Dallas Morning News. September 9, 2023.
Editorial: Texans need to be more cautious with delta-8 THC
Popular cannabis products are largely untested.
Texas has wisely taken a slow and cautious approach by resisting calls to legalize marijuana for recreational use. We should be just as guarded when it comes to other products derived from the cannabis plant.
Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-8, is a compound that became legal in Texas in 2019. The chemical is similar to delta-9 THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Products with concentrations of more than 0.3% delta-9 THC are illegal in Texas and at the federal level.
Like marijuana, delta-8 is capable of causing a “high.” The immediate effects on the user are similar to those of delta-9, but little is known about the long-term impact of delta-8 products, which come in the form of gummies, tinctures or vape cartridges.
The Texas Department of State Health Services attempted to ban delta-8 in 2021, but after a company filed a lawsuit against the state, a judge allowed the products to remain on the shelves while the case was resolved. Oral arguments were heard in a Texas court earlier this week, but a final decision will take some time.
The last thing we need is to find out delta-8 products aren’t safe after so many Texans have used them.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that delta-8 products “have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context.” Companies that produce them might label their products as safe or medicinal, but Forbes reported in 2021 that most delta-8 products had misleading labels. The necessary oversight of these products still isn’t there.
Manufacturing delta-8 involves some heavy-duty processing. The FDA has said that it has concerns with harmful chemical contamination that can result from its production.
It’s difficult if not impossible for consumers to tell what’s actually in delta-8 products. Paired with labels with misleading statements about the products’ benefits, the widespread availability of delta-8 items in gas stations and smoke shops seems downright dangerous.
A January study analyzed negative health incidents from delta-8 reported in an FDA database. It found that the most commonly reported effects were labored breathing, respiratory disorders and seizures. The authors wrote that future research with reliable, comprehensive data can help identify the risks of these products and make them safer for use.
But that research isn’t in yet. This isn’t the first instance of a drug growing popular before it was really understood. On other occasions, it ended in disaster, and Texans would be remiss not to learn from that.
Around 2010, synthetic marijuana products like K2 and Spice ran wild in communities across the United States. At the time, our editorial board wasn’t thrilled with Dallas’ “premature” ban of the drugs. We were wrong. It soon became clear that the substances can be severely harmful.
While the legal battle over delta-8 continues and its future in Texas remains uncertain, Texans everywhere should be wary of these products.
Fort Worth Star Telegram. September 8, 2023.
Editorial: No pressure, Texas senators, but Paxton trial is test of our entire political system
The impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will be a national spectacle from the moment it begins Tuesday.
The allegations against Paxton are significant. Senators, serving as the jury, will be asked to determine whether Paxton abused his power and is fit to hold office.
But none of that is entirely why it matters so much. The trial could ultimately demonstrate whether the political system can police itself — and whether every question of import devolves merely into political considerations, often partisan ones.
Beyond Paxton, the senators and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who will preside, the trial is about whether the structures and procedures meant to keep equilibrium in our governing system can hold.
It’s a question ringing beyond Texas. Trust in our institutions has plummeted in recent years. We increasingly seek solutions to our political disputes in court, often in criminal trials. Partisan views of the results, rather than faith in the processes that ensure our delicate checks and balances, frame the discussions and debates over wrongdoing and fair play in our politics.
And yet, Paxton’s trial is unequivocally political. As Patrick has said, it is not a criminal or civil procedure, even if the calling of witnesses and rulings from a presiding “judge” give it that appearance.
That means it falls to 30 senators — Sen. Angela Paxton of Collin County, wife of the accused, is largely exempt from participation — to rise above the political warfare and truly determine what’s best for the state.
PAXTON SUPPORTERS VOW POLITICAL RETRIBUTION
It won’t be easy, particularly for Paxton’s fellow Republicans. His supporters, a fervent portion of the GOP base that tends to control primary elections, are not shy about the pressure they’ll bring. They want Paxton acquitted; many would even prefer that there be no trial, just an immediate dismissal of the charges. They pledge to bring a simmering split in the GOP out into the open, with lavishly funded primary charges against those lawmakers, House and Senate alike, who side against Paxton.
The evidence in the case already appears substantial, though. The House impeachment “managers” brought forth, in specific detail, a deluge of facts that are hard to explain away. The AG clearly extended himself and his office on behalf of Nate Paul, a developer who faces his own criminal charges. There is strong reason to believe that Paul handsomely rewarded Paxton for this aid.
But even if he didn’t — that is, even if bribes weren’t paid — consider the time and energy Paxton exerted on Paul’s behalf. Consider that the AG hired an unknown and untested lawyer, at state expense, to investigate the investigation of Paul. Consider that Paxton himself reportedly directed the outcome of a legal opinion that would help his donor.
Even if Paul didn’t pay for the granite countertops in the Paxtons’ Austin home renovation, the AG sure did twist a lot of procedures and norms on his behalf.
The Paxton side’s response has largely been to bemoan the impeachment process in the House, including the not-irrelevant facts that witnesses were not under oath and that the public portion of the impeachment unfolded rapidly in the last moments of the Legislature’s regular session.
Senators must focus on the evidence. And specifically, they must ask themselves: What legitimate reason was there for Paxton to work so hard on Paul’s behalf? Why would he seek to insert the state of Texas between Paul and federal investigators?
There’s also the question of credibility. Recall that this entered the House’s purview because Paxton asked for $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by whistleblowers who said they were wrongfully terminated. These were not low-level people or career functionaries with political axes to grind. They were top deputies, hired by Paxton and loyal to the AG until several of them perceived violations of law and ethics that they could not countenance.
As we’ve said before: Either they are all lying, with remarkable similarity and consistency, or Paxton is. And Paxton’s credibility is suspect. He entered office under a cloud over his sloppy, at best, business dealings before he was AG. While his apologists have always brushed that case aside, it’s much harder to do so with things he may have done in his capacity as a top state officer.
DON’T VOTE TO IMMEDIATELY DISMISS PAXTON CASE
Senators’ first task may be to ensure that they hear the full case. Paxton’s team is arguing that the case be dismissed, in part on a weak legal theory that state law prevents removal of an official for actions taken before his or her most recent election. The state Supreme Court has said that provision refers to actions taken before an official’s initial election. Besides, it doesn’t pass the smell test: Are we to believe that lawmakers really intended such a giant loophole in accountability for state officials?
Senators must fight the urge to duck this duty, as unpleasant as it may be. For the good of the state, the allegations against Paxton must be thoroughly heard.
Still, the path of least resistance for Republican senators will be to follow the base of the party. They can declare, rightly, that removing a three-time elected official requires the highest bar of wrongdoing and inexorable proof. They can tsk-tsk in Paxton’s direction but solemnly state that the voters have the ultimate say. They should be braver than that.
Patrick’s role may be the most fraught of all. The rules governing the trial give him tremendous power, but an obvious attempt to tip the scales one way or the other will bring immediate outcry. We’re pleased that he appointed a jurist with a strong record, former state appeals court judge Lana Myers, to advise him. He should defer to her whenever the slightest conflict arises.
After all, Patrick embodies the tricky road ahead: His task is to ensure a fair process in a case where he is politically aligned with the accused and many of the jurors and prosecutors. He should make as much information as possible public and bring transparency to decision-making; it’s the people’s resources that were allegedly abused, and the people deserve complete answers.
At the national level, we’ve seen the lingering damage done when the political system and its officers fail to deal with wrongdoing. The answer to Donald Trump’s misdeeds after the 2020 election, culminating in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, would have been properly addressed through the Constitution’s clear remedy: impeachment and removal from office and prohibition from future candidacy.
Not enough Republicans stepped up to the moment, and now, the effects linger into the next election. The criminal system is tasked with rendering a political judgment, and no matter what it settles on, much of the country will believe the result is flawed.
Let’s not have that in Texas. Show that the system can work free of partisan politics. Texans deserve no less.
Houston Chronicle. September 5, 2023.
Editorial: Want to save Texas’ grid? Pay customers to cut energy usage.
By this point in the summer, Texans know the drill. Sometime before dusk we’re likely to get a notice from our utility providers politely asking us to reduce energy usage, usually between the hours of 6-9 p.m. when solar power wanes. We grumble to ourselves for a minute, then dutifully shut off the dishwasher and laundry machine, turn off any unnecessary lights and raise our thermostats a few degrees. In the past two weeks alone, we’ve been asked to do this eight different times. We’re guessing only a few goody-goodies out there have done so every single time. Why should anyone feel put upon to suffer a sweaty house if pipeline companies allegedly bilked the system by the billions when the grid needed them most?
Even so, our collective voluntary action has helped. Our wobbly grid hasn’t yet forced any major outages this summer. In the meantime, power generators reap a windfall when energy demand nearly exceeds supply. In August, Texas power prices hit a 30-month high, with some regional prices hitting $1,599 per megawatt hour, the highest since Winter Storm Uri in 2021. When you raise your thermostat, you save your retail provider a pretty penny.
Bully for them, but what if Texans got a slice of that action? Instead of begging customers to be good neighbors and sweat out the sultry evening hours, our energy providers should kick in some cash for our troubles.
This concept, known as demand response, is actually as simple as it sounds. Demand response programs offered by a handful of providers in Texas help balance supply and demand by incentivizing customers through rebates, credits or reduced rates to cut their energy usage when grid conditions are at their tightest. In case you are getting flashbacks to the Griddy debacle, these demand response plans don’t expose people to fluctuations in wholesale prices.
Demand response is a win-win for providers and consumers, as long as the savings really are shared and Texans have an easy way to both opt in and out. It’s also a smarter solution for summer dusk hours than multi-billion dollar tax subsidies for new natural gas plants.
In just the past 14 months, peak demand in Texas has grown by 10.5 gigawatts — 1 gigawatt can power about 750,000 homes — meaning our grid managers, lawmakers and energy regulators need to be thinking about expanding demand response to manage our daily energy consumption more efficiently. We already have ample evidence that these programs can help save our grid from completely collapsing, and save customers money.
Take San Antonio. CPS Energy, the city-owned utility, has long offered programs such as incentives for weatherizing homes to rebates for installing smart thermostats. As many as 150,000 homes participate.
More recently, the utility has expanded to offer a Wi-Fi thermostat program that basically automates the responsibility of cutting energy during peak demand hours. Here’s how it works: customers who enroll can choose from a menu of smart thermostats to purchase. They receive an $85 rebate for signing up, then a $30 annual rebate every time they renew. Then, when Texas’ grid manager sends out a conservation notice, enrollees don’t have to lift a finger. The utility just sends a signal to the WiFi thermostat, nudging it up a few degrees.
The results are impressive. The San Antonio Express-News reported that on June 27, when temperatures reached 105 degrees, CPS was able to reduce demand by 156 megawatts, saving enough energy to power 31,200 homes statewide. The smart thermostats save money too — lowering CPS customers’ electric bills by as much as 8 percent.
Retail electricity providers are also getting in the demand response game. Companies such as Houston-based Rhythm Energy, Gexa Energy and OhmConnect offer incentives or reward points for customers who curb their energy usage. Another company, Octopus Energy, a global renewable energy retailer with offices in Houston, offered a smart thermostat plan that was so popular — estimated to save customers $360 annually — that its sign ups increased by 250 percent. This spring, the provider announced a “Fan Club” for cities in South Texas, offering a 50 percent discount to customers who shift their energy usage to parts of the day when low-cost wind power accounts for 45 percent or more of the Texas grid’s generation.
Unfortunately, companies that offer these programs for homes and small businesses are a distinct minority in Texas’ competitive power market. ERCOT, Texas’ grid manager, offers demand response programs for industrial customers who use the most power, such as Bitcoin miners, manufacturers and big box stores.
Think about that for a second: cryptocurrency miners, whose outsized energy demand has increased electricity costs by as much as 9 percent for some customers in Texas, get paid to cut their energy usage while most residential customers who do it voluntarily get nothing more than a pat on the back.
We urge ERCOTto remedy this inequity and implement a statewide demand response program that expands the options for residential customers and makes sure they are fair. During a board meeting last week, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas announced that it commissioned Texas A&M to conduct a study examining the potential for expanding energy efficiency and demand response programs. That’s a good start.
The state’s Public Utility Commission, which regulates electric companies, can also play a crucial role in advancing demand response. During the legislative session, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1699 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, forcing the PUC to establish new energy efficiency goals and include demand response programs among the services offered to customers. While the bill gives the PUC broad leeway to determine how these programs are structured, so far the commission hasn’t included energy efficiency or demand response on its rulemaking calendar.
While we have little doubt residential customers will continue to do their part to cut energy usage, relying on their conscientiousness alone to save our grid is not a sustainable strategy. Instead of billionaires profiting off power failures, let everyday Texans save a buck when they help save the grid.