Wind Energy Takes Flight In The Heart Of Texas Oil Country

Part of one of the world’s biggest renewable energy systems, wind turbines dot the landscape on the edge of Sweetwater, Texas, along with a pump jack pulling up oil.

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Ari Shapiro/NPR

Georgetown, Texas, is a conservative town in a conservative state. So it may come as something of a surprise that it’s one of the first cities in America to be entirely powered by renewable energy.

Mayor Dale Ross, a staunch Republican who attended President Trump’s inauguration, says that decision came down to a love of green energy and “green rectangles” — cash.

When Georgetown’s old power contract was up in 2012, city managers looked at all their options. They realized wind and solar power are more predictable; the prices don’t fluctuate like oil and gas. So, a municipality can sign a contract today and know what the bill is going to be for the next 25 years.

That’s especially appealing in a place like Georgetown, where a lot of retirees live on fixed incomes.

“First and foremost it was a business decision,” Ross says.

City leaders say the debate over renewables never even mentioned climate change, a wedge issue in Texas politics.

It’s not just Georgetown that is defying expectations of conservatism and renewable energy. As a state, Texas is by far the No. 1 producer of wind energy in the United States; it produces more wind energy than the next three states combined. In fact, if it were its own country, Texas would be the fourth-largest largest wind-producing country in the world by the end of 2017. Ross says former Texas Gov. Rick Perry deserves the credit: “I truly believe he was a visionary.”

Today, Rick Perry is the head of the U.S. Department of Energy. At his swearing-in last week, Perry described what President Trump told him when he offered him the job: “I want you to do for American energy what you did for Texas.”

If that request extends to wind power — after all, Trump is seen as emphasizing fossil fuels, with his support for coal and through his Cabinet picks — the U.S. can expect a further explosion in wind energy production and in the jobs needed to support the industry.

Already, the fastest-growing job in the U.S. is wind turbine technician. Though the absolute numbers are small — 4,400 in 2014 — it’s growing at more than double the pace of the next closest profession.

That explosion is apparent in Sweetwater, Texas, which sits on a vast open plain — an area that the town’s former mayor, Greg Wortham, describes as the wind capitol of the world. In every direction, row after row of 300-foot-tall wind turbines dot the horizon.

(Left) Heath Ince is an instructor of wind energy and applied engineering technology at Texas State Technical College in Sweetwater. (Right) Lolly Bradbury is one of the few women to work in the wind energy industry in West Texas.

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Joy Bonala for NPR

The construction and maintenance of these three-armed behemoths has created a new industry in town. Heath Ince teaches in the wind program at Texas State Technical College, Sweetwater.

“A lot of people don’t realize how physically demanding and even mentally challenging it can be at times,” Ince says of the job maintaining machinery in an environment that is scalding hot in the summer and frigid in the winter.

And yet, the program has doubled in size since its launch, to 52 student from 25 in 2008. Demand is high — renewable energy companies are hiring Ince’s students, sometimes before they even finish the program — and the salaries are good, too: Median pay in 2015 was about $50,000.

Heath Ince and other TSTC instructors use a working turbine to teach their students in Sweetwater. Temperatures inside are scalding in the summer and frigid in the winter.

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Ari Shapiro/NPR

In policy circles, the debate surrounding renewable energy and fossil fuels often pits them against one another. Liberals are supposed to support solar and wind; conservatives are supposed to support oil and gas.

In Texas, the attitude is “all of the above.”

“Any time there’s an opportunity to put a little extra income in people’s pockets, we’re all for it,” says Russ Petty, who owns a print shop in Sweetwater and whose relatives have been ranchers in the area for generations.

The income derived from leasing a single turbine varies. But Wortham, the former mayor, says $10,000 per turbine per year is a good estimate.

That’s significant, says developer Monty Humble.

“For a land owner, a ranching family to have the opportunity to produce oil and gas or the opportunity to have a wind turbine or a solar farm, it may well mean that another generation can remain on the land,” Humble says.

Climbing the TSTC wind turbine in Sweetwater.

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Ari Shapiro/NPR

But just because West Texas towns like Sweetwater had the potential to produce a lot of wind energy didn’t mean that energy had anywhere to go. That changed when Gov. Perry signed into law a 2005 bill to build transmission lines connecting the windy plains to population centers like Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. And Perry made every Texas citizen pay for it in their energy bills.

That’s not the most conservative position in the world, says David Spence, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who specializes in energy and the environment.

“It’s a full socialization of the costs,” Spence says. “We don’t use that word in the public discussion. But, yeah, we socialize the costs across all Texas ratepayers.”

Texas has a unique advantage that enabled some of these changes. Continental America is divided into three electrical grids: East, West and Texas. Since the Texas grid is self-contained, wind energy doesn’t cross state lines and isn’t subject to as many federal regulations.

Even so, the simple abundance of wind and an independent grid by no means guaranteed the explosion in wind energy production in Texas. Jay Root, who covered Perry’s governorship as a reporter for The Texas Tribune, says Perry pushed for wind energy and “if he hadn’t, we would not be where we are today.”

But, Root adds, “I don’t think anyone would call Rick Perry an environmentalist, including Rick Perry. … But the guy knows how to sniff out a dollar. Here’s a guy from West Texas who saw that you can make money off of the wind blowing. Like, that’s a no brainer.”

Of course, this Texas wind revolution was begun before the Tea Party revolution, when it was easier for Republicans to buck strict conservative principles on a case-by-case basis. So Perry, as U.S. energy secretary, faces challenges at the national level that will make it much harder for him to expand what he did in Texas.

But if he does, it would be almost as surprising as what happened in his home state when a red-state, conservative guy from oil country managed to help build one of the biggest renewable energy systems in the world.

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Hawaii Will Mount Legal Challenge To President's Revised Travel Ban

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin speaks at a news conference in Honolulu last month. On Tuesday, Chin filed a motion against Trump’s revised ban.

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Audrey McAvoy/AP

The state of Hawaii will pursue legal action against President Trump’s revised executive order limiting travel from six majority-Muslim countries.

Trump’s original ban, signed in January, caused immediate chaos at airports around the country before being frozen by a challenge from Washington State. The revised executive order, which Trump signed on Monday, has been rewritten to make it more difficult to challenge in court. But Hawaii hopes it has crafted a legal argument that can stop the new order from going into effect on March 16.

“This new executive order is nothing more than Muslim Ban 2.0,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin in a statement. “Under the pretense of national security, it still targets immigrants and refugees. It leaves the door open for even further restrictions. Our office is reviewing the new order and will decide what next steps may be necessary.”

The Justice Department declined comment on the lawsuit.

The new order doesn’t allow visas for people from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya. It also temporarily shuts down America’s refugee program, and reduces the number of refugees it will admit this fiscal year to 50,000, instead of the 110,000 the Obama administration had planned.

Hawaii’s proposed lawsuit argues that while the language in Trump’s revised executive order has changed, it is merely the president’s latest effort to enact what he promised early in his campaign: a Muslim ban.

The suit brings Trump’s campaign promises into the courtroom, in order to illustrate the way that Trump has consistently linked Muslim immigration to terrorism, and his explicit desire to implement a Muslim ban. Among the statements cited in the lawsuit is a press release then-candidate Trump sent out on December 7, 2015, titled “Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration”, which said in part:

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.”

Hawaii’s lawsuit names Ismail Elshikh as a co-plaintiff, “because the Executive Order inflicts a grave injury on Muslims in Hawai’i, including Dr. Elshikh, his Family, and members of his Mosque.” Elshikh is the Imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii.

The suit alleges that a portion of Hawaii’s population is now subject to:

“discrimination and second-class treatment, in violation of both the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Order denies them their right to associate with family members overseas on the basis of their religion and national origin. And it results in their having to live in a country and in a State where there is the perception that the Government has established a disfavored religion.”

And by disfavoring a religion, the suit argues, Trump’s executive order is establishing a state religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Hawaii’s economy leans heavily on tourism, and the lawsuit cites both economic and familial hindrances caused by the ban. “It is damaging Hawaii’s institutions, harming its economy, and eroding Hawaii’s sovereign interests in maintaining the separation between church and state as well as in welcoming persons from all nations around the world into the fabric of its society.”

The plaintiffs seek an order that would invalidate the portions of the executive order that they challenge in the lawsuit, and have proposed a hearing for March 15 — the day before the order is to go into effect.

The new executive order “is infected with the same legal problems as the first Order — undermining bedrock constitutional and statutory guarantees,” the state argues. “The Executive Order purports to protect the country from terrorism, but sweeps in millions of people who have absolutely no connection to terrorism.”

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Malta's Landmark 'Azure Window' Rock Formation Collapses

The landmark Azure Window, off the Maltese island of Gozo, has collapsed into the sea during a storm.

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Caroline Hodgson/AP

An iconic Maltese natural rock arch has collapsed into the sea during a powerful storm.

The “Azure Window” jutting off Malta’s Gozo Island is printed on innumerable Instagram posts and travel brochures. It was also featured in movies and TV shows, including HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Local resident Roger Chessell was there when the iconic arch collapsed. “There was a big raging sea beneath the window,” he told theTimes of Malta. “Suddenly, the arch collapsed into the sea with a loud whoomph, throwing up a huge spray. By the time the spray had faded, the stack had gone too.”

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called the news “heartbreaking.”

“Reports commissioned over the years indicated that this landmark would be hard hit by unavoidable natural corrosion,” he said on Twitter. “That sad day has arrived.”

In 2013, a study said that the rock formation would inevitably collapse but that it would “likely survive for ‘decades’ to come,” the Times of Malta reported.

The part of coast where the Azure Window had stood looked very different on Wednesday after the arch collapsed in a storm.

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Christian Mangion/AP

The BBC added that in recent years, tourists have apparently done some damage to the formation by “jumping off the arch into the sea, dislodging clumps of rock in the process.”

Authorities introduced fines for walking over the arch, according to The Guardian, but they were “rarely enforced.”

Game of Thrones fans might recognize it as the wedding backdrop of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo in the show’s first episode.

“The flagship of the Gozitan touristic sites has sunk in its same birth place from where for thousands of years, it stood high and proud heralding one of the natural beauties our little island is endowed with,” the Gozo Tourism Association said in a statement. It added that about 80 percent of tourists to the island visited the famed rock formation.

It is a very sad day for Malta. The iconic Azure Window collapsed this morning, succumbing to the forces of nature and the passage of time. pic.twitter.com/ovc8Yj9gWH

— VisitMalta (@VisitMalta) March 8, 2017

Now, it noted, “only millions of photographs remain as testimony of this touristic spot.”

Fans of the Azure Window are mourning its loss on social media:

Historical #AzureWindow has collapsed this morning in #Gozo.

Featured in @GameOfThrones. pic.twitter.com/b0Byf8uTsA

— Gianluca Lia (@gianlia96) March 8, 2017

#RIP to the #AzureWindow
Was one of the best sights I’ve seen in my life #Neverforgotten#maltapic.twitter.com/UQMHnhmjmP

— Jordan Jeffery (@helloiamtheKING) March 8, 2017

Gutted that the “Azure Window” on Gozo in Malta has collapsed in a storm. So glad to have seen it in September ’16 #malta#AzureWindowpic.twitter.com/t0ExmtL74f

— Jonnie Atha (@Jonathan_Atha) March 8, 2017

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At Just 11 Years Old, Ty Waters Is Already Building His Pop Legacy

Eleven-year-old Ty Waters channels the energy of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and others on his debut album, Only Human.

Neal Hilton/Courtesy of the artist

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Neal Hilton/Courtesy of the artist

Ty Waters is an 11-year-old singer from Vancouver, Canada. His remarkable voice has won him recognition and opportunities from an appearance at the Apollo Theater in New York to the Music and Media Awards show in Hollywood. Now, he’s released his debut album, titled Only Human.

Waters started singing at 4, rendering spot-on renditions of Bobby Darrin and Frank Sinatra before moving on to his current heroes, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. If the song “Nervous” from Only Human brings to mind a Jackson classic, that’s no accident. The song was written for Jackson, but never recorded.

YouTube

Initially, singing helped Waters overcome a speech impediment — but what began as therapy soon blossomed into a career. After attending a vocal music summit in California in 2015, Waters came under the wing of composer and producer Dawn Elder, who recognized an unusual talent and pulled together a crack team of seasoned composers and session players to record the album.

The energy those veterans drew from Waters, just 10 when the recording was made, is evident in the funky pop numbers and torch songs. Virtuosity and optimism from someone so young is a beautiful thing, and Waters has uncanny charisma on stage. But much credit also goes to his arrangers and musicians. This album is clearly a labor of love, and it may well prove to be the start of an impressive pop career as well.

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Treat Gun Violence Like A Public Health Crisis, One Program Says

Former gang members Neil Snowden (left) and Niko Williams (right) say CeaseFire completely changed their lives along with their attitudes about violence and retaliation.

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Cheryl Corley/NPR

As gun violence continues to plague some of Chicago’s neighborhoods, a violence prevention program is looking to tackle the issue by treating it like a public health crisis.

Chicago’s murder rate is below that of other cities, but the actual number of murders in the city last year — most from gun violence — exceeded the combined total of murders in New York City and Los Angeles.

Cure Violence, a violence prevention program, was launched more than 20 years ago by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, a professor of public health at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Jerusha Hodge is among the handful of CeaseFire outreach workers who work to curtail violence in three South Side Chicago neighborhoods. Hodge says shootings are down in the areas where CeaseFire has a presence.

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Cheryl Corley/NPR

The program has been a force in several cities in U.S. and abroad. It gained national attention with the 2011 release of a documentary called The Interrupters, which showed former gang members intervening to prevent disputes from turning deadly.

In Illinois, the Cure Violence organization is called CeaseFire.

Slutkin says violence is a public health problem and should be treated like any other contagious disease.

“The root cause of cholera is cholera,” he says. “The root cause of violence is violence.”

He says there’s a reason why some neighborhoods are plagued by gun violence.

“The definition of contagious is it produces more of itself, and how much you’ve been exposed is the predictor of whether you’re likely to do it,” he says. “So this is a health problem.”

Violence interrupters and hospital responders — typically former gang members themselves or ex-felons — work like emergency room doctors to quickly sort out disagreements and to try to tamp down violence:

“As far as CeaseFire had helped me, I was out here crazy,” says Niko Williams, a former gang member. “I got shot six times.”

He’s on a panel of people who came to speak to state lawmakers about the impact of Cure Violence and CeaseFire.

“Even in the hospital, I was still in the hospital shot,” he says. “Barely could talk, still thinking about getting out the hospital and killing somebody for shooting me.”

Williams says it took the constant involvement of a CeaseFire worker to help him change that attitude.

Multiple studies show the program can make a difference. One study was conducted by Wesley Skogan, a crime specialist at Northwestern University.

“So we looked at shootings within gang and crime networks and found that in fact in the CeaseFire area, shootings were much less likely to generate retaliatory shootings after CeaseFire was introduced.”

But in 2013, the city of Chicago did not renew a million dollar grant to Cease Fire. Some officials claimed the program didn’t work closely enough with police. Others disliked that many of the violence interrupters were former criminals. During that hearing before state lawmakers, Andre Thomas said his experience makes him credible.

“If I can stop that person from being shot, who cares that I was in prison?” he asks.

The program lost most of its funding from the state two years ago at the beginning of a long running budget battle in Illinois. It now runs a scaled down version with private donations and grants.

On the streets of Chicago’s South Side, Jerusha Hodge is wearing an orange CeaseFire jacket. Years ago, she lost a 9-year-old daughter to gun violence. She is one of six CeaseFire employees working to curtail violence in three sprawling South Side neighborhoods.

“Oh, we are stretched,” she says. “Six people for three different communities. That’s not enough.”

But in New York City, the program has been embraced wholeheartedly.

Eric Cumberbatch, the executive director of the Office to Prevent Gun Violence, says New York expanded the program from five neighborhoods to nearly 20, and the city saw its lowest level of gun violence in three decades.

“In 2016, we saw shootings in the areas that the Crisis Management System Cure Violence is operating go down by 10 percent,” he says. “We’re seeing young people in the areas where the Cure Violence model is operating even less likely to revert to violence to solve conflict,” he says.

New York is currently investing $25 million in its Cure Violence efforts. Javier Lopez, the city’s assistant health commissioner, says police recognize the partnership between the public health workers and criminal justice, “and I think there’s been growing understandings between both of those worlds,” he says.

In Chicago, it’s an understanding that supporters of Cure Violence and CeaseFire say must also play a greater role here in reducing the deadly trend of gun violence infecting some neighborhoods.

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Ethics Watchdogs Want U.S. Attorney To Investigate Trump's Business Interests

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, shown here at a December press conference, is being urged to look into whether President Trump’s businesses violate the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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Mark Lennihan/AP

With Congress showing no signs of taking action, a group of ethics watchdogs is turning to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to look into whether President Trump’s many business interests violate the so-called Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Published reports indicate that the Trump Organization and related Trump business entities have been receiving payments from foreign government sources which benefit President Trump through his ownership of the Trump organization and related business entities,” according to a letter sent to Bharara. It went on:

“A failure by your office to investigate these reports and to take appropriate action will leave the nation exposed to foreign governments directly and indirectly providing payments and financial benefits to President Trump when those foreign governments may be seeking to influence Executive Branch policies and positions. This is precisely the kind of problem that the Founding Fathers acted to prevent by including the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution.”

The letter was signed by Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which sued Trump in January, alleging ethics violations, and has worked hard to keep the issue on the table. Also signing were Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, and Paul Smith, vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, as well as former Obama ethics adviser Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, adviser to George W. Bush.

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment, but Alan Garten, attorney for the company, told The Washington Post the letter was “factually inaccurate, legally erroneous and politically motivated.”

Bharara’s office declined to comment.

The Emoluments Clause says that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the U.S. government], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

The letter says “there is no question” the clause applies to Trump and that he is violating it, because of the Trump Organization’s extensive business operations, many of them tied to foreign governments.

For example, tenants of Trump Tower include the Industrial Bank of China, which is owned by the Bejing government, as well as the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. The building is partly owned by the president.

The letter notes that the Trump Organization has plans to build 20 to 30 luxury hotels in China, which will require permits from the Chinese government. The president is also part owner of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan that carries a loan held by the government-owned Bank of China.

The Justice Department has a “broad mandate” to ensure compliance with the Emoluments Clause, the letter says. It also notes that Bharara has jurisdiction over the issue because he is the U.S. attorney of the southern district of New York, where the Trump Organization is headquartered, the letter says.

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China OKs 38 Trump Trademarks; Critics Say It Violates Emoluments Clause

Computer screens show some of the Trump trademarks approved by China.

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Ng Han Guan/AP

President Trump is on his way to getting something he has wanted for a long time: dozens of valuable “Trump” trademarks in China.

China’s Trademark Office has now given preliminary approval to 38 new trademarks, covering everything from hotels to golf clubs to insurance and more.

After AP reported the news Wednesday, Senate Democrats expressed outrage, noting that Trump’s lawyer Sheri Dillon had promised in January that there would be “no new foreign deals” during the Trump presidency. But by pursuing new trademarks, the Trump Organization, which the president continues to own, may be laying the groundwork for expansions in China.

Ben Cardin, D-Md., said, “For a decade prior to his election as president, Donald Trump sought, with no success, to have lucrative and valuable trademarks granted in the world’s biggest market. He was turned down each and every time. The floodgates now appear to be open.”

Cardin called on the federal departments of Justice, State and Commerce to “brief Congress, immediately, on these matters and on the potential Constitutional dangers that they present.”

Cardin is concerned about violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which bars elected leaders from taking anything of value from foreign countries, unless approved by Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the trademark approvals are “exactly what the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause was designed to prevent and President Trump is blatantly defying it,” she said.

Last month, China approved one registered trademark for a Trump-owned construction services business.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told NPR at that time that by giving Trump valuable name rights, Chinese officials may hope they can influence policy decisions. And that represents a breach of the Emoluments Clause, she believes.

“What I think this demonstrates is that when Donald Trump is dealing with the Chinese government on behalf of the United States, he also may be thinking about what the Chinese government can do not just for the U.S. but for Donald Trump and his businesses and his own financial well-being,” she said.

The Trump Organization says it pushes for trademarks to prevent others from using them. “[W]e zealously protect Mr. Trump’s valuable name, brand and trademarks,” Alan Garten, chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, told The Washington Post in a statement.

For a decade, Trump has been trying to nail down trademarks in China for wide range of goods and services, including pet-care products, lingerie and computer software. The Trump Organization has been frustrated that many Chinese-owned businesses have used the word “Trump” without paying any licensing fees.

The applications for these particular trademarks had been filed last April during the heat of the presidential campaign when Trump was claiming that China steals U.S. jobs.

AP says China’s Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on Feb. 27. If no one in China objects, they will be automatically registered after 90 days.

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