the EPA issued an "endangerment finding" that greenhouse gases threaten public health; the state of Texas and a coalition of eight national trade associations will be challenging that finding in the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a press release, Perry cited the need "to protect the Texas economy and the jobs that go with it, as well as defend Texas' freedom." He said he was acting in the interests of farmers, ranchers, and small businesses (no mention of the oil industry, a major source of funding for his re-election campaign). Abbott claimed the EPA's endangerment finding is legally unsupported, because the agency used a scientific assessment from the International Panel on Climate Change, which he called "scandal-plagued" due to a recent controversy over hacked e-mails. In a press release, Environment Texas' Luke Metzger replied: "Gov. Perry should win an Olympic medal for taking the environment downhill. Global warming is the greatest environmental threat facing Texas and the planet and Gov. Perry's obstructionism puts the state at great risk. We have the technology and resources to be the world leader in clean energy, but instead the Governor is putting the interests of the oil industry ahead of the welfare of Texas families." – Katherine Gregor
Congress Avenue: Good or Great?
An upcoming event organized by the Downtown Austin Alliance and eight partner groups will tackle the topic of Enhancing the Congress Avenue Experience. Participants will consider Congress Avenue's role as the "Main Street of Texas," asking how it measures up to "the standards of the great public streets in the greatest cities of the world" and exploring what can be done if it's found lacking. The Feb. 26 event will be split into two segments: The morning design charrette (8-11:30am) will be free to the public; the follow-up luncheon (11:30am-1:30pm) costs $35. Both take place at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, 701 Congress. Max Reim of Live Work Learn Play LLP will be the featured luncheon speaker, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A; visit www.downtownaustin.com to RSVP by the Feb. 22 deadline. – K.G.
UT Budget: From Bad to Worse
The University of Texas at Austin has been dealt a $7 million blow in its attempts to find Gov. Rick Perry's requested 5% savings in its general revenue budget. The university had initially been asked to find $29 million over the next two fiscal years, but then the UT system offered to cut that sum to $22 million by absorbing some costs. On Feb. 15, UT President Bill Powers told the UT Faculty Council that the offer had been withdrawn, and the search was on for $29 million again. All state agencies that receive general revenue had to submit their own cost-cutting plans to the Legislative Budget Board by Feb. 16. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, for instance, proposes cutting its already meager land acquisition budget, while the Department of Criminal Justice plan includes slashing vital rehabilitative programs such as addiction treatment and mental health services, as well as eliminating a 10th of its correctional officer positions. The cuts will be less traumatic for Perry: Most of his office's savings will come from his discretionary Texas Enterprise Fund. – R.W.
Hamilton to the Rescue
In Capital Metro's attempts to get its financial crisis under control, the transit agency is now reaching for the big guns. Last week, Cap Metro announced it had hired Billy Hamilton, who had a reputation as a financial genius during his days as the state's deputy comptroller, as a consultant. Hamilton served the state from 1999 to 2006, under comptrollers John Sharp and Carole Keeton Strayhorn. "Billy Hamilton is one of the most highly respected financial experts in the state, if not the entire country," said Cap Metro interim president/CEO Doug Allen. "He will serve Capital Metro and the citizens of our service area well as we focus on this important initiative and strengthen our agency for the future." Hamilton's contract will last for six months at an estimated cost of between $38,000 and $50,000; a Cap Metro spokesperson said the contract will be paid from staff vacancy savings and reduced consultant fees. – Lee Nichols
Shami: The Hits Keep Coming
It's been a tough week for Farouk Shami, a Democratic primary candidate for governor. During a Feb. 12 taping of Inside Texas Politics, he followed Republican gubernatorial wannabe Debra Medina down the 9/11 conspiracy rabbit hole by saying he was not sure about the U.S. government's involvement with the 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks. The hair-care product manufacturer then told host Brad Watson, "You don't find white people who are willing to work in factories." This was all overshadowed by a furious Feb. 16 e-mail exchange between his policy team and his press team complaining about unsanctioned press releases from Shami supporters. The anonymous e-mail author described them as "amateurs with aol.com email addresses sending out these awful statements" before asking, "Seriously, can we hunt these people down and muzzle them?" Unfortunately for team Shami, someone accidentally forwarded the memo to the entire Capitol press corps. The following morning, Shami's top three staffers, including campaign director Vince Leibowitz, all quit. For more on Democratic primary season, see "Primary Intelligence: State and Local Races."