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April was a busy month for tornadoes across the United States with 373 recorded, bringing the total for the year to 549, the Austin American-Statesman reported. That is nearly double the average at this point in the year, the National Weather Service says.

Texas, as usual, is a leader in tornadic activity, with 14 tornadoes reported within a 24hour span in Central and East Texas during a spring storm in late April. Luckily, none resulted in injury or fatality. All of the tornadoes reported on April 26 fell within a 70mile stretch along Interstate 35 and Texas Hwy. 31, around Corsicana, McGregor and Hillsboro.

The weather service reported that tornadoes have nearly reached half the annual average recorded over the past decade, with April alone accounting for more than one- fourth of the annual average.

FLOODING PROMPTS DISASTER DECLARATIONS A total of 59 counties thus far are under state disaster declaration after severe weather and flooding swept much of Central and East Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced. More counties could be added as conditions warrant.

The counties added to the disaster declaration include: Anderson, Angelina, Austin, Bandera, Bastrop, Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Bosque, Brazos, Burleson, Burnet, Caldwell, Cherokee, Colorado, Comal, Coryell, DeWitt, Falls, Fayette, Gillespie, Gonzales, Gregg, Guadalupe, Hamilton, Hardin, Hays, Henderson, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Karnes, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Lampasas, Lavaca, Lee, Llano, Mason, Medina, Milam, Nacogdoches, Newton, Orange, Panola, Robertson, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Travis, Van Zandt, Waller, Washington, Williamson, and Wilson counties.

Texans from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods are not out of the woods yet when it comes to severe weather, the Texas Standard reported. Of particular concern is the area north of Houston, with evacuation orders in place in Polk County. The Trinity River overflowed following as much as 23 inches of rain in parts of the Lake Livingston watershed.

IT’S OFFICIAL: POWER L I N E S CA U S E D PANHANDLE WILDFIRES A House committee investigating the deadly Panhandle wildfires concluded the most destructive blazes were caused by power lines that “had not been effectively maintained or replaced by a utility provider and an oil and gas operator,” The Dallas Morning News reported.

The findings were released in an interim report last week. The Smokehouse Creek fire started Feb. 26 in Hutchinson County and rapidly became the largest wildfire in state history.

The fire scorched more than a million acres. It killed at least two people and more than 15,000 head of cattle and destroyed an estimated 138 homes and businesses.

The committee’s findings included ineffective monitoring of utility, oil and gas providers in the area; a lack of funding for volunteer fire departments; and lack of coordination among first responders and government agencies.

“Volunteer fire departments, which the Panhandle region largely depends on, are grossly underfunded, making it virtually impossible for them to obtain the equipment and resources needed to fight wildfires of this magnitude safely and effectively,” the report stated.

Both the Smokehouse Creek and the smaller Reamer Creek fires were caused by downed Xcel Energy power poles, while the Windy Deuce Fire was caused by tree limbs rubbing against power lines on a pole.

PAXTON SUES TO BLOCK CLOSING ‘GUN SHOW LOOPHOLE’ Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing to stop the Biden administration’s bid to close what is known as the ‘gun show loophole.

“We will not let Biden continue this tyrannical abuse of power,” kut. org quoted Paxton as saying. “His war on Second Amendment rights must be stopped.”

Paxton was joined by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach in suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to attempt to block a new rule requiring all gun sellers to be federally licensed and to conduct background checks of purchases – including weapons sold at gun shows or in private transactions.

Steven Dettelback, ATF director, said requiring firearms dealers to have federal licenses to sell guns and conducting background checks on buyers closes a loophole, since licensed gun sellers are already required to keep records of sales.

“We can clearly see that a whole group of folks are openly flouting that law,” Dettelbach said. “That leads to not just unfair but, in this case, dangerous consequences.”

ABBOTT ORDERS TEA TO IGNORE NEW TITLE IX GUIDELINES Abbott last week ordered the Texas Education Agency to ignore new Biden administration guidelines that add new categories of protection within Title IX to include LGBTQ students, the Texas Standard reported. The new rules also spurred yet another lawsuit against the Biden Administration by Paxton. The state’s AG office says, “the Biden administration misinterpreted the intent of Title IX.”

However, Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in women and the law, said the Department of Education is charged with interpreting and implementing Title IX, and the governor is exceeding his powers.

“To be clear, a governor of a state does not have the authority to order his people to ignore federal law. A federal law is supreme. So, the idea that he can just sort of pick and choose and decide that Texas isn’t going to follow federal law is not one of his options,” she said.

R EF INER I E S CAN GET TAX CREDIT FOR CLEANING JET FUEL Texas Gulf Coast refineries stand to pick up lucrative tax credits if they choose to make jete fuel from ethanol, cooking oil and other renewable substances under new Biden administration rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Houston Chronicle reported that the U.S. Treasury Department has rolled out new guidelines for jet fuel producers who use crude oil alternatives. They can claim tax credits worth between $1.25 and $1.75 per gallon.

“People say aviation is a ‘hard to decarbonize’ sector. And while it is difficult, it is a sector we must decarbonize if we’re going to address climate change,” said John Podesta, Biden’s senior adviser for international climate policy.

Refineries operators are taking note. Valero is overhauling its biodiesel plant in Port Arthur to produce up to 235 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel annually, the Chronicle reported.

“Refiners are making the investments necessary to be part of the solution,” the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers trade group noted last year.

Gary Borders is a veteran award- winning Texas journalist. He published a number of community newspapers in Texas during a 30- year span, including in Longview, Fort Stockton, Nacogdoches, Lufkin and Cedar Park. Email: