Seven Enforcement Actions, $270,000 in Fines and 51 Violation Notices in Five Years Is "Satisfactory" for TCEQ

Categories: Spaced City

On Saturday morning, people living near the DuPont chemical plant in La Porte awoke to the rotten-egg smell of methyl mercaptan, the chemical used to scent natural gas so you can sniff out a leak before your house explodes. By day's end, news had surfaced that one plant worker was injured and another four killed during an accidental methyl mercaptan release at the company's 800-acre complex earlier that morning.

What exactly caused the fatal leak that killed Wade Baker, Crystle Rae Wise, and brothers Robert and Gilbert "Gibby" Tisnado will only be revealed in the coming weeks and months as state officials and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board continue to investigate the incident (an eight-person CSB team began its investigation Monday morning). "Our goal in investigating this accident is to determine the root cause and make recommendations to prevent any similar accidents throughout the industry," said CSB managing director Daniel Horowitz in a statement.

As for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, spokesman Terry Clawson assured that "no off-site impacts to public health or to the environment have been identified," and said the agency is still responding to complaints about foul odors in the area. Clawson pointed out that TCEQ's own reports indicate DuPont has had "satisfactory" compliance with environmental regulations in recent years.

That's quite a curve, even considering "satisfactory" is regulator-speak for a middle-of-the-pack C student. "Satisfactory" by TCEQ standards apparently means numerous enforcement actions, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and more than four dozen written violation notices within five years.

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Japanese Investor Claims Houston "Space Law" Expert's Private Space Flight Company Was a Scam

Excalibur Almaz website

Takafumi "Horiemon" Horie, the Japanese entrepreneur who founded the tech company Livedoor and later spent time in jail for securities fraud, is suing a Houston "space law" attorney, along with a number of related corporations, for allegedly duping him into investing $49 million dollars in a defunct space travel company, using Russian-made Almaz spacecraft as bait.

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Please Stop Packing Your Guns in Your Carry-On at Bush Intercontinental Airport

Not that we needed any further proof that Texans love guns, but here it is anyway, courtesy of the TSA.

As of last week, the TSA had discovered a record-breaking 1,855 firearms in carry-on bags at airports across the nation, and two of the top five airports for those discoveries were -- surprise-- in Texas, including Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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UPDATED Lyft Threatens to Leave Houston, Because $62 Is Just Way Too Steep to Make Sure Its Drivers Aren't Criminals

Alfredo Mendez
Your commute's about to get a little less mustache-y.

See below for comments from Chelsea Wilson, Lyft's public policy communications manager.

Citing "expensive" new citywide regulations that mandate drug testing, fingerprinting and background checks for drivers, Lyft, one of the two app-based companies operating in Houston, says it would rather close up shop than comply.

The city's new requirements, set to take effect November 4, will require Houston applicants to use a state fingerprint-based background check company, rather than the online background check system that Lyft currently uses. Drivers must also submit to a warrant check, be drug-tested and give the city their personal information.

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'American Insurgent Movement' Leader Pleads Guilty to Plot to Overthrow Government, Rob Banks and Blow Up Mosques

Screenshot from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Robert James Talbot Jr.
A Katy man who the FBI says tried to form an "American Insurgent Movement" to rob banks, blow up mosques and overthrow the government with "blood and bullets" has pleaded guilty in federal court.

Court records show Robert Talbot Jr., 38, admitted to plotting his revolution in a hearing before federal district court Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. on Friday. The charges, including attempted interference with commerce by robbery and solicitation to commit a crime of violence, could put him in prison for 20 years.

The FBI opened its investigation into Talbot in August 2013, apparently after finding Talbot's Facebook posts searching for "like-minded" recruits to join his cause. Unbeknownst to him, his three "like-minded" recruits ended up being undercover FBI agents.

What's truly remarkable about the case is the amount of crazy Talbot let spill out into the open, on his Facebook page, for everyone (including federal law enforcement) to see. Here are some of the more stunning posts, culled from court records:

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Sheriff Launches Investigation After Inmate Found in Cell With Bugs, Garbage and Feces

Categories: Crime, Spaced City

Screenshot from KTRK
A whistleblower leaked photos of Goodwin's cell to KTRK
It's not necessarily that Harris County Jail officials didn't know about the squalid conditions inmate Terry Goodwin was forced to live in for weeks. It's just that nobody told Sheriff Adrian Garcia about it, his office insists.

Garcia would have immediately taken corrective action, according to sheriff's spokeswoman Christina Garza, but he didn't know about the incident -- how Goodwin was trapped in a cell with mounds of trash, swarms of bugs, and piles of his own feces -- until three weeks ago, right around the time someone sent an anonymous tip to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and a whistleblower shared photos of the gnarly-looking cell with KTRK. On Tuesday, the same day KTRK posted its story with photos showing Goodwin's cell, TCJS sent Garcia a letter temporarily putting the jail back in "at risk" status until his office sends the jail commission a plan to make sure something like this never happens again.

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Widmeyer's Anti-Pit Bull Piece Is an Embarrassment

Categories: Spaced City

Photo by Matthew Roth
If there's one thing a pit -- or any other dog -- needs, it's a competent owner.
There's a real problem when the communications director for the controller's office in the fourth-largest city writes an ill-informed opinion piece, and the city's daily newspaper publishes it without question.

I'm talking about Roger Widmeyer's September 20 piece for the Houston Chronicle's Outlook section, which describes his decision to euthanize one of his dogs after it attacked his wife. Widmeyer was no doubt shocked and scared by what's described as a terrifying, unprovoked attack. Anyone would be emotional after any dog, let alone a pet, turned on a loved one in his own home. And I can understand saying something dumb in the heat of the moment. But Widmeyer didn't do that. Instead, after several months he could have spent reflecting and researching, he carefully and deliberately crammed more stupid into 1,083 words than we ever imagined was possible. Relying on one personal experience and a mythical statistic, Widmeyer proclaims that pit bulls "probably do not belong in our world."

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SpaceX, Boeing to Launch Humans Under NASA's Watch

Categories: Spaced City

Photo from SpaceX

For the first time in American history, commercial spaceflight companies will send astronauts to the International Space Station.

SpaceX and Boeing have been awarded NASA contracts to pursue the technology necessary for sustaining human life in space. Pending certification by NASA, American astronauts will again travel to and from the space station via commercial American rockets, which hasn't been possible since the federal shuttle program shut down in 2011.

Over the past few years, NASA has had to pay exorbitant prices to seat their astronauts on Russian rockets. The SpaceX and Boeing contracts will allow the U.S. to end its sole reliance on Russia by 2017, according to a NASA news release. Tasking commercial companies with sending astronauts to the International Space Station will hopefully free up NASA to focus on outer space missions, such as eventually landing people on Mars.

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Juvenile Probation Takes on Child Trafficking in Houston

Imagens Evangélicas
On September 4th, the Harris County Sheriff's Office gave the Juvenile Probation Department a check for $300,000 in an effort to help victims of child trafficking. Houston is often called a hub for trafficking victims, both domestic and international, but to no one's surprise, these numbers are far more complicated, and so are the victims' experiences.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 20% of nationwide child trafficking victims come through Houston alone and consistently, year after year, more than 30% of the calls received by the National Trafficking Resource Center hotline come from Texas. But according to Edward Chapuseaux, an investigator for and founder of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (sheriff's office) task force, these statistics aren't an incredibly accurate assessment of the trafficking problem here.

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HISD Officers Pin Student to the Ground Because She Was on Her Cell Phone

A brief cell phone video of Houston school district cops pinning down a screaming high school student caught fire on social media Wednesday.

Students and parents alike have taken to Twitter and Facebook, airing concerns of overhanded policing in schools. The eight-second video, reportedly taken at Sam Houston High School Tuesday, shows a student lying on a hallway floor, pinned down by officers at her head and feet. The video shows one officer reaching for something from his belt shortly before cutting out - it's unclear what the officer was grabbing.

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