Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jan. 14, 2016.
Seismic study should get to cause of quakes
You'd think scientists would be able to figure out for sure whether the rash of North Texas earthquakes in recent years has a definite link to oil and gas drilling activity, including waste injection wells.
In fact, some scientists believe they have figured it out, and they say there is a link.
But at least one key scientist, Texas Railroad Commission geologist Craig Pearson, has been reluctant to agree. That's important, because the Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas drilling in the state.
If the three-member commission doesn't go along, scientists strung end to end across the state could all agree but wouldn't bring about changes in how drilling or injection wells operate.
So, what it comes down to is that definitive research is necessary to convince Pearson and, eventually, the three commissioners.
Fortunately, the Legislature stepped up last year and approved $4.5 million for a comprehensive earthquake study.
It has taken a while to get that study underway, but Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin said this week that researchers are about ready to deploy 22 permanent seismograph stations and 36 portable stations.
A project director has been hired and will start work in February.
The new equipment will augment the 16 seismograph stations already in place in Texas.
This is not easy science. Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist at UT's Jackson School of Geosciences, said there are 10,000 wastewater injection wells that, so far as we know, have not caused any earthquakes.
But sometimes, Frohlich said, the two are linked. That means the task is to determine how and why earthquake activity happens near some wells but not others.
Answers won't leap out of the seismic measurements. Of the $4.5 million allocated for the study, $2.47 million is dedicated for equipment, and a full $2 million will go toward studying what the measurements mean.
The Bureau of Economic Geology will operate the system of monitoring stations, which will be called TexNet.
The Texas Railroad Commission is not known as a stern regulator of the oil and gas industry. In fact, some commissioners seem to believe their role is to protect and defend the industry from all detractors.
All the more reason to do this study, get to the bottom of what's causing these quakes, and figuring out ways to interrupt the cause at its source.
It won't be easy, but the people of North Texas deserve answers.
Houston Chronicle. Jan. 15, 2016.
Abbott's first year: Our governor seems interested more in pandering to the far right of the GOP.
When then-Attorney General Greg Abbott came by the Chronicle seeking our endorsement for governor in 2014, we were impressed with what seemed to be his fresh approach to governance after more than a dozen years of former Gov. Rick Perry's politics-first approach to issues and policy. We found things to like, for example, in his support for pre-kindergarten programs and for his plan to restructure incentive programs his predecessor used to entice companies considering a move to Texas.
Now that's he's been in office for a year, we have a question: Where'd that fellow go?
Since handily defeating Democratic challenger Wendy Davis and surviving a contentious legislative session, Abbott seems to have morphed into an ideologue, an elected official interested more in pandering to the far right than in working to benefit all Texans. Perhaps he's worried about a 2018 challenge from Tea Party hero, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, or perhaps what looks to us like mean-spiritedness is part of his political makeup. We're sorry to be cynical, but his recent call for a constitutional convention to consider nine sweeping amendments that would radically restructure the relationship between the U.S. government and the people has to be seen in that self-serving light.
His so-called "Texas Plan" is an interesting intellectual exercise, but we suspect it's more an appeal to the rabid anti-government crowd in his party than it is a sincere effort to find productive solutions to problems only government can solve. In that regard, it's in the spirit of his nationally embarrassing response to the joint military training exercise known as Jade Helm, his anti-immigrant screeds about "sanctuary cities" and his unseemly eagerness to slam the door in the face of Syrian refugees. And that's not to mention his ritual unwillingness to find a way to expand Medicaid, so that more than a million men, women and children in this state can have access to medical care.
Under the 92-page plan Abbott laid out before the annual summit of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, the people, acting through their state legislatures, would be given the right to overturn any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court or any federal law or regulation. In addition, he would prohibit Congress from regulating activity occurring wholly within one state, he would require Congress to balance its budget and he would prohibit administrative agencies from either creating federal law or pre-empting state law, among other state's rights proposals.
In essence, Abbott's plan is a comprehensive effort to weaken federal power and strengthen the states. For it to happen, Texas would have to be joined by 33 other states in calling for a constitutional convention. That's not likely.
We're happy for the governor to ruminate about the balance of power between the 50 states and Washington. The genius of democracy, after all, is the continuing quest for balance, and his broad government experience lends itself to the conversation. We only wish we could be confident that the governor's quest is for the people's good and not merely his own.
Austin American-Statesman. Jan. 13, 2016.
Abbott wants us to respect the Constitution — by changing it
To save the Constitution, Gov. Greg Abbott wants to rewrite the Constitution.
That's the gist of Abbott's call for a convention of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution. Discussed at length in a 92-page document signed by him and outlined in a speech delivered to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin last week, Abbott proposes fixing what, by his own admission, isn't broken. "What is broken," Abbott writes in "Restoring the Rule of Law With States Leading the Way," ''is our Nation's willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it."
So to protect the Constitution from ourselves and our elected representatives, Abbott wants the first constitutional convention since the Constitution was written 229 years ago to be called to consider what he labels "the Texas Plan." Nine proposed amendments make up the plan; together they would limit the ability of Congress and the president to regulate the states, weaken the Supreme Court and allow the states to nullify federal law.
Abbott also proposes a balanced budget amendment — an idea that's been hanging around for decades. The pros and cons of a balanced budget amendment have been thoroughly explored over the years and can be found easily online. The American-Statesman's editorial board has opposed a balanced budget amendment since at least 1992, when Congress rejected the proposal. So far, the proposal's shortcomings have outweighed its virtues and kept it out of the Constitution. But from time to time, the idea picks up enough traction to be seriously examined anew — and should that happen, we'll revisit it in detail.
Article V of the Constitution sets forth two methods for amending the Constitution: through Congress, where two-thirds of the members of the House and Senate have to agree to send a proposed amendment to the states for ratification; or by two-thirds of the state legislatures petitioning Congress to call a constitutional convention. The latter is the method Abbott proposes, but it is one that has never been used to amend the Constitution. Either way, three-fourths of the state legislatures would have to ratify a proposed amendment before it could join the 27 that are currently part of the Constitution.
Because the process for amending the Constitution is difficult, Abbott's proposed amendments aren't likely to be added to the Constitution. So his call for a constitutional convention — which has been promoted by many other Republicans over the past several years — essentially is an interesting intellectual exercise.
It also is an exercise driven by animosity to President Barack Obama and his executive orders — Obama has issued the fewest executive orders of any two-term president since Ulysses Grant from 1869 to 1877, by the way — the Obama administration's environmental regulations, and recent Supreme Court decisions upholding the Affordable Care Act and guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry. One suspects that if a Republican is elected president this year, the fervor for changing the Constitution will diminish.
Echoes of the nation's original constitution, the Articles of Confederation, can be heard in Abbott's plan. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution in 1787, creating a strong federal government and establishing federal law as the supreme law of the land, because their initial vision of a weak central government placed at the mercy of a "firm league of friendship" among the states quickly proved unworkable. For Abbott, states know best and he doesn't want the federal government telling Texas or any other state whom it must allow to marry or how to clean up its air and water.
Finding the proper balance between state and federal government is part of a longstanding American argument — one that should be welcomed. After all, it is an argument the authors of the Constitution fiercely debated themselves without resolution and one Americans have been debating since the founding of the country.
The Constitution isn't perfect. A document created for a largely agrarian society with a population of only 4 million people possibly could use a few tweaks to better reflect a technology-based urban society with 320 million people. At the same time, the Constitution has proved itself remarkably enduring, largely because it has proved itself a remarkably flexible document.
Abbott distrusts this flexibility — at least when it results in legislation, regulations and court decisions he dislikes. His proposals would not make the Constitution a more perfect document, nor would they make our nation a more perfect union.
Abilene Reporter-News. Jan. 13. 2016.
Constitution doesn't need Abbott's help
Contrary to what Gov. Greg Abbott would have us believe, We the People of Corpus Christi, and therefore also of Texas — and therefore, like it or not, also of the United States of America — are not oppressed.
The rights we possess and exercise freely are bigger and better than the rights of our grandparents and great-grandparents. That's especially true for Hispanics, blacks, women, Asians and gays.
In President Eisenhower's day, a 91-percent income tax bracket existed. Today's top tyranny rate stands at 39.6 percent. In Gen. Eisenhower's day, civilians were expected to turn in their bacon grease at collection centers and were rationed car tires. Had they complained then like Abbott does now about "federal government overreach," they'd have gone down in history as The Mediocre Generation That Lost Us The War And By The Way Sieg Heil. This generation was told after 9/11 to go buy itself a new car in defiance of the attackers.
The musket-bearing, slave-owning Founding Fathers (not Mothers) would have marveled at today's array of gun rights, property rights, mineral rights, civil rights, marriage rights, voting rights, Miranda rights, etc. Surely they would have recognized that with this dizzying array of right come responsibilities and regulations.
This is why we find it difficult to stomach Abbott's call last week for a rewrite of the Constitution on the premise that the government is oppressing us.
Abbott wants to add nine amendments, which we'll summarize briefly as not letting federal agencies create federal laws or pre-empt state laws, letting states override Supreme Court rulings by two-thirds majority, requiring a 7-2 supermajority decision for the Supreme Court to invalidate democratically enacted laws, requiring Congress to balance its budget, not letting Congress regulate what occurs wholly within one state — and the other three.
This is quite a tantrum for Abbott to throw just because 1) the Supreme Court won't let Texas deny marriage rights to same-sex couples any more, and 2) President Obama wants to make sure that firearms purchasers are background-checked, like the law that existed before his presidency said they're supposed to be. By Abbott's reckoning, oppressing gays is a state's right and making sure those backgrounds get checked is a violation of individual civil liberties.
Abbott claims that the Constitution is becoming increasingly ignored and eroded as the government increases its presence in our lives. This of course is not original thinking, though assaulting the Constitution to save it sounds kind of new. It fits Abbott's pattern of behavior. He is, after all, the former attorney general who famously described his daily routine as — our paraphrase — clock in, sue the government, clock out.
He conveniently ignores that there have been some changes since the Founders founded. Life is more complicated. It isn't just a matter of the Second Amendment predating the AR-15. The Constitution also predates cities of several million inhabitants, mass motorized transit, annexation of the other 37 states, emancipation, women's right to vote, and the forcible thrusting of chemical cocktails thousands of feet below the surface to extract oil and gas, aka fracking.
The U.S. population was 3.5 million in 1790. The current population of Houston is 6.6 million. More people and more technology requires more government. We can't know how much the Founders would have regulated fracking and motor vehicle traffic, only that they would have. They might have kept their noses out of school lunch menus.
Government oversteps here, understeps there, manages here and mismanages there. It's flawed but it's not a conspiracy. And it still belongs to us.
Our advice to Abbott would be to quit treating it like the enemy, since it is us. He should devote more energy to Texas' second- and third-world problems like education and women's and children's health care.
Longview News-Journal. Jan. 12, 2016.
Abbott's gamble on the Constitution is a bad idea for our nation
Gov. Greg Abbott made a significant splash by creating a list of nine — yes, nine — proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution which, taken together, would fundamentally change the nature of our nation.
He proposes having the amendments made part of the Constitution through a process called a convention of states, which can be called if approved by the legislatures of 34 states. Representatives of those states would then meet and fashion individual amendments that would have to be approved by two-thirds of the states.
In other words, the likelihood of any of Abbott's proposed amendments being approved is remote, which is fortunate for those of us who believe the Founders did a good job of setting up this country at its formation.
A convention of states is a frightening prospect, though, and it should be for those all across the political spectrum. It was set up as a sort of self-destruct button for the republic, an approach to be used when there was no other option left but doing away with the original intent.
Clearly we don't agree with the thrust of Abbott's ideas — which aim to reduce the constitutional powers of Congress, the courts and the president — but his proposed amendments are only a part of the problem. Once called, the convention could take up any matter, including taking aim at the Bill of Rights. Nothing would be off limits and there are factions within this nation that want dearly to challenge our most basic freedoms.
Abbott's nine amendments include:
— Prohibiting Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one state.
— Requiring Congress to balance its budget.
— Prohibiting administrative agencies from creating federal law.
— Prohibiting administrative agencies from pre-empting state law.
— Allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
— Requiring a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
— Restoring the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
— Giving state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
— Allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a federal law or regulation.
Some of Abbott's ideas are worthy of discussion, such as the requirement for Congress to balance the budget. But others would seriously undermine the separation of powers so steadfastly crafted by our nation's Founders.
"We have to institute changes from the bottom up that returns the Constitution back to its original intent," Abbott said in an interview with conservative talk show host Mark Levin.
We can't say why Abbott believes he suddenly is channeling James Madison and the other Founders, but we have a suggestion he might consider before tackling the U.S Constitution: How about taking care of issues within Texas first? It isn't as if our state is devoid of real needs to be addressed.
Abbott's ideas may sound farfetched with little hope of success, but we cannot take them lightly. Such changes would bring us a wholly different country, one without the balance of powers and relationships between the government and its citizens set in place by our Founders.
These are changes we cannot support.