TAB News Briefs
Mar. 1, 2012

Court delivers election maps for Texas House, Congress
Texas Tribune
Now there are maps. Federal judges in San Antonio unveiled maps for the state's congressional delegation and for the state House this afternoon, and they did it in time to allow the state to hold its delayed political primaries on May 29. The court also signed off on Senate plans agreed to earlier this month.More

Texas could face electric power challenges in 2013 and 2014
For those concerned about a looming overload on the electricity grid in Texas, there is a perfect storm brewing: low natural gas prices, the possibility of the EPA closing coal-fired plants or at least limiting new ones and record levels of electricity use, due in large part to last year's record high temperatures combine to put unprecedented strain on the grid that controls 85 percent of the power use in the state.More

Bernanke warns lawmakers country headed for 'massive fiscal cliff'
The Hill
Congress risks taking the economy over a "massive fiscal cliff," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned lawmakers. In remarks that hit Wall Street stock prices, the central bank boss suggested the economy could hit a serious roadblock if Congress allows the Bush tax rates and a payroll tax cut to expire and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to be implemented simultaneously in January.More

Lawmakers, Texans focus on school funding
Houston Chronicle Texas Politics Blog
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus announced the creation of a joint interim committee to study the public school finance system, which likely will be meeting later this year as a state district court hears another school finance lawsuit. The committee, created through Senate Bill 1 last summer, will study the state's public school finance system and make recommendations to the 83rd Legislature, which will meet starting in January.More

Oil boom produces a gusher of problems
San Antonio Express-News
The buzzword for Day 1 of the Eagle Ford Consortium's inaugural conference: Overwhelmed. Roads are overwhelmed, and so are schools and ambulance services. Electric utilities are swamped with new customers and city services can't keep up. That was the assessment of Jimmie Lopez, vice president of the Dimmit County Chamber of Commerce, who used the word "overwhelmed" liberally in referring to the drilling boom in the Eagle Ford Shale, which stretches for hundreds of miles south of San Antonio.More

Water board expected to rule on Hill Country aquifer levels
Austin American-Statesman
An 8-month-long dispute over whether 50 percent more water can be pumped from a part of the Hill Country that includes parts of Hays and Travis counties by 2060 is expected to be resolved by a state agency soon. Two groups oppose a 2010 agreement that allows the area's aquifer levels to be lowered by 30 feet by 2060; one petitioner says that is too much, while another petitioner says it is not enough.More

To back out of Bastrop — or not?
The decision was easy for Dan Hugo and one that his heart made for him. "We kind of went back and forth a little bit, but we decided to live here," said Hugo, who is rebuilding in Bastrop even though his last home was one of the more than 1,600 lost in last September's fire. But Hugo knows he will now have to travel to see some of his old neighbors. "I know a number of people who left because of the devastation," he said.More

Editorial: Are creditworthy Americans having trouble getting mortgages?
The Washington Post
Most everyone can agree that mortgage lending standards were too loose during the housing boom and should be tightened to keep people from buying homes they can't afford. But has the pendulum swung to far in the other direction? Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke wondered as much during his testimony before the House financial services committee. "There's a lot of concern about the tightness of mortgage standards, even when people qualify for GSEs," he said, referring to loans guaranteed by Fannie, Freddie and other government-sponsored enterprises.More

EPA finalizes general permit to regulate stormwater discharges at construction sites
Bloomberg BNA
The Environmental Protection Agency Feb. 16 released a general permit for stormwater discharges from construction sites that requires permit holders to develop plans to prevent runoff and erosion from the sites. In Texas, the permit applies to construction sites involving oil, gas, and geothermal exploration, development, and production as well as transportation of crude oil.More

Bank-owned homes and short sales were 23 percent of all 2011 sales
The Associated Press via USA TODAY
Bank-owned homes and short sales last year accounted for the smallest slice of overall sales in three years but still made up nearly a quarter of all U.S. homes sold in 2011. Some 907,138 sales were made last year of foreclosed-upon homes and others that were in some stage of the process. They represented about 23 percent of all home sales in 2011, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said.More

30-year mortgage rate falls to 3.90 percent
The average rate on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.90 percent in the week ending March 1, remaining near a record low, Freddie Mac said in its weekly report on mortgage rates. The rate was 4.87 percent a year earlier. "Fixed mortgage rates bottomed out in January and February of this year which is helping spur the housing market," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist.More

Net-zero energy buildings are coming — what about the buildings already standing?
Dan Geiger, Executive Director, U.S. Green Building Council of the Northern California Chapter, noted that green building has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy market. Total construction starts were down 24 percent in 2009, he said, but "the good news is that green construction is growing like mad." Geiger cited figures from McGraw-Hill Construction's Green Outlook 2011. From 2008 to 2010, he said, the value of green construction increased by 50 percent.More