in Houston, Texas
Austin Energy customers foot bill – $2 a month per customer for 19 years – for idled biomass plant
Thursday, Feb 14, 2013, 05:33PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Sam Houston National Forest

Around the clock, seven days a week, in a plant 233 miles away, a full complement of energy professionals stands at the ready to provide wood-fired power to Austin Energy customers.

The staff isn’t sure when they will be needed next. The $128 million plant has produced electricity for less than two of the seven months it has been in operation.

But  for the next 19 years a little less than $2 will be added every month to the bill of the average Austin Energy customer to pay for a plant that, when it does produce energy, produces energy too expensive for any energy company to want to buy.

“It is one of the biggest boondoggles I’ve seen in modern history,” an obviously agitated Tony Bennett says. Bennett is the acting director of the Texas Forest Industries Council. “Just thinking about how they pulled this off makes me mad.”

Bennett was among those who tried to persuade Austin Energy five years ago to think a little bit harder before trying to pull off building a new biomass-burning generating plant in the pine woods of East Texas.

The Council was part of a once-in-a lifetime coalition of consumer and good government advocates, environmental activists, and commercial and industrial interests who came together in 2008 to plead with the Austin City Council to reject the plan.

The City Council unanimously approved allowing Austin Energy to charge its customers to build the plant. The plan allowed for the energy company to enter into a guaranteed contract for 20 years for energy valued at the time at $2.3 billion.

“What is the most disturbing thing to me was that they put this contract through in about two weeks, almost in secret,” Bennett says. “I can tell you it shocked the forest products community at the time, the way they hurried it along.”

The reason for its urgency was that Roger Duncan, then head of Austin Energy, considered the plant a necessary component in his plan for Austin Energy to get 35 percent of all of its energy from renewable sources, spokesman Ed Clark says.

Unlike solar power and wind power, wood or biomass is a source of energy that could be called on in the dead calm of night, Clark says.

“Roger wanted that renewable component that would allow us to have power to dispatch 24-7,” he says.

Roger Duncan and Austin Energy could not at the time the contract was signed in 2008 have anticipated the explosion of hydraulic fracturing that created a buyer’s market for a seemingly endless supply of cheap natural gas, Clark says.

They could have had they listened to several industry experts who were part of a generation plan task force formed by former mayor Will Wynn in 2007, Trey Salinas, a spokesman for the Coalition for Clean Affordable Renewable Energy, says.

At least three of those experts who later helped form the coalition told the task force that most every reliable forecast predicted a protracted period of low natural gas prices driven by technological breakthroughs like hydraulic fracturing.

“They can’t say they couldn’t know because they were told,” Salinas says.

More than two years ago, while the plant was under construction, Michael Webber, who supported the plant as associate director of the Center for International Energy & Environmental Policy at the University of Texas, admitted to Texas Tribune the plant was controversial to begin with and no longer made economic sense.

In spite of the failure of additional federal tax breaks to materialize that would have made biomass more competitive, construction pushed on. Not long after the plant  fired up for the first time this past summer Southern Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Company in Atlanta, acquired it.

By agreement, Southern Power has the plant fully staffed around the clock, ready to serve Austin Energy’s needs, spokesman Tim Leljedal says. In spite of the substantial lack of work, Leljedal confirmed that the company has not reduced staff nor has it been asked to by Austin Energy.

Leljedal declined to say - per the contract - how much Austin Energy customers were paying by the day, week or month when the plant is idle.

Clark confirmed Austin Energy is paying a capacity fee to Southern Power, but would not say what it was, per the contract. But the fee and the contract are little different from those signed with other renewable energy companies in generation arrangements that are increasingly complicated.

At one time, Austin Energy envisioned the biomass plant running 90 percent of the time. Officials have downgraded the outlook to 75 percent and promised the plant would be firing on all burners by this summer, Clark says.

When asked if Austin Energy customers would be expected to cover the shortfall in the $2.3 billion contract, Clark says, “We’re not going to come close to that $2.3 billion figure.”

The problem is, advocates have for five years been unsuccessful in getting Austin Energy to make the terms of the contract public. No one really knows what utility ratepayers are paying for.

“CCARE (Coalition for Clean Affordable Renewable Energy) has always strongly believed that Austin Energy should release the 2008 Biomass contract,” Salinas says. “We do not feel there is a legitimate reason that a signed contract should be kept confidential and held from the public for over four years.”

The Austin City Council is currently deciding on whether or not to hand oversight of Austin Energy over to an independent board.

“We view this biomass plant decision as Exhibit A for why we need an independent board overseeing Austin Energy,” Salinas says.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo from the Sam Houston National Forest by flickr user NixBC, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License

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As city of Austin asks voters to back bond vote, projects totaling $356 million from bond votes back to 1998 yet to be finished
Tuesday, Sep 04, 2012, 09:53AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
austin

Remember the excitement back in 2000 when you helped pass that municipal bond issue to finally widen Davis, Deer, Howard, Rundberg and Todd lanes here in Austin?

If you don’t, you probably don’t live on or near those streets. The work was never done.

All taxpayers got was a bill for the debt on the $42 million portion of the bonds you signed off on.

In all, Austin has yet to begin work on $356 million, or almost a third of the $1.2 billion in projects approved by taxpayers in four bond issues in 1998, 2000, 2006, and 2010, the Austin American Statesman reports today.

The Austin City Council is requesting your approval in November of another $385 million bond issue for a whole lot of new projects like a new fire station, arts center and library renovation and new low income housing.

Many of which will someday be completed.

The city provided the Statesman with explanation for many of the delays and provided assurances that the old projects would eventually be completed. Like the $86 million approved in 2006 for a new central library, the construction of which is just a year out.

The widening of Davis and Deer lanes has been tied up with environmental studies. The city has been waiting on Travis County to build Howard Lane and had trouble buying land for Rundberg and Todd lanes.

The city cobbled together enough staff to finally make $4.5 million in improvements worth doing to Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park. And to build that hike-and-bike trail along Walnut Creek you were so hepped up about.

In 1998.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Austin skyline by flickr user StuSeeger, used via a Creative Commons license.

An Ott-of-this world pay package: Austin City Manager Marc Ott in line for a $7,000 raise -- and a cool $400k if he’s fired
Monday, Aug 27, 2012, 02:08PM CST
By Curt Olson
money

Austin City Manager Marc Ott will receive his second raise in as many years if rank-and-file city employees receive a raise proposed in the 2012-13 city budget that will be up for approval next month.

Austin’s non-civil service employees would see an increase of 3 percent, which would simultaneously boost Ott’s salary to $256,746, up $7,478 from his current salary of $249,268. It would be the second raise for Ott since he became Austin city manager in January 2008, the Austin Bulldog reports.

The amount of more than $256,000 reflects Ott’s base pay. His compensation catapults higher with contract perks that include $50,620 in deferred compensation, executive allowance, automobile allowance, cell phone allowance, and retirement or health-care related benefits, the Bulldog reported.

Ott’s recommendation for a raise surfaced following a lengthy Austin City Council closed session earlier this month. After council members emerged from the executive session discussion of personnel, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said, “I just wanted to say that we did in executive session (take up the issue of) compensation and benefits of the city manager, and we look forward to his continued service.”

Ott’s raise comes in a package of 3 percent raises forthcoming for the city auditor and city clerk. The municipal court clerk would receive a 5 percent raise to bring her up to the market rate, said Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the Bulldog reported.

In advance of Ott’s personnel evaluation, the Austin American-Statesman reported there were grumblings about the city manager. Those who complain about Ott focused on his handling of the Austin Energy rate hike, which will be in place in October and took two years to resolve, and his grasp of environmental battles that still exist in Austin. One council member expressed concern about how city government responds to the needs of a growing population.

Ott ranks third in base pay among city managers in Texas, according to data compiled by the Texas Tribune.

If Austin City Council terminates Ott, he would be entitled to severance pay of more than $431,000, according to the Austin Bulldog.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of the money by flickr user Unhindered by Talent, used via a Creative Commons license.

Surprise: shoppers go out of their way to avoid ban on plastic grocery bags
Friday, Aug 17, 2012, 11:16AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Plastic

Soaring on righteous fervor, the Austin City Council in March somehow neglected to make provision to punish citizens disloyal enough to shop outside of the limits of its ban on plastic grocery bags.

It seems, based on a new study by the National Center for Policy Analysis, that shoppers facing the inconvenience in Los Angeles County have for the last year been sneaking across the ban borders to shop.

Overall, sales at stores inside the Polyethylene Wall were down by 3.3 percent. Sales just outside the wall were up by 3.4 percent, according the survey of store managers in and out of Los Angeles County.

At nearly 80 percent of stores in the ban zone sales were off by nearly 6 percent. At 60 percent of the stores outside the zone sales were up by 9 percent.

Bag-ban managers in every store surveyed laid off at least one employee and staffing overall was down 10 percent, the study says. Employment at the outside stores was up, but by just 2.4 percent.

Add to that the amount of energy shoppers are expending to skirt the ban and you have what the Center’s study refers to as unintended consequences.

It might be good to establish at this point that National Center for Policy Analysis is a nonprofit organization in the business of questioning government regulation while promoting a competitive and entrepreneurial free market.

Not a likely candidate to be giving advice to a City Council that regularly ignored past warnings of  those unintended consequences and accepted as fact plastic bag cleanup costs that had been mistakenly inflated by 366 percent.

But having been prescient enough to make it a crime for stores to use plastic bags after March of 2013, it isn’t too late for the City Council to include penalties for people with the temerity to shop where they want to shop.

***

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo of Plastic by flickr user mtsofan, used via a Creative Commons license.

 

Texas lawmakers target Austin Energy following City Council’s rate hike approval
Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012, 03:52PM CST
By Curt Olson
wires

Austin Energy’s highest rate hike in history has landed the utility in the crosshairs of different elected officials who could change the way it does business.

Leaders at Austin’s monopolized electricity provider could be taking marching orders at some point in 2013 from Texas lawmakers.

This strategy could be more difficult than one thinks.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, now calls for a separate board to oversee Austin Energy, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Austin City Council oversees the utility now.

The former Austin mayor hedged on Texas lawmakers doing too much, calling Austin Energy’s structure a local government issue.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, says he will sponsor legislation to prohibit Austin City Council from supplementing its operations from excessive profits from customers who can’t vote for City Council.

These customers live in unincorporated areas served by Austin Energy. The newspaper reports about 13 percent of Austin Energy's 417,000 customers live outside the city’s boundaries.

Workman wants this to affect only Austin, not the 71 other municipally-owned utilities in Texas.

Austin Energy’s suburban customers have already stated they will fight the rate hike, approved by the City Council in June. They contend they will be hit with the greatest burden of the new tiered rate structure. Customers will see on average a 7 percent increase.

Austin Energy says residents should see an increase of no more than $10 a month, and no higher than $24 a month during the summer. For commercial users, the utility says the hike will be $18 a month, although it could rise much higher depending on the size of a business.

Along with potential action by Texas lawmakers in 2013, this additional round of wrestling with the utility includes the gathering of signatures for a petition to the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

The rate hike is bad enough, but it comes on the heels of multiple other revelations of spending at the utility:

Spending $123,065 in a two-and-a-half year period on employee parties and food.

National recognition for spending on solar art that won a prize for 4th most bizarre display of public art in the country.

Austin Energy customers subsidizing the utility’s push for more solar energy when there are less expensive options such as natural gas.

And if Austin Energy’s spending of its customer’s money doesn’t set off alarms, perhaps this will: When Texas Watchdog checked in on Texas’ federal stimulus programs to weatherize homes in 2010, Austin Energy was among the poorest performers in the state.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of 'desert road into the mountains' by flickr user matti.frisk, used via a Creative Commons license.

Austin taxpayers could get dinged if city shifts from contractors to salaried employees
Monday, Apr 16, 2012, 10:51AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
money

Imagine, as the Austin Social Engineering Council does altogether too much of, how the quality of life in Das Kapital city would improve if taxpayers paid more for services performed by a new legion of city employees.

If you can’t imagine, and you’ll find you are in the company of many sane people who live outside the city limits, an Austin American-Statesman story is here to help.

A short time ago, city staff recommended the council extend the contract of a private cleaning service employed by Austin Energy at an estimated cost of $2.9 million for the next five years.

But why do that, the council reasoned, when you could create 10 new city janitor jobs and do the same work for $4.1 million over the same period?

Never mind. You should have been here for the extra $650 million they spent putting in the commuter rail system the vast majority of the public doesn’t use. And if you don’t flee to a suburb you’ll be here for the ban on plastic bags next March passed in spite of cleanup estimates inflated incorrectly by 366 percent.

At any rate, the council found its unanimity on the janitorial hiring spree so exhilarating it is asking city staff to calculate how much taxpayers could be dinged by replacing all outside service contracts with city employees.

What are tens of millions of dollars extracted annually from taxpayers in comparison to the general well being of a new generation of public workers buffered from life’s hardships by generous city retirement and health plans?

Sort of like they had in Rhode Island before the state nearly went bankrupt, or in Stockton, Calif., which doesn’t look to be so lucky.

But that would never happen in Austin, where solar energy is thought to be free and continues to run when the sun goes down solely on the power of the council’s biggest ideas.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Plastic and paper grocery bags banned in Austin beginning in March 2013; $2 million to go for reusable bags for the poor, public awareness
Friday, Mar 02, 2012, 09:34AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
groceries

A benevolent as well as unanimous Austin City Council at 2 a.m. today granted its citizens the right to use only reusable bags when they shop and will charge them $2 million to explain why it was necessary.

Little wonder such a decree passed when most of the city was asleep.

Beginning in March of 2013 grocery and other retailers will no longer offer disposable plastic or papers bags, according to a story by KXAN-TV in Austin. Those retailers not following the new ordinance face being charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Or at least such bagging had been criminalized in one of the many versions of the ordinance. Hoping to keep the process fluid so as not to bother the citizenry with so much detail, much still remains to be worked out, Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, told the Council.

For instance, the education program. Gedert guessed about half of the “educating” would entail distributing reusable grocery bags for free in low-income areas of the city, a response to opponents who said the bag ban would be an inordinate burden on the poor.

And while the benefits of the bag ban were perfectly obvious to the six council members and Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the rest of the $2 million - a figure, given the city’s spending record, that is also fluid - will be spent helping the rest of the community understand.

An effort was made prior to the vote to convince the city’s recyclers to take plastic bags, the cleanup cost of which had been mistakenly and seriously inflated by Gedert. Gedert says the bags are not now recycled because they damage recycling machinery.

All of which is beside the point when your local government knows what is best for you. Or as Stacy Guidry, then-program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment told Texas Watchdog in January: “We support this bag ban no matter what it costs.”

UPDATE: This story was updated Monday, March 5, to make clear that Stacy Guidry is no longer the program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of groceries by flickr user Esther17, used via a Creative Commons license.

Austin bag ban pushed with faulty numbers; author of cited report says it did not address plastic bags, ‘a minute portion of the waste stream’
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012, 05:26PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
bags

City of Austin officials wildly inflated the volume of plastic bags in Austin’s litter stream and the cost to dispose of them, based on a misreading of a key report cited by the officials, one of the authors of the report told Texas Watchdog this afternoon.

It was unclear how the error, an extrapolation more than three-and-a-half times larger than it should have been, will affect a proposed ordinance that would make offering disposable shopping bags of plastic or paper a misdemeanor in Austin beginning in January of 2013.

The city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission is expected to consider the ordinance at 6:30 p.m. tonight in Austin’s City Hall. Should an ordinance be approved, the City Council is expected to vote on it sometime in March.

As of 4 p.m. Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, was unable to respond to Texas Watchdog’s questions about the calculation he used in the report upon which the disposable bag ban is based. He was, however, expected to address them at the commission meeting, his spokeswoman, Lauren Hammond, said.

The reason Gedert could not make an estimate of plastic bag volume or cost in Austin based on the report he cited was the figure for plastic bag volume in the U.S. was not in the report, Steven Stein, an environmental scientist and co-author of the 2009 study of litter in the U.S., told Texas Watchdog.

The Keep America Beautiful litter study listed the top 10 sources of visible litter on American roadways. Cigarette butts were responsible for 36.3 percent of the litter. Plastic bags, at .6 percent did not make the top 10 list or the study, Stein said.

“We had, like, 60 categories, and we weren’t going to include them all,” Stein said. “Because plastic bags made up such a minute portion of the waste stream we didn’t include it.”

In his report to the City Council in January of 2011, Gedert cites Stein’s study and uses a 2.2 percent figure, which corresponds to a type of litter Stein called Other Plastic Film. This category refers to agricultural plastic like the sheeting wrapped around big round bales of hay.

“That’s the only place I can think of where he might have gotten the 2.2 percent,” Stein said.

On Tuesday, Stein sent an e-mail letter to Gedert pointing out the error.

“You have overstated the amount and cost impact of plastic bags by about 366 percent,“ Stein wrote. “Additionally, since retail plastic bags only constitute a portion of the study’s plastic bag category (dry cleaner bags and trash bags are also in this category), even 0.6 percent for retail plastic bags is an overstatement.”

“Specifically, page three of your memo indicates that plastic bags constitute 2.2 percent of litter. The 2009 National Litter Study found that plastic bags of all types comprise only 0.6 percent of litter. Percentages for categories that constituted minute portions of roadside litter, such as plastic bags, were not addressed in the 2009 National Litter Study.”

“Thus, the wrong data point was used in this memo’s analysis. The mix-up may stem from Figure 3-3 (Top 10 Aggregate Litter Items, All U.S. Roadways) on page 3-3 of the KAB 2009 National Litter Study. That table lists “Other Plastic Film” as 2.2% of all litter. Note that this category specifically excluded plastic bags.”

Stein said he has so far not heard from Gedert, before or after his letter.

“Regardless of this position you take on this issue, what is of consequence is that you dig deep enough to make sure you have the correct data to base your assumptions on,” Stein said. “I think it was an honest mistake that I would have been happy to point out to him. But I think the public in Austin ought to know about it.”
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of plastic bags by flickr user taberandrew, used via a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
Like this story? Then steal it. This report by Texas Watchdog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. That means bloggers, citizen-journalists, and journalists may republish the story on their sites with attribution and a link to Texas Watchdog. If you do re-use the story, we'd love to hear about it. E-mail news@texaswatchdog.org.

Political watchers from all sides criticize Austin City Council decision to keep elections in May
Wednesday, Oct 12, 2011, 02:56PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
voter

Pop quiz: What do you call a measure that could cost taxpayers as much as $1.2 million, reeks of electoral elitism and brings the left, the right and everyone in between together in opposition?

Answer: Typical Austin city politics.

People in the reality surrounding the 271.8 square miles that is Austin are still shaking their heads over a 4-3 vote by the Austin City Council to continue holding municipal elections in May rather than moving them to November.

The conservative Empower Texans today called the vote appalling. The liberal Burnt Orange Report aggregated the outrage. An editorial in this morning’s Austin American-Statesman said the vote showed off the gaping chasm between Austin’s politically engaged self-image and reality.

The reality, tucked in near the bottom of the editorial, is embodied in a three-page letter to the council from Dean Rindy, one of the legions of consultants without which the city of Austin would cease to function.

In the letter, Rindy urged the council to reject November elections, regardless of cost. Yes, more people would come out to vote, Rindy wrote, but the election would not become more democratic, merely more uninformed. And why? Because voters are hard-wired to reason through only so many elections at one time, Rindy said, without punctuating the sentence with a smiley face.

“This would not be the voters’ fault,” Rindy said, making his compassion obvious. “It would be the fault of combining too many elections with too many candidates at too many levels at the same time. People are not computers with infinite capacity on their hard drives. They can only take so much input.”

This much input was clear to city voters long ago. Turnouts for Austin elections have been sliding, so much so that an election drawing 10 percent of the city’s eligible voters is considered spirited.

Bundling the elections in November would save taxpayers anywhere from $784,000 to $1.2 million, the Austin American-Statesman estimated. The City Council had already approved holding a November bond election and a lineup of amendments to the city charter that could include a city-wide vote to make the November municipal elections permanent.

Seemed to make sense to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and two of the council members, Mike Martinez and Chris Riley. Not to Sheryl Cole, Laura Morrison, Bill Spelman and Kathie Tovo.

Not to be outdone by Rindy’s altruism, the majority insisted it would be inappropriate to cast a vote that would not only upend the city charter but add six months to the terms of council members.

Not to mention encouraging all of those uninformed voters who may not be at all familiar with the names Cole, Morrison, Spelman and Tovo on a ballot.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of voter by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.
Austin City Council punts - for now - on question of grocery bags
Friday, Aug 05, 2011, 10:18AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
bag

An Austin City Council unanimous in their decision to do something about grocery bags is leaving it to city staff to decide what, exactly, the city ought to do.

While their effort began with a proposal by Mayor Lee Leffingwell to stop major retailers from dispensing plastic shopping bags, a ban on those bags alone poses legal and environmental questions.

The council, instead, directed the Solid Waste Services Department on Thursday to explore a ban on plastic bags, a ban on plastic and paper bags, or having retailers charge shoppers a fee for those bags with a portion of the fees collected turned over to the city of Austin, according to a story in the Austin American-Statesman.

The city manager has been asked to return to the City Council with a proposed ordinance sometime in November.

On Wednesday, council member Bill Spelman acknowledged the council was aware that plastic bag bans prompted lawsuits from plastic bag manufacturers, one of the cases making its way to the California Supreme Court.

Not only is targeting plastic bags discriminatory, but such bans ignore what several advocacy groups admit: that the manufacture and disposal of paper bags is a greater environmental burden than the plastic bags, Phil Rozenski, director of marketing for Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer with a plant in the Dallas area, told Texas Watchdog.

“We’ve talked to activist groups, and they’ve told us picking on plastic bags is just a start,” Rozenski said. “What these people are really trying to do is socially engineer public behavior.”

One of those activist groups, Texas Campaign for the Environment, came out Thursday in favor of a ban on both paper and plastic. Reusable bags, the group says, are better for the environment.

Council members have in the past expressed concerns about other costs of plastic bags. Solid Waste Services in a study released in January estimated that taxpayers pay $850,000 a year to handle plastic bags in the waste stream. The study estimated that retailers use 263 million plastic bags a year to move merchandise in Austin.

Rozenski said citizens who receive a utility bill are already being charged a fee to fight litter, which ought to more than offset the cost of handling plastic bags included in the study.

Should the city move forward charging retailers for every plastic and paper bag they use, any of those fees remitted to the city would be a selective tax, Rozenski said, and a regressive one at that.

“This is a regressive tax that hits low-income families disproportionately,” Rozenski said. “Whatever you charge for those bags is being taken out of the grocery carts of those families.”

Hilex Poly also made a case before the council that a ban on plastic bags would damage its business. Hilex employs about 9,000 people in Texas, Rozenski said.

A ban will also damage retail business within the Austin city limits, he said. “What we have found when cities enact these bans shoppers, if given a nearby option, will simply go someplace else to shop,” Rozenski said.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of 'BYOB' by flickr user catbagan, used via a Creative Commons license.
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Amazon Will Swallow Whole Foods Whole For those who expected Whole Foods Market to shop itself to a fellow grocery store chain and not a powerful company experimenting with...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
This Century’s Rise in Home Prices; Rare Local Air Monitoring Equipment Exhibited at Museum Houston-Area Home Prices Have Increased Nearly 30% Since 2000, Finds Harvard Study [Houston Chronicle] Stream, AMD To Develop 5-Story...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Daily Demolition Report: Feagan, and Again, and Again Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Report lists buildings that received City of Houston demolition permits the previous weekday. Demolition is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Blessed are the Poor: Examining opposition to debtors-prison legislation Texas State Sen. Paul Bettencourt was quoted by the Associated Press (June 11) criticizing debtors-prison legislation (SB 1913) which...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: The Vault 14759 Oak Bend Dr. [HAR] … Read...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Bones Found in Holdout Heights House Attic Tell No Tales Fox26 has now updated its story from March on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Mary Cerruti, the former owner of the...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
Fast Indian Comes to the Strip Center End of 19th St. Just opened this week in Re:Vive Development’s new add-on strip center at 721 W. 19th St., just west of Shepherd Dr.: the first...
Update:2 years 8 months
Swamplot
A Personal Big Day at L'Auberge in Lake Charles In previous posts, including in my Lifetime of Running Cold history of my personal gambling, Iit's been mentioned that I've been...
Update:2 years 8 months
Cory Crow
Debtors-prison policies decried, DPS cuts license center hours, and other stories Here are a few odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention while mine is focused on preparing for a much-need break next week.SCOTUS...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Junk-science based false convictions in Houston lampooned by comedian Someone has finally grokked and managed to convey in an accessible, understandable way the unmitigated travesty of justice surrounding drug...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Just Liberty post-session roundup podcast Here's the latest Just Liberty podcast - this time reviewing criminal-justice reform legislation from the 85th Texas Legislature -...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Governor signs omnibus innocence bill to track informants, record interrogations Governor Greg Abbott today signed HB 34, Texas' latest omnibus innocence legislation. Grits explained in this post why the eyewitness ID...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Houston meeting of Texas Latino GOP PAC tomorrow evening From the InBox: The Texas Latino GOP PAC are the gatekeepers to the conservative Latino Community, for far too long GOP outreach to Latino...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Sen. Joan Huffman to recap the 85th From the InBox: Join us THIS WEDNESDAY, June 14 (Flag Day!), for our meeting with State Sen. Joan Huffman, SD 17, who will be discussing...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Gov. Abbott mistakes incarceration smell for "freedom" Governor Greg Abbott made a speech in Bell County recently declaring that, as one drove north out of Austin, one could notice a different...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Unanswered questions about law-of-parties beyond death penalty In our podcast the other day, Texas Defender Service Executive Director Amanda Marzullo estimated that 10 percent of death-row defendants...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Priorities The headline from the Victoria Advocate declaring that the Texas Legislature prioritized mental health treatment over incarceration is...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
Legislative Session The 85th Legislative Session was different in many ways. Two things changed the narrative this session. First, Empower Texans successfully...
Update:2 years 8 months
Big Jolly Politics
Court trends advise tempered enthusiasm for HB 34 eyewitness ID reforms Does this sound like a suggestive photo array to put before a witness?A witness described being robbed at gunpoint by a “[b]lack male,...
Update:2 years 8 months
Grits for Breakfast
MAY 22, 2917 / Theodore Dalrymple on secularization and transcendence THE SECULARIZATION of Europe is hardly any secret. Religion's long, melancholy, withdrawing roar, as Matthew Arnold put it, is a roar no...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
MAY 10 / James B. Comey . . . . . . needed firing. Everything he did during the 2016 election was wrong. He was wrong . . . . . . back in July to release information...
Update:2 years 9 months
Unca Darrell
Droppin' F bombs, Beto O'Rourke style It's not often that a politician decides to start cursing repeatedly during speeches and interviews. But that hasn't stopped...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
APRIL 5, 2017 / Weeding out the audience at the Alley is . . . . . . a feature, not a bug. Houston's Alley Theatre is running "An Act of God," a loosely dramatized collection of irreverent one-liners...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
Statewide primary rumors It's that stage of the election cycle where politicians are trying to figure out if they should run for something else or stay put. ...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Is Ted Cruz vulnerable? Not really. Sure, he's not liked, Texans think Ted puts Ted first, his approval rating is upside down, etc...
Update:2 years 11 months
Rick Perry vs The World
MARCH 16, 2017 / Jim Webb on what it means to be a redneck, and . . . . . . why redneck culture matters. In 2004 Jim Webb wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Though the 2016 presidential...
Update:2 years 11 months
Unca Darrell
MARCH 3, 2017 -- Goodbye, and thanks, to Thomas Sowell THOMAS SOWELL, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of America's most important public intellectuals, retired from...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
March 2, 2017 / The poem our teachers got wrong TWO ROADS diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Generations of commencement...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
FEBRUARY 27 / Eric Hoffer on . . . . . . baby boomers and alienated intellectuals. "SCRATCH AN INTELLECTUAL, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the...
Update:3 years 1 week
Unca Darrell
2017 Project: January “Progress” There are two different ways to interpret my 2017 project: that it's a way more complicated New Years Resolution, or that it is essentially...
Update:3 years 1 month
Greg's Opinion
Ted Cruz's first senate term in a nutshell The National Review's Tim Alberta switched to Politico, and one of his opening pieces put Ted Cruz's first term in a nutshell It...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Andrea Parquet-Taylor named KTVT CBS 11 news director Former KHOU 11 assistant news director Andrea Parquet-Taylor named Vice President, News Director for KTVT CBS 11 Andrea...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
VIDEO: KPRC 2 10pm newscast (1-24-99) ...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: https://t.co/SHq3ACGVDJ #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:3 years 1 month
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:3 years 1 month
Mike McGuff
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 9 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 9 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 9 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 9 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 7 years 9 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 7 years 9 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 9 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 9 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 9 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 7 years 9 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 7 years 9 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 9 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 9 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 9 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 9 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 9 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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