41 days to go - how the environment is faring in the #txlege

By Luke Metzger
Executive Director

With 41 days left in the Legislative session, we’re in crunch time. The conventional wisdom is that if bills haven’t been scheduled a hearing by now, they’re likely dead. As such, let’s look at what’s still standing - the good and the bad.       

Clean Air

Bad news: You’d think that with all the major industrial accidents in the Houston area recently the Legislature would take action to try to keep things from blowing up.  Maddeningly, though, the opposite seems to be the case. Bills which could strengthen enforcement by TCEQ and set stronger standards on chemical storage tanks sit idle, while bills to make it harder for local governments to sue polluters or for citizens to strengthen pollution and safety standards in the permitting process have already passed out of committee and are on their way to the floor.                                 

Good news: There’s better news on mobile sources of air pollution. Bills to reauthorize funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which funds retrofits of dirty diesel powered vehicles and equipment and provides rebates for electric vehicles, are moving, as are bills to ban “coal rolling” and school bus idling. Bills to create new fees on electric vehicles (to help pay for roads) appear stalled, while bills to study the issue instead appear to have more traction.

Clean Water

Bad news: Today, the House voted 94-47 in favor of a bill which sets the stage for allowing oil and gas companies to dump their wastewater in our rivers and streams. The House wouldn’t even accept an amendment to require the companies to fully disclose the chemicals in the wastewater. And a bill which could override Austin's Save Our Springs ordinance in the city's ETJ is scheduled for a vote in the House tomorrow.

Good news: On the plus side, three bills to get the lead out of school drinking water and one to study the use of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) have gotten hearings, so they’re still in play. Bills to require use of GSI in state buildings and to create a statewide website to let people know about bacteria pollution in swimming holes are languishing.

Wildlife Over Waste

Bad news: Bills to restore the right of cities to ban plastic bags and polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) haven’t had hearings, so the Texas Supreme Court ruling overturning such ordinances likely will stand for at least two more years.

Good news: A bill to promote the use of recyclable materials as feedstock for processing and manufacturing is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on April 23. And a bill to fight illegal dumping of tires, vetoed by Gov. Abbott two years ago, has been pared back to address his concerns and now seems to be rolling.  Check out Texas Campaign for the Environment's comprehensive list of waste bills here.  

Parks and Wildlife

Good news: Legislation to amend the constitution to guarantee sales taxes on sporting goods goes to our state and local parks passed the Senate unanimously and has 149 co-sponsors in the House (only the Speaker, who generally doesn’t sponsor bills, isn’t on it), so this is great news!

Clean Energy

Good news: The “solar bill of rights” bill to prevent cities from adopting anti-solar ordinances got positive hearings and don’t have opposition. Legislation to allow electric utilities to partner with electric generators to invest in battery storage was placed on the “local & uncontested calendar” in the Senate, which means its uncontroversial and should see smooth sailing.

Bad news: The Koch brothers-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation are campaigning hard to discriminate against renewable energy in state policy. Bills to study how renewable energy incentives distort the electric market (never mind that fossil fuels get twice the subsidies as wind and solar) are moving and we’re still on guard against efforts to kick renewable energy out of the state’s economic development program.

No Bees, No Food

Mixed news: Bills to ban bee-killing pesticides on roadsides and to create task forces to study pollinator health have gotten hearings, but Big Ag and pesticide groups are lobbying against them, so they face a tough road ahead. A bill to simply require utilities to plant bee-friendly plants after they dig up highway rights of way hasn’t even gotten a hearing yet.

Global warming

Mostly bad news I’m afraid: Legislators filed a half dozen bills to study climate change and sources of greenhouse gases, but none have gotten hearings. Not surprising, perhaps, given our Governor won’t even agree to meet with climate scientists to hear them out.  

One bright spot: It hasn’t gotten a hearing yet, but SB 2064 would direct companies who drill on land owned by UT to develop methane reduction plans. The good news is UT doesn’t need legislation to move forward on this and a broad coalition of students, faculty and alumni are calling on UT to cut this pollution.

A lot of work still to do to snuff out the bad bills and get the good ones across the finish line. Onward!