February 10th, 2015
Volume 3, Issue 1 + February 10, 2015
In This Issue: The Big Picture, The Senate, The House, The Budget, Legislation
The Big Picture
Gov. Greg Abbott set an aggressive anti-environment and anti-local control agenda early, signaling his opposition to local ordinances involving bags, fracking, and trees. While a smattering of bills have been filed on these issues, momentum for fast-tracking these ideas seems to have stalled. A bill has yet to be filed involving the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the state’s leading power utility lobby has indicated it would prefer for the legislature to delay action on the issue. Senate and House committees have been named, with some notable changes in terms of leadership and jurisdiction. Many important environmental bills are out, but this is likely only the tip of the iceberg in terms of total legislation filed. Some key updates on these issues are highlighted below.
Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) remains chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, though its title and charge have been expanded to include economic development. Some issues which might have gone to SNR in the past involving local control on environmental matters are being referred to State Affairs, now chaired by Joan Huffman (R-Houston), with Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) serving as Vice Chair. Most matters involving water are being referred to Agriculture, Water, & Rural Affairs, chaired by freshman Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). Some important issues involving electric markets and power could go to Senate Business & Commerce, now chaired by Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).
Three important environmental committees have new chairs: the Environmental Regulation Committee is now chaired by Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria); Energy Resources is now chaired by Drew Darby (R-San Angelo); and Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) moves from Energy over to Natural Resources. House State Affairs remains largely the same with Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) at the helm. TLCV is excited that Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) retained his Chairmanship of the International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, where he has signaled he will hold a hearing on climate issues, and that Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) was named Vice Chair of Environmental Regulation.
Senate and House budgets as introduced generally include meager funding increases for state agencies. One issue TLCV is watching are efforts to have revenue from the state Sporting Goods Sales Tax constitutionally dedicated to go to fund state parks and park programs. Another issue we are watching is the use of clean air funds in the Texas Emission Reduction Plan (TERP) for its intended purpose. Currently the state uses only about half of the TERP revenue it takes in and the fund has a balance of approximately 1 billion dollars.
As always, this list is by no means meant to be exhaustive, just a glimpse of important bills TLCV is tracking. This list will be expanded throughout the session.
Sen. Ellis has filed two good bills; SB 77 which deals with the state adopting a climate adaptation plan, and SB 253, which requires reporting on public health impacts for new facilities located in certain low-income and minority communities. Representative Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) has introduced HB 417, which would improve safety standards at facilities that warehouse ammonium nitrate.
HB 1247 by Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) would switch the burden of proof in Contested Case Hearings on environmental permit applications to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from deep-pocketed polluters to citizens.
HB 540 by Phil King (R-Weatherford) would grant the Attorney General sweeping new powers in deciding whether to allow local referenda to move forward. SB 360 by Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) would prohibit municipal takings for the purposes of protecting against flooding; protecting public health and safety; and ensuring proper sanitation. SB 440 by Konni Burton (R-Tarrant) would ban local bans on hydraulic fracturing, no ifs, ands or butts.
Play It Again Sam
Rep Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) has re-filed HB 857, a largely symbolic Koch-brothers bill to end the state’s highly successful renewable energy portfolio standard. Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) has re-introduced HB 190, a bill to impose costly and burdensome analysis in rulemaking on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) has introduced SB 343 — dubbed the Soviet Union bill — which would give elected officials in Austin ultimate supremacy over cities and towns, effectively ending all types of local control. The bill could have the effect of ending local environmental ordinances (e.g. Austin’s Save Our Springs measure), but also in theory could affect neighborhood zoning (e.g. the placement of nightlife establishments), public safety (e.g. setting speed limits), and quality of life measures (e.g. indoor smoking bans), just to name a few examples. We don’t expect Huffines bill to advance far in the legislature, but TLCV will be working diligently to ensure it does not.
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