State Capital Highlights

Abbott explains opposition to proposed merger



Attorneys general of Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia joined in the U.S. Justice Department’s Aug. 13 anti-trust lawsuit intended to block the merger of Fort Worth-headquartered American Airlines and Tempe, Ariz., headquartered US Airways.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in an Aug. 16 opinion piece first published by the Dallas Morning News, explained why he opposes the merger of the two carriers. Here’s an excerpt:

“Why in the world would Texas file a legal action challenging the merger of American Airlines with US Airways?” Abbott asked in his opinion piece. He answered his own question this way: “We believe that actions by the airlines and their officials violate antitrust laws. In fact, the legal violations appear so overt that it would offend my oath of office not to take action.

“The legal action is based on evidence such as internal emails, investor presentations and other comments by top executives of the airlines. Those documents reveal their thinking about how shrinking competition in the airline industry — and, hence the merger — will allow the airlines to pile even more bag fees, ticket change fees and increased fares on customers. American and US Airways compete directly on thousands of heavily traveled routes. The merger would allow the new company to shed that competition and distort the marketplace — while harming competition for nearly 200 Texas routes.”

American Airlines, in an Aug. 13 statement, announced plans “to mount a vigorous and strong defense to the U.S. Department of Justice’s effort to block their proposed merger.”

“We believe that the Department of Justice is wrong in its assessment of our merger.

Integrating the complementary networks of American and US Airways to benefit passengers is the motivation for bringing these airlines together. Blocking this pro-competitive merger will deny customers access to a broader airline network that gives them more choices,” American Airlines stated.

Combs files lizard motion

Comptroller Susan Combs last week announced she filed a motion to intervene in an endangered species lawsuit brought by environmental groups against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity asks Fish & Wildlife to reconsider its June 2012 decision not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species.

In an Aug. 16 agency news release, Combs said the lawsuit “could have damaging effects on private property owners, oil and gas producers and agriculture producers, as well as the broader state economy” and that her motion, if accepted, would “ensure that no ruling is made without input from those who would be directly affected by a dunes sagebrush lizard listing under the Endangered Species Act.”

The lizard’s range includes parts of the Permian Basin, a region that accounts for 57 percent of Texas’ total crude oil production and supports 47,000 oil and gas-related jobs, according to the Texas Railroad Commission.

Fish & Wildlife, in a June 13 statement, said, “After a careful analysis of the scientific data and the protections provided by the voluntary conservation efforts, Service biologists determined the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction, nor likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.”

Feral hog grants awarded

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples on Aug. 15 announced the award of two feral hog abatement grants totaling $55,000 to certain Texas counties in an effort to enhance statewide feral hog abatement.

Bell County, in partnership with Coryell, Falls, Hamilton and Milam counties, was awarded $25,000 to support abatement efforts and $30,000 was awarded to a partnership between Caldwell and Hays counties, the agriculture department reported.

“The feral hog population has exploded in the last 20 years, costing Texans untold millions of dollars,” Staples said. According to the agency, Texas is home to the largest feral hog population in the United States with nearly 2.6 million of the wild pigs. These voracious, intelligent, wide-ranging mammals cause about $500 million in damage in rural and urban Texas each year, the agency estimated.

New laws to take effect

Some 659 pieces of legislation passed in the 140-day regular session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, Jan. 8 through May 27, 2013, will take effect as new laws in a few days, on Sept. 1.

ED STERLING is the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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