Editorial Roundup: Texas

Houston Chronicle. Nov. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Resign, Craddick and Christian. Regulators misled about winter storm and failed to prevent another

Nine months ago, Wayne Christian was standing in his dark house, wearing three layers of coats to keep warm, one of millions of Texans who lost power from a ferocious winter storm. On the morning of Feb. 17, Christian, the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state’s natural gas industry, phoned into the agency’s emergency Zoom meeting to test drive a statement that could spin the crisis in favor of oil and gas.

“The takeaway from this storm should not be the future of fossil fuels, but the dangers of subsidizing and mandating intermittent, unreliable forms of energy at the expense of using our resources to make the grid more resilient to extreme weather events,” Christian said.

It took less than 24 hours for the statement to become gospel — and for wind and solar, which played bit parts in the winter storm tragedy, to be cast as arch villains.

Long before public officials could take inventory of the storm’s damage — as many as 700 people dead, more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses, including 1.4 million in the Houston area, were without power for days — Christian’s chief goal seemed to have nothing to do with protecting Texans and everything to do with protecting industry, and his political career. In email responses, he doubled down on absolving the natural gas industry, according to the Texas Tribune, even including his statement in a newsletter to his political supporters.

Meanwhile, Christian’s fellow commissioner and the agency’s former chairwoman, Christi Craddick, declared that the industry did not need to uniformly weatherize — “one-size-fits-all is always a challenge for us,” she told the Legislature. She told a U.S. House committee in March that the oil and gas industry were not the problem, but rather “the solution.”

“Any issues of frozen (natural gas) equipment could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages,” Craddick said. (The RRC’s third commissioner, Jim Wright, was elected last November, and had only been in office a short time when the storm struck.)

Running interference was the last thing Texas or the natural gas industry needed from state regulators. Consumers as well as everyone involved in keeping the lights on in Texas needed one thing above all else from their government officials: the truth. And the truth of Winter Storm Uri was that a sudden cold snap brought Texas’ vaunted independent power grid to within minutes of a weeks-long collapse, not primarily because wind energy is unreliable, nor because gas companies bungled paperwork.

Texans died because our infrastructure wasn’t ready for even a three-day cold spell. It wasn’t ready because the companies that build and maintain that infrastructure hadn’t done the necessary weatherizing to prepare for extreme cold. They hadn’t done it, in part, because no one in government told them they had to.

Christian and Craddick misled Texans about the causes of the deadly blackouts. They’ve failed to insist that gas suppliers make urgent investments to winterize facilities and equipment. As such, the commissioners have left us in danger of another grid disaster.

For that, they should resign.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency released a 300-page report earlier this month, concluding that while all parts of the energy industry shouldered blame for the blackout, natural gas operators’ frozen equipment cut off twice as much gas supply as the utilities’ rolling blackouts and downed power lines. According to the report, the gas industry’s failure to weatherize caused nearly 60 percent of power outages to occur at natural gas-fired plants, rebuking Craddick’s testimony.

After a similar statewide blackout in 2011, the same federal agency recommended weatherizing both power plants and the natural gas supply. Those warnings were ignored and history repeated itself.

In a statement to the editorial board, Craddick stood by her testimony to lawmakers and Congress, asserting the federal report “begs more questions than answers.” Christian’s spokesman said he’s “working on a full response on this subject and will have that ready following the commission’s open meeting on Nov. 30.”

More than two-thirds of the campaign donations to the sitting commissioners have come from oil and gas allies, according to Commission Shift, an activist group campaigning for more stringent ethics rules. The group raises a good question: If all three commissioners are permitted to trade oil and gas stocks, why would they crack down on an industry that keeps them flush with cash?

We know the answer. And we know the consequences of an agency rife with conflicts of interest: Texas is as vulnerable to a potential blackout as it was a year ago. A recent analysis from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas found that the state could be in for a repeat of last winter’s storm, with widespread outages if the cold forces power plants offline at times of peak electricity demand.

ERCOT acknowledged that some power plants have improved their weatherization, but largely on their own volition. While the Legislature passed changes to shore up the power grid, its implementation is left to the Railroad Commission, which has allowed broad discretion, leniency and minimal fines. Case in point: a proposed rule, to be finalized at the Nov. 30 meeting, lets natural gas producers obtain a weatherization exemption for a mere $150.

Outraged lawmakers are demanding commissioners scrap the rule. If they had any concern for Texans’ safety, they would listen.

How many more times will Texas have to suffer through massive outages before the commission fulfills its duty? Gov. Greg Abbott installed new leadership at ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, with officials in place who at least appear to be taking winter preparations seriously.

The governor doesn’t have the same power to clean house at the Railroad Commission. That’s why it’s up to Craddick and Christian to resign.

Craddick was always a dubious fit for the job, given her family’s financial ties to the natural gas industry. Her attempt to influence state and federal policy by peddling oil and gas fan fiction just confirmed her true loyalty is not to voters.

Christian, the Patient Zero for this infectious narrative on the culpability of renewable energy, faces re-election next year, if he doesn’t resign. We’re looking for a challenger who sees Texas’ success in developing wind energy and other renewable fuels as a complement to oil and gas sectors, rather than as the object of “clean energy fantasies” as Chrisitan put it recently.

Here in the Lone Star State, we’ve learned not to expect much from public servants elected to police industry. But should we settle for regulators who have ignored calls for reforms after two storms, who have prioritized industry’s bottom line — and their own political careers — over protecting Texans’ lives and businesses from blackouts, and who, as we speak, are preparing to loosen weatherization rules as winter approaches and Texas’ power grid is as vulnerable as ever?

We shouldn’t. This is nobody’s idea of good government — or even competent government. Not even in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News. Nov. 28, 2021.

Editorial: New Bible translation has a Texas touch

Eight Texans rewrote the Bible, but in a good way.

The New Revised Standard Version, one of the most popular translations of the Bible ever published, got an update recently. The NRSVUE (updated edition) was released to publishers Nov. 16, according to Religion News Service. Print editions should start hitting shelves next year.

The NRSV is curated by Friendship Press, a subsidiary of the National Council of Churches, which includes dozens of denominations representing 30 million church members.

Bible translations are typically done by committees of scholars with expertise in ancient languages. This update was conducted by seven general editors and 56 book editors over a span of two years, according to the Friendship Press website.

One of those scholars was Deirdre Fulton, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Baylor University. Fulton is an expert on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. She has written extensively on those works and is currently working on a commentary. She said it was “just an amazing experience” to work on the update, both because she enjoys working with ancient texts but also because of the importance of her task.

“You just don’t take it lightly,” she said.

Throughout history, new Bible translations have been fairly rare, but they exploded in the 20th century. Now, the popular YouVersion smart phone app includes 67 English translations. But updates to a major version don’t happen often. These are translations of sacred texts, after all. Not iPhones. The NRSV arrived in 1989 as an update to the Revised Standard Version which was published in 1946.

The NRSVUE was created with consideration for “modern sensibilities” that identify people less by their circumstances. For instance, “slave woman” is now rendered “enslaved woman.” And “demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics,” now reads “people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis.” It is also informed by recent scholarship and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Fulton told us the process for proposing updates was stringent. To suggest the change of a single word, she would write a multipage argument using many scholarly sources. And many of those arguments were rejected by the project’s editorial committee.

Eight of the scholars who worked on this update are Texans, representing Baylor, Southern Methodist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Rice University, Texas Christian University and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

“We have amazing biblical scholars in Texas,” Fulton said. “The I-35 corridor is just awesome.”

If you’re looking for a flashy, headline-grabbing bunch, scholars in ancient languages are not a good place to start. But we’re glad Texas scholars are among those doing this sensitive and important work that will impact generations to come.

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San Antonio Express-News. Nov. 25, 2021.

Editorial: The ’Runners add to magic of this season

On Saturday, had UTSA quarterback Frank Harris not picked up the ball, which he’d fumbled after it was snapped from the 1-yard line, the Roadrunners still would have lived to play another game — two, in fact, when you count the bowl game to which they’ll be invited.

But because Harris did pick up the ball and toss it into the end zone — where, despite being tipped by a University of Alabama of Birmingham defender, it fell into the welcoming hands of tight end Oscar Cardenas for the game-winning touchdown as time ran out — UTSA’s quest for football perfection continues.

Harris’ end-of-game heroics added to the legend that will forever be a part of UTSA’s historic and magical 2021 football season.

San Antonio is a city whose residents wear the colors of countless college alma maters, but we’re all one in cheering, loving and wearing the blue and orange. The pride of the 210 area code, now 11-0 and ranked 15th in the nation, closes out its regular season this week against the University of North Texas before hosting the Conference USA title game Dec. 3 in the Alamodome.

Through the course of this season, UTSA has steadily drawn intense communitywide interest and sparked excitement unprecedented for a local sports team not named the Spurs. Along with Georgia and Cincinnati, they are now one of only three unbeaten major college football teams in the country. Roadrunners head coach Jeff Traylor, stars Harris and running back Sincere McCormick have caught the attention of the national media, including the Saturday college football game shows and the Washington Post, which profiled them last week.

This kind of success and acclaim was dreamed of when UTSA kicked off its inaugural football season in 2011, but how many of those dreamers imagined it would happen this quickly?

The one off-the-field hiccup threatening to damper the enthusiasm of this amazing season came about as a result of this amazing season. With the team’s success each week also came the certainty of larger football programs making job offers to Traylor that UTSA would be unable to match. But with rumors that Texas Tech was making a play for him, Traylor and UTSA removed the threat by agreeing to a 10-year extension worth $28 million.

Traylor may be building a dynasty whose fans expect and become used to seasons like this, à la the Spurs. Or, years from now, this will be looked upon as the pinnacle of the football program.

That doesn’t matter right now. Continue to revel in the wondrous season with which Traylor, his coaching staff and the players have gifted us. Enjoy the spirit and the magic while dreaming blue-and-orange-tinted dreams. Birds Up!

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Victoria Advocate. Nov. 25, 2021.

Editorial: State-mandated ballot language potentially mislead voters and should be changed

If you cast a ballot this month for Bloomington school district’s bond proposal, you surely saw some language — mandated by the state to be there — that may have led you to change your vote.

Required as part of landmark 2019 school finance bill passed by the Texas Legislature, the language “This is a property tax increase” is required on every ballot with a school district bond proposal of any kind.

For the Bloomington school district’s $1.1 million bond proposal, which largely would’ve funded additional security measures and improvements to trade facilities on the district’s campuses, the language was present even though a tax increase was not being considered.

It is entirely possible the language may have misled voters in the final hours of an already low-turnout election, which ultimately concluded with voters rejecting the proposal.

It is not a stretch that a handful changed their vote while first reading the ballot. When only 136 people vote, a handful is all it takes to change the outcome

The solution is simple: Texas lawmakers must make this language reflect was is being proposed. If there is a tax increase, say so. If there is not, don’t mention the non-existent increase.

Will Holleman, the assistant director of the Texas Association of School Boards, said the majority of school board elections do include an increase in the district’s property taxes. However, like what happened in Bloomington, there are some elections where the sweeping language does not correlate with what is on the ballot.

Ballot language should be unquestionably neutral and accurate to yield the appropriate outcome. If the bond were to fail, it should be on the merits of the proposal, not because of outside factors.

The district proposed using $1.1 million of about $1.6 million in its interest and sinking funds accrued from previous bonds passed by voters, covering the entirety of costs without raising taxes.

The goals of the proposal are not outlandish. In a time where school shootings are on the rise, additional security for campuses should be an easy initiative for people to get behind. Investing in renovating aging trade facilities that help students pursue well-paying professions is worth the investment, especially when it comes without a hike in taxes.

When this proposal is brought up again, we hope school officials do a better job of informing voters of their goals and the need for the confusing language.

We hope, also, that Bloomington voters look past the language when the bond proposal comes back up next year.

Most importantly, we urge legislators to change this over-board language requirement.

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Abilene Reporter News. Nov. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Finding thanks during a tragic holiday week

If we look beyond ourselves this Thanksgiving, we quickly see how easy it is not to be grateful.

There is so much sadness and wrong pulling at us.

On a bright Monday afternoon, football fans gathered at the Mustang Bowl in Sweetwater to cheer their teams.

High school football hardly ever is played Mondays. When it’s not, most often the game has been postponed — usually because of weather.

This was one, too. But for a horrific reason.

Tragedy strikes

Late Friday afternoon, Andrews High School buses were traveling to Sweetwater for a playoff game against Springtown. It was a 130-mile drive east, through Big Spring, for Andrews fans. It was 180 miles west, through Abilene, for those supporting the Porcupines.

Two Andrews buses were struck by a pickup traveling the wrong way on Interstate 20. Killed were its driver and bus driver Marc Boswell, along with band director Darin Johns. Johns has ties to the Abilene, Ballinger and Jim Ned school districts, and was an Abilene Christian University alum.

Those who knew Johns, 53, spoke highly of him. His reputation transcended being a music teacher.

Others, including Johns’ wife but mostly students, were injured, some seriously.

The crash was followed over the weekend by another wrong-way crash on I-20 that left two more dead in Taylor County.

It’s happened before

The Andrews tragedy brings to mind the December 2016 crash involving an Iraan ISD bus that killed its cheerleader sponsor and injured seven on the cheer team.

In this instance, they were returning home from a playoff game the team had won.

That crash came before Christmas. The Braves played next at Shotwell Stadium, beating Wellington to advance to the state title game.

The latest tragedy struck just days before Thanksgiving.

How can we be thankful?

It’s understandable if those in Andrews have difficulty giving thanks.

But consider the outpouring of support.

The Sweetwater band subbed for Andrews at halftime of the game Monday, and student musicians from Big Spring, where the crash occurred, joined them in the stands. That was wonderful to see.

On Friday night, prayers were given at playoff games around the area for those affected by the crash.

A PA announcer’s encouragement to fans to drive safety home really hit home. We sometimes take that for granted in the excitement of traveling to a playoff game.

Nothing against Springtown, but many folks were pulling for Andrews to win Monday. The Mustangs lost, and we wish the best for the Porcupines team that participated in a tough situation.

And not just here

Beyond West Texas, we’ve witnessed chaos, too.

On Sunday, five were killed and almost 50 injured when an SUV hurtled through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The driver — charged with 16 crimes since 1999, the Detroit News reported — apparently was leaving the scene of a domestic disturbance, police reported.

Meanwhile, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in the fatal shooting of two people and injury to a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020 sparked riots and protests in other cities.

As other trials work their way to a verdict, including the closely watched Ahmaud Arbery trial, we brace for the decision. It seems that one way or another, there will be reaction.

Let’s not forget the 10 deaths at the Astroworld concert in Houston. One was 9-year-old boy. Some may ask, why was he there? That, of course, should be his parents’ decision, not one determined asked because public safety is an issue.

United we prevail

Still dealing with COVID and divided as ever, our nation limps to Thanksgiving this year. We wonder what we can do to get back on our feet again, to stand strong.

The answer, as always, is unity.

We can’t change what happened Friday in Big Spring. But we can react, as we have, with compassion and outreach and community.

This is West Texas and we remind everyone this is America.

We hope those who are hurting this day, wherever that may be, find thankfulness in their lives.

The rest of us should find a way to participate in that effort.

END