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Civic leaders denounce drilling bill that threatens DFW residents’ health and safety

DALLAS – With the Legislature scheduled to vote Tuesday on a bill preempting municipal and county oil and gas drilling ordinances, Dallas civic and environmental leaders said the legislation puts local control to protect health and safety at risk, making Dallas and the region's populations vulnerable to fire, pollution and other dangers.

"We had stakeholder input and went through a long, deliberative process before our City Council voted on its drilling ordinance,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “I appreciate the beneficial changes that have been made to the bill in recent weeks, but my fear is we end up with a cookie cutter approach that does not take into consideration individual city needs and differences. That's why these decisions ought to be left in the hands of local leaders who are best positioned to do what's best for their constituents."

“Drilling operations pose real risks to our health and safety and that’s why we passed strong protections in the City of Dallas two years ago,” commented Dallas Council member Philip Kingston who testified against the bills on behalf of the City of Dallas. “Now, Austin lawmakers are threatening to roll back these critical protections, undermine our local control and put our families and community at risk.”

HB 40 (Darby-San Angelo) and SB 1165 (Fraser- Horseshoe Bay) have recently passed out of the House Energy Resources and Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee and could soon be debated on the floor within the coming week. The bills “expressly preempt” oil and gas ordinances by municipalities or other political subdivisions, making oil and gas operations the “exclusive jurisdiction of the state.”

“These bills not only threaten city ordinances, but also any political subdivision in the State of Texas including counties such as ours,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins pointed out. “A county’s ability to regulate where oil and gas trucks travel on county roads or how they drill or bore under county roadways to place pipe could all go out the window should these bills pass.”

“Run, don’t walk,” commented Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “If Austin lawmakers are successful, oil and gas drilling could be coming to a school, playground, or daycare center near you.”

The group warned the bills could undermine drilling ordinances in more than 300 Texas cities, including Dallas, Ft. Worth, Southlake, Lewisville, Irving, and Flower Mound. Limits on drilling near homes, prohibitions of drilling in parks, and bans on waste injection wells could be threatened with legal challenge if not deemed “commercially reasonable,” a standard the group argued is vague and largely undefined.

“We are very wary of bills that preempt the ability of cities and counties to protect neighborhoods from heavy industry,” concluded David Smith, spokesperson for Texas Neighborhoods Together. “Citizens have worked with city officials and industry often at the table to devise ordinances that strike a balance between industry and neighborhood interests.  We are now faced with defending our homes and communities against those in the Legislature who are working against us.  We need citizens across the state to contact both the House and Senate and ask them to vote NO on these bad bills in order to protect our property values, our quality of life, and the vitality of the communities where we live.”

“The oil and gas lobbyists wrote these bills to not only undermine every ordinance currently in existence but also to deny any new cities the ability to write an ordinance that may face urban drilling at their doorstep in the future,” commented Rita Beving, Coordinator for the Alliance for Clean Texas. “The drilling lobbyists pushed these bills through the House and Senate Committees despite fierce protest by many of our cities and organizations from the DFW region.  It’s appears many of our elected officials want to hand the keys to the state to oil and gas and let them do what they will.”

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Environment Texas is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization that works on air, water, and land issues.

The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT) is an alliance of fifteen environmental, public interest, consumer rights and religious organizations dedicated to improving public health, quality of life and the environment in Texas by working for change through public education and advocacy at the regulatory and legislative levels.