Archive for January, 2014

Outgoing Secretary of State to serve on Higher Education Coordinating Board

Gov. Rick Perry appointed John Steen Jr. to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Friday. Steen’s term will start next week and he will serve until Aug., 2019.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board works with the Legislature and higher education leaders to increase college graduation rates and to keep college affordable. The board meets in Austin four times a year. 

Steen announced last month that he would step down from his post as Secretary of State after serving one year in that position. He said he planned to return to his private law practice in San Antonio. He is being replaced by Houston attorney Nandita Berry.


Oil and gas regulator responds after heated meeting on earthquakes

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter is responding to complaints out of Azle, Texas, after he and other officials declined to answer questions about the link between earthquakes and nearby oil and gas exploration at a town hall meeting Thursday.

In a statement released Friday, Porter says he understands why residents are concerned.

“Although I was troubled to hear what these residents have been and are experiencing, I believe it is important to listen to their accounts first-hand to better understand their concerns. My goal was to reassure residents that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears and that the Railroad Commission is engaged and involved in gathering more evidence and data. We had over 800 folks come out, and in order to hear from as many people as possible, we were unable to take individual questions or give detailed answers to everyone present.”

The commission is facing criticism after a spate of recent, low-level earthquakes in areas near where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are taking place. Recent studies by Cliff Frohlich of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas suggest the quakes are caused by the wastewater deposited deep in the ground after it’s used to extract oil and gas. Frohlich’s study says the water makes it easier for existing faults to slip, leading to man-made earthquakes.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also suggested a link between disposal wells and earthquakes, noting that seismic activity has increased in some areas where wastewater is injected deep underground.

The Railroad Commission hasn’t acknowledged the link, but Porter says some research is in the works. Porter’s office says he’s been in communication with the state geologist about a possible study by the Bureau of Economic Geology. The commission is also in talks with the Environmental Protection Agency and other state agencies.



Abbott, Davis spar over remarks by finance commission chair

The two candidates likely to face off in the race for governor are sparring over recent remarks made by the head of the Texas Finance Commission.

The Wendy Davis campaign sent out a press release this week, slamming commission chair William White for his comments about payday loan customers. In an interview with the El Paso Times, White said borrowers were responsible for their own decisions. “There’s nobody out there that forces anybody to take any kind of loan,” White said.

Davis is now calling for Gov. Rick Perry to fire White, who also serves as vice president for Cash America International, a company with more than 900 stores providing cash advances and pawn loans. In a statement, Davis called his dual obligations a “blatant conflict of interest.”

“William White can’t protect Texas consumers while he represents a predatory lending company on the side,” Davis said. “Mr. White should resign from his post – and if he won’t, Governor Perry should remove him.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign has responded to Davis’s statement, calling it “election-year hypocrisy.” In a press release, Abbott’s team points out that state law requires the Finance Commission to be staffed with executives from the savings, consumer credit and residential mortgage industries. The statement claims Davis voted to confirm White’s appointment as chairman in 2009, and that she had at least two chances to change the requirements to serve on the commission.

For her part, Davis says she’s been critical of White’s appointment since 2011, when she called it the “classic fox in the henhouse” in an interview with the Texas Observer.