There is an assault on public health and environmental integrity underway in the Texas Legislature right now that’s the worst I’ve seen in my twenty-something years as an environmental advocate.
The Texas Legislature is currently considering a series of bills that would eliminate much of the important rules protecting not just air and water, but also public health and safety. Many of these laws have been in place for decades and are critical in a state where the energy industry and large polluting companies are a key part of our economy.
Here’s a run-down of some of the worst bills being considered at the Texas Legislature and the elected “leaders” sponsoring them:
Crime: State Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), author of Senate Bill (SB) 931, is proposing to undo the law that put Texas on the national – and international – map for wind energy: the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Set into law in 1999, the RPS set renewable energy, predominately wind, goals for Texas, launching a windfall of new investment in West Texas and the Panhandle. This is the same law that helped create 40 new businesses and 30,000 jobs in 57 West Texas counties, including Fraser’s own county.
Wind energy is a vital component of Texas’ economy and environment. Not only does it support thousands of jobs, predominately in rural West Texas, but wind energy also requires virtually zero water, saving an estimated eight billion gallons of water each year. This bill would also halt construction of the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ), a 3,600 mile transmission line that will connect remote West Texas wind energy to the eastern cities that need its power. This project, one that the state has already invested in, would deliver enough power to energize 3.7 million to 7.4 million homes and increase the available wind power supply by a whopping 50 percent.
Tell your Representative that you support water-free, pollution-free wind energy from right here in Texas!
Punishment: Repay Texas for the billion gallons of water that will be lost each year when more fuel power plants are used rather than water-free wind energy.
Accomplices: The 21 Senators who voted in favor of this bill, including Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), Donna Campbell (R- New Braunfels), Brandon Creighton (R- Conroe), Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills,) Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Van Taylor (R-Plano).
Crime: State House Representative Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), author of House Bill (HB) 1794, is proposing a gift to big polluters by placing strict limits on maximum penalties for environmental damages. Companies now will often make more money violating, rather than complying with, the law. Not only would the bill prevent local governments from protecting Texans, Geren would also give industry even more leeway by imposing a five-year statute of limitations on local governments for filing lawsuits.
This means if it takes more than five years for the pollution or the damages or health impacts from the pollution to become evident – as was the case with the toxins in the San Jacinto River waste pits – affected citizens will have no way to seek justice. In that particular case, cost estimates for remediating the waste pits range from $100 million to $600 million, while Geren is proposing a cap of a measly $4.3 million – and that’s assuming you notice the pollution or the damage in time to beat the statute of limitations.
With a maximum penalty, polluters will often find that “crime” actually does pay. The penalty for violating the law will be less than the money saved by non-compliance. Geren is providing companies an incentive to violate the law, and placing law-abiding companies at an economic disadvantage.
Punishment: Explaining to Texans why they should have to endure the devastating health impacts – and their associated costs – of irresponsible polluters who’ve been given a free license to contaminate our water, air, and soil.
Accomplices: Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring), Rep. Cindy Burkett (R- Mesquite), Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), and Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) who wrote the companion bill in the Senate, SB 1509.
Crime: State House Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), author of HB 1865, is proposing a historic shift in the way we regulate industry development in Texas. This new bill would make it the job of everyday citizens to hold potential polluters accountable for their actions.
Currently, if a major corporation wants to pollute the air or water and a hearing is requested, the polluter must prove they will do it safely and meet the requirements of the law. Not anymore with Morrison’s bill.
Instead of an applicant having to prove that their application complies with the law, as is the case with all permits in Texas, citizens would have to prove that an application does NOT comply with the law. The bill also dramatically shortens the time for a review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Even if the case is complicated and issues are unresolvable, the application is automatically approved in six months, regardless of the threat to children. This shift of the “burden of proof” would require citizens to hire expensive experts in order to participate in a permit process, rather than simply review whether an application is complete and adequately supported.
Morrison is stacking the deck in favor industry and trying to prevent Texans from raising legitimate questions about health and safety.
Punishment: Visiting every school in Texas and explaining why the new chemical plant spewing carcinogens across the street is not a good playground.
Accomplices: Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring), and Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), plus our old friend Sen. Fraser, who wrote the Senate companion SB 709.
Crime: State House Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) is proposing to gut local energy building codes of 65 cities across the state and to limit the State from updating statewide energy efficiency building codes from once every two years to once every six years with HB 1736. This bill would handcuff Texas from working with private enterprise to lower electricity bills and cut harmful air pollution. The bill reverses decades of law and practice and prohibits city building codes from going above and beyond the state’s modest codes. All of Texas’ major cities have in recent years double-downed on energy efficiency, because it’s a no-brainer. These efforts would be completely undone.
Energy efficiency provides numerous benefits to Texas: lower electricity bills, jobs that can’t be outsourced, and significant reductions in dangerous power plant pollution, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxide. Energy efficiency is also the most cost-effective way to reduce energy use, improving grid reliability and lowering costs of electricity infrastructure and maintenance. Plus, saving energy saves water, which is critical in a state like Texas under the pressure of a multi-year drought. Yes, Villalba’s bill will waste water.
Villalba is trying to stick Texas companies with high electricity bills, putting a damper on the states’ plan for economic growth and prosperity. Furthermore, he’s undermining the very spirit of Texas independence by limiting local control in favor of “Austin knows best.” Don’t let him get away with it!
Punishment: Explain to Texans why he is trying to keep their electricity bills unnecessarily high.
Accomplice: The star of this roundup, Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), sponsor of the companion bill, Senate Bill 929.