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The QueQue

The QueQue: Biery barks on school prayer, Texas' big dry future, Ames Jones's final RRC shot against EPA

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Texas' big dry future

State Comptroller Susan Combs released a report this week laying out in stark relief the impact of 2011's drought — the worst one-year drought on record — now lumbering into 2012 despite recent showers. There have been a whopping $5.2 billion in agricultural losses ($2 billion in livestock alone) and another $3.5 billion in indirect ag-related losses are now tied to the drought. Water utilities across the state have felt the strain with nearly one in four imposing restrictions on watering and 23 reporting they were within a few months of running out of water completely. Perhaps equally as dire, Combs notes that 16 percent of the state's deregulated energy market is reliant on power from water-cooled utilities (big coal, nukes) and "if Texas does not receive 'significant' rainfall by May, more than 3,000 megawatts … could be unavailable due to a lack of water." Some of the strategies laid out as possible salves should the drought continue (as State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon has suggested it will, possibly until 2020 or beyond) are sure to needle the anti-regulatory crowd: everything from diversified water sources to use of reclaimed water (on both points San Antonio Water System is doing well) to mandatory low-flow toilets and strict landscaping ordinances (QueQue smells the end of English lawns in our future). And while Combs steers clear of any mention of climate change, which forecasts a return of megadroughts in the state and region — she does at least update the water lexicon by owning up to the reality of such decades-long droughts in our distant past and suggest their possibility be planned for. While water planners still cling to the multi-year 1950s drought as the driest standard we must be steeled for, Combs writes in "The Impact of the 2011 Drought and Beyond" that as dry as the 1950s were they may be "far from the true worst-case scenario."

Meanwhile, earlier this month, NASA's James Hansen stepped ahead of most Texas climatologists by declaring in a draft paper that human-induced global warming is unequivocally to blame for the record-breaking temperatures that contributed to Texas' 2011 drought. Indirectly, it seems, Combs is on the right track.

Ames Jones's final RRC shot against EPA

State Senate candidate Elizabeth Ames Jones announced this week she'd step down from the Texas Rail Road Commission, hoping to quell attacks from state Senator Jeff Wentworth, the district's incumbent, that she violated the state constitution by staying with the RRC even after she picked up and left Austin to launch her campaign. But before jumping ship, in perhaps one of her last duties as RRC commissioner, Jones fired one last shot in the state's heated battle with the EPA. In a letter Jones and the commission's two other members sent the EPA last week, they chide the way EPA has handled its investigation of groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., which, according to EPA's draft report, is linked to nearby oilfield fracking. While criticizing EPA's conclusions contained in the draft report as based on "limited and questionable data," the commissioners urge the EPA to classify its report as a less-significant so-called "highly influential scientific assessment," the same request GOP senators made in late January.

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