PUC chair resigns in wake of call to energy investors
Arthur D’Andrea, the chair and sole remaining member of the Public Utility Commission, resigned late last week at the request of Gov. Gregg Abbott. D’Andrea pledged to remain on the PUC until Abbott names a replacement. In the announcement Abbott said in part, “Texans deserve to have trust and confidence in the Public Utility Commission, and this action is one of many steps that will be taken to achieve that goal.”
Texas Monthly obtained a recording of a March 9 call D’Andrea had with investors to discuss the fallout from the mid-February power crisis, in the midst of a fierce statewide winter storm. In that 48-minute call, D’Andrea promised to put the “weight of the commission” in opposing efforts to reverse skyrocketing power rates during the blackouts.
Those efforts are being spearheaded by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who in effect controls the Texas Senate. That body passed SB 242 last week, calling on the PUC and the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas to correct what Patrick called “billions in pricing errors that occurred” during the winter storm.
However, House Speaker Dade Phelan has called repricing “an extraordinary government intervention into the free market, which may have major consequences for both residential and commercial consumers going forward.” The House is holding hearings on restructuring ERCOT and related issues this week.
Rise in pedestrian fatalities rings alarm bells
With spring arriving and COVID-19 restrictions easing, state officials warn that pedestrian deaths continue to increase each year. They urge both drivers and pedestrians to watch out for each other. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, pedestrian fatalities account for one in five of all state traffic fatalities.
In 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, 5,973 traffic crashes involved pedestrians, resulting in 669 deaths and 1,317 serious injuries.
The two leading causes of pedestrian fatalities are: 1) Pedestrians failing to follow traffic safety laws and being struck crossing streets and roadways, and 2) motorists failing to yield the right of way, driving distracted or driving too fast.
TxDOT’s pedestrian safety campaign is a component of #EndTheStreakTX, a social media effort to encourage drivers to make safer choices, such as wearing a seat belt, driving the speed limit, not texting while driving, and never driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. The last deathless day on Texas roadways was Nov. 7, 2000.
COVID-19 vaccinations up more than million in a week
With more than 900,000 additional COVID-19 vaccines arriving in Texas this week, the state has now administered more than 9 million doses, according to the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. More than 3 million are now fully vaccinated, roughly 10.8% of the state’s population.
Nearly one in seven of all Texans at least 16 years of age are now fully vaccinated, according to DSHS. Anyone over the age of 50, health-care workers, long-term care residents, people with chronic health issues, and school and childcare workers are all eligible for the vaccine.
You can find a list of vaccine hub providers at this link: https://tinyurl.com/2u5een4w
COVID-19 cases, deaths in state still dropping
The number of new COVID-19 cases in Texas dropped again last week, with 27,672 reported, down about 12 percent from the previous week. Deaths also dropped, with 932 reported, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. That’s down 16.5% from the previous week.
Hospitalizations of confirmed COVID-19 patients also continue to decrease, with 3,620 in Texas hospitals as of Sunday, according to DSHS. That’s down 14.1% from the previous week and 75% lower than the record high of 14,218 hospitalizations in mid-January.
Nature Challenge launched by forest service
The Nature Challenge website has launched, connecting Texans with ways to explore the outdoors, acquire new skills and get involved in their community. The collaboration between the Texas Children in Nature Network, Texan by Nature and the Texas A&M Forest Service encourages Texans to explore nature and earn digital badges to track their progress. The website, naturechallenge.tamu.edu, features an interactive map and resources for users of all ages.
“The Nature Challenge provides the perfect opportunity for every Texan to have fun and learn something new while enjoying the physical, mental and emotional benefits of being in nature,” said Joni Carswell, CEO and President of Texan by Nature.
Nature-related organizations are encouraged to use the site to promote their services and opportunities at no charge. Information for providers can be found on the Nature Challenge website.