Texas bill will forbid towns and cities from banning fracking


Click to enlargeSpencer Platt/Getty ImagesTrucks near a fracking site in Odessa, Texas

Last time I was in Odessa I commented on the absence of birds on the prairie – dotted with pumpjacks and pipelines. Bubba said, “Smell that air. That’s the smell of money. Of course, it killed all the birds.”

A bill supported by energy companies that prevents cities and counties from banning the practice of fracking on their land has been passed by the first tier of state legislators in Texas and is on course to become law.

The proposed law would stop municipalities and other local authorities from enacting their own bans on the practice of hydraulic fracturing and drilling for crude oil and natural gas. The state would have the power to override any such efforts and give gas and oil companies the access they desire to extract resources, against the wishes of voters and politicians at local level if necessary.

The bill was approved by the Republican-controlled Texas House…and will now proceed to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved, and then to Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott has previously decried the level of regulation placed on such companies by local authorities.

Abbott fears democracy as much as any of his peers. As much as Republicans lie about reining in the power of the state – using that power to benefit corporate greed is OK.

The move came in response to a recent decision by Denton, a college town about 30 miles from Dallas, to ban fracking inside its city limits over concerns about recurring small earthquakes and other safety worries linked to deep gas wells. Denton sits on a gas-rich shale formation that stretches across 24 counties in north Texas…

Moves by local authorities to try to keep fracking out of their backyards are afoot in other parts of Texas. Opponents of the bill now going through the Texas legislature complain that the state is grabbing power from local government and say the new law will jeopardise safety close to homes and schools.

Some of the most archaic laws this side of sharia are still on the books in this land of freedom, the American West. They were written by the owners of extractive industries like mining and logging, by the patrons of Spanish land grants who wished sole governance over access to water.

The best any ordinary mortal can generally hope for is a pittance of the profits or an even smaller fraction of water rights, surface water or ground water. Our bought-and-paid-for politicians – especially at the state level – play all the traditional games, dance the traditional dances. Hallowed ancestors, freedom-loving settlers is one of the most hypocritical concepts – generally describing someone who stole this land from Native Americans.

Just one more trick bag Americans have to get mad enough to tear up and scatter to the wind – like all baronial declarations.

How the IRS could do your taxes for you

Tax Day doesn’t have to suck — at least not this much.

The IRS knows what you make. It knows if you typically take the standard deduction. For a lot of Americans, the IRS could just fill out their taxes for them. It would save billions of dollars in tax preparation fees and hundreds of millions of hours spent filling out tax forms.

This isn’t some wild idea: it was piloted in California, where citizens loved it — 97 percent of those who used it said they would do so again. It’s how taxes work in Denmark, Sweden, and Spain…

Politicians ranging from President Obama to Ronald Reagan have supported this tax change — but there are some very rich companies and some very powerful activists standing in its way.

Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is a particularly powerful opponent. Such a system “minimizes the taxpayers’ voice blah, blah, blah…”

But that excuse doesn’t hold much water. Under these automatic systems, no one has to let the IRS fill out their taxes for them. They can continue to do it by hand or by TurboTax, or hire an accountant. Intuit knows, however, that many fewer Americans would do their own taxes under this scenario, and that would be a big hit to Intuit’s bottom line.

Some anti-tax conservatives also hate the idea of the IRS filling out sample returns. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, warns, “Conservatives, in particular, should see this ploy for what it clearly is: a money-grab by the government.” The easier and more efficient the tax system is, the more money it will raise, and the less public anger there will be for anti-tax conservatives to harness.

I’ve looked at samples and, frankly, come up with no difference in results. Plus a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon in February my wife and I usually spend cranking out a return — handed back to us.

Of course, regulation which ends up saving taxpayers and the government money and time is way too rational for Congress to consider. Especially when there are lobbyists with deep pockets who say the change is unnecessary and probably unAmerican.