Last week, I went to the Texas Capitol to show support for Representative Jason Isaac’s efforts to educate his fellow lawmakers on the importance of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP). A diverse group of stakeholders, including Texas businesses, local governments, environmental groups, and others are calling on the Texas Legislature to 1) preserve an essential program that helps improve air quality in Texas, and 2) use the funds that have already been collected from Texas businesses and residents for their intended use – healthier air quality. Representative Isaac has jokingly referred to the unique coalition of industry, government, and environmental organizations as “dogs and cats living together,” but the solidarity is an important indication of both the success and importance of the TERP program to the health of Texans and our economy. But only if the State Legislation spends the funds already collected rather than keep the money in state coffers.
Created by the Texas Legislature in 2001, TERP has been instrumental in improving air quality in metropolitan areas in Texas. Since its inception, more than one billion dollars have been invested in cost-effective, voluntary grants to incentivize the replacement and disposal of old, dirty engines and equipment with new, cleaner models. These mobile sources alone account for 70-80 percent of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution in both Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth – one of the pollutants linked to harmful ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. Thankfully, Texas lawmakers had the foresight to create a program that helps Texans breathe cleaner air and enjoy strong economic growth.
For years, the Texas Legislature has withheld a significant portion of the collected money in order to balance the budget, rather than using the funds to improve air quality for Texas citizens and businesses. Using information provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, I estimate that only $0.46 of every dollar collected from heavy-duty truck owners and operators has been used for its original purpose. Nearly $1 billion in total—only half of what has been collected—has been withheld, instead of being used to improve air quality in Texas. Retaining close to 50 percent of the total taxpayer money collected for TERP has caused Texas to miss opportunities to meet clean air goals, like reducing ground-level ozone in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions, and may have endangered other areas that could fail to meet health standards.
What can Texas lawmakers do?
- Immediately create an emergency appropriation of $300 million for turn-key TERP projects that could have been implemented had lawmakers fully funded the program.
- Based on my calculations, this funding alone would reduce at least 30,000 – 40,000 tons of NOx pollution, representing nearly a quarter of the total NOx reductions achieved through the TERP program thus far. To help put it in perspective, this amount of pollution represents over 30 percent of the yearly NOx emitted from all the cars, trucks, and heavy-duty equipment sources in Houston or Dallas-Fort Worth.
- Fairly match revenues to appropriations and use taxes and collected fees for their intended purpose.
- Projected revenue for the 2014-2015 biennium is $359 million. This money could be used to target reductions in poor air quality areas that are working to prevent EPA nonattainment designation, in addition to improving air quality in areas with known air quality health risks.
- Use Texas willpower and innovation to ensure our state meets science-based standards for healthy air quality, while saving businesses money and keeping Texas a great place to live.
- Using TERP funding for cost-effective, clean air projects, like replacing dirty drayage trucks or construction equipment with more efficient models, fulfills the promise that legislators made to the people back in 2001. It’s time to turn that promise into a reality.