State Capital Highlights: Personal protective gear tops this year’s back-to-school list

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

Back-to-school lists aren’t the same this year.

Gov. Greg Abbott talked last week about why the state is stockpiling personal protective equipment.

“As local school boards make determinations on how and when they choose to open schools, the state is working to help ensure that there will be a strong supply of PPE waiting for them to keep students, teachers and staff safe,” he said.

Texas already has distributed to Texas schools:

59,410,640 masks

567,948 gallons of hand sanitizer

24,017 thermometers

511,294 face shields

Sending up a flare

The Railroad Commission of Texas is proposing rule changes to reduce the amount of flaring in the oil and gas industry.

The proposed regulatory changes include:

Reducing the time for operators to obtain an administrative exception to flare gas. For certain exceptions, the duration might be reduced by 50% to 80%.

Providing incentives for operators to use technologies to reduce the amount of gas flared.

Requiring operators to provide more specific information to justify the need to flare or vent gas in accordance with state rules.

The draft changes are open for a 30-day comment period and may be found on the Railroad Commission’s website, https://rrc.texas.gov/about-us/resource-center/forms/proposed-form-changes/.

Flares, which can burn for weeks at a time, release harmful chemicals such as benzene as well as fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals and black carbon. Several of these combustion-related pollutants are linked to a higher risk of preterm birth and reduced birth weight in other contexts, according to a recent study by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

“Our study finds that living near flaring is harmful to pregnant women and babies,” said Jill Johnston, an environmental health scientist at Keck. “We have seen a sharp increase in flaring in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, and this is the first study to explore the potential health impacts.”

Get a hospital room with a view

Being able to see trees while recovering from surgery decreases patients’ need for pain medication and shortens their recovery time, according to a study shared by the Texas A&M Forest Service on Twitter.

“As research is being conducted and becoming available, findings reinforce what much of the urban forestry community already knows — that trees have a positive impact on human health,” said the Southern Group of State Foresters, a nonprofit organization promoting the importance of healthy forests to a stable economy in the South.

Docs emphasize primary concerns to Abbott

Primary care doctors are urging the governor to expand on reforms begun because of COVID-19.

The Texas Primary Care Coalition sent an open letter to the governor asking him to take a variety of steps to increase residents’ access to health care. Texas ranks 47th out of the 50 states in the ratio of primary care physicians available, the coalition wrote.

Because of the pandemic, the group noted, Abbott took an important step by directing the Texas Department of Insurance to issue an emergency ruling to allow medical visits conducted via telemedicine to be paid at the same rate as in-person visits.

“With three months of experience to document the viability and cost-effectiveness of telemedicine, Texas should eliminate the barriers that could keep primary care physicians from maintaining this service beyond the pandemic, including requiring state regulated insurers to continue payment parity between in-person versus virtual visits,” the consortium wrote.

Put fiber in your community’s diet

Libraries and the rural communities they serve need to make fiber a top priority, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Libraries should make every opportunity to acquire fiber optic connectivity, wrote Henry Stokes, a technology consultant for the commission, in a recent blog post. He said they need to jump on Facebook’s news that it has been working to develop a robot that can deploy fiber optic cables quickly over power lines. This would dramatically reduce the cost of fiber construction.

“Harnessing it will ensure that both the library and the community it serves will continue to thrive in the future,” Stokes said.

The wind beneath our wings

Happy American Wind Week. When you drive through West and Central Texas, as we did recently visiting family in Colorado, you readily see why Texas is the country’s top producer of wind energy.

PoweringTexas.com is observing the fourth anniversary of American Wind Week Aug. 9-15. No word on whether blowing out candles is involved.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.