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Texas House approves bill to block city efforts on gas pollution in buildings

For Immediate Release:

AUSTIN - Today the Texas House of Representatives voted 113-34 in support of HB 17, which would prohibit cities from directly or indirectly restricting the use of gas in buildings. The following statement can be attributed to Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger:

"What are the big gas companies afraid of? They are afraid that communities will choose to repower with clean energy. So they are trying to take away that option by backing a series of bills across the country, including HB 17, to restrict our freedom to move to clean energy and reduce methane gas pollution in buildings. The bill strips local elected officials’ ability to best address the energy needs and interests of their constituents. 

Methane gas in buildings is responsible for 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists are clear that, in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, including more frequent and severe extreme weather, we must eliminate climate pollution by mid-century. HB 17 will tie the hands of local officials in cutting this pollution. 

Efficient, electric technologies have come a long way in the past twenty years. Today, electric heat pumps can heat and cool homes more efficiently and cheaply than gas or oil furnaces. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a new mixed-fuel home (with gas furnace, water heater, air conditioning, and new gas connection costs) has a higher up-front cost than the all-electric home, which uses the heat pump system for both heating and cooling. The new all-electric home has 7% lower annual utility costs. A new all-electric home saves $4,400 in net present costs and 15 tons of CO2 emissions over a 15-year period.

HB 17 was included as part of a package of bills to respond to the blackout, but HB 17 makes us more vulnerable to blackouts not less. According to energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, “gas-fired plants ... were the source of the biggest problems” of the blackout. Some gas plants shut down as key components froze and others weren’t able to get gas supply as the oilfields and natural gas equipment froze. Shifting more of our homes to be powered by electricity can actually reduce the strain on the gas system, and the chances of another blackout. Electrifying homes and commercial buildings would cut gas consumption in Texas buildings by 378.4 billion cubic feet by 2050  –  representing about 8% of Texas’ total consumption of gas in 2019. We needed every molecule of gas we could get during the blackouts - electrification would have made more gas available to keep the lights and heat on. HB 17 was not filed as a response to the freeze and blackouts. It is part of a national effort by the natural gas industry to stop governments from encouraging electrification of buildings. Similar bills have been filed in at least 13 other states. 

An amendment offered by Chairman Chris Turner was brought down on a point of order. It would have clarified that under HB 17 that cities can still offer rebates and educate residents about alternatives to methane gas, as well as make changes to codes. Without that amendment, HB 17 could severely curtail even voluntary programs to reduce pollution.

Texans want more renewable energy, and our local decision-makers should have the authority to adopt policies that reflect and act on their community’s interests, needs and values. When the state of Texas blocks communities from passing their own laws, it is silencing local democracy and hurts community health and the environment."