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Capital Highlights

By Gary Borders

Early voting begins Oct. 24

Early voting in the Nov. 8 general election begins Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 4. Applications for voting by mail must be received by Oct. 28, according to the secretary of state’s office. 

Texans are eligible to vote by mail if they are 65 or older; sick or disabled; are expected to give birth within three weeks of Election Day; will be absent from the county where they vote during early voting and on Election Day; or are in jail but otherwise eligible.

If voting by mail, Texans are urged to carefully read the instructions before putting their ballot in the mail. More than 12% of mail-in ballots were rejected in the March primary for not complying with tighter voting regulations enacted in the last legislative session, according to kut.org.

Meanwhile, the latest poll shows the race between Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’ Rourke has tightened since the Sept. 30 debate between the two, the Corpus Christi Caller Times reported. The latest poll by Marist College shows Abbott’s lead has dropped to 4 percentage points.

As the race hits the homestretch, O’ Rourke reports having slightly more cash on hand in the latest three-month reporting period, which ended Sept. 29. He also outraised Abbott by a slight margin during the same period.

EPA sued over pollution from Texas coal plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been sued by two national environmental advocacy groups for allegedly failing to ensure eight Texas coal-fired power plants are meeting approved emission standards.

The Austin American-Statesman reported the suit was filed last week after the EPA missed a deadline to stop the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from exempting the coal plants from regulations limiting particulate matter emissions.

An attorney with one of the groups, the Environmental Integrity Project, said the groups have been challenging the TCEQ exemptions since 2010. 

“Essentially, Texas has these emission limits for particulate matter,” Clark-Leach told the American-Statesman. “Particulate matter is soot, it’s the black stuff you see coming out of smokestacks. It’s a bad idea if you’ve got people living nearby to emit in excess of those limits.”

The EPA’s website says that exposure to particulate matter can be harmful and is linked to lung and heart issues. Since being exempted by TCEQ in 2010, the plants have increased emissions as much as 33-fold. However, four of the plants have in recent years either switched to natural gas or shut down completely.

Drought conditions expected to return

A warmer and drier September and the continued presence of La Nina conditions mean drought conditions are likely to return to the parts of Texas that got some relief in August, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board. 

At the end of September, drought conditions covered 61% of the state, Wentzel wrote, which was down 15 percentage points from the end of August.

However, the National Weather Service expects a third straight fall and winter of La Niña conditions, meaning below-average rain and above-average temperatures across Texas during the fall and early winter. Those conditions are expected to dissipate early next year, hopefully bringing drought relief and possibly complete recovery by the end of next spring.

Avian flu shows up in backyard poultry flock

The highly contagious avian influenza was recently detected in a backyard poultry flock in Dallas County, prompting health experts to recommend owners of domestic birds to limit all unnecessary contact with wild birds. The virus is easily transmitted not just by actual contact but through contaminated equipment, clothing and even shoes of caretakers.

Symptoms include diarrhea, incoordination, lethargy, coughing, sneezing and sudden death, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

Game bird hunters are urged to wear gloves when disposing of carcasses, and disinfecting tools with a bleach solution. Those who find birds who have signs consistent with avian influenza should contact their local TPWD biologist, whose contact information can be found on the agency’s website.

New ERCOT chief vows grid stability

The new CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said at a press conference last week that one of his main duties is convincing Texans they can stop worrying about the electric grid.

“The key is going to be continued reliable execution,” Pablo Vegas said. “Achieving reliable operations over extreme weather conditions, that’s how you continue to build trust.”

He made the comments at a press conference held jointly with Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission. Both Lake and Vegas said improvements and operational changes made since the February 2021 freeze have made the grid much more reliable.

They pointed out there were no systemic outages during one of the hottest summers on record, which spurred a record demand for power, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“We continue to be tested, (and) we continue to pass those tests,” Vegas said.

COVID-19 cases drop sightly

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in the past week in Texas by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University decreased slightly to 13,442, with 92 deaths reported. Texas Department of State Health Services reported 1,147 lab-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state, also a slight drop from the previous week. 

Gary Borders is a veteran award-winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30-year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches and Cedar Park. Email: gborders@texaspress.com.

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