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Energy & Environment

Texas Environmentalists Mostly Disappointed With Legislative Session

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Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
A door hinge inside the Texas Capitol

Texas environmental activists are pleased with changes in fracking disclosure laws and renewable energy initiatives that cleared the state legislature this session, but they are unhappy with cuts to state parks, delays in air quality requirements for oil and gas miners, and environmental legislation that died before making it to the Governor’s desk.

During a telephone news conference with reporters today, environmentalists with local chapters of Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the SEED Coalition explained what they liked and didn’t like about this session.  You can hear the full 51 minute teleconference here.

http://kut.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Texas-environmentalists-teleconference-with-reporters.mp3

“It was a fairly disappointing session,” Environmental Defense Fund analyst Colin Meehan said during the conference call. “We made progress on a few issues relating to renewable energy and other clean energy issues, but really, they were relatively minor.”

Here’s the full news release from the Sierra Club:

Texas Legislature Fails to Protect Public Health or Achieve Clean Energy Jobs Potential in 82nd State Legislative Session  (Austin)  Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen, and SEED Coalition hold Texas State Legislators accountable for missed opportunities to both protect public health from big energy polluters and create jobs in the growing, global clean energy economy.    Environmental groups, business, health, and community leaders from across the state asked the Texas Legislature to protect Texans’ health, air, water, and land from pollution, to implement serious protections and build the clean energy economy and new jobs in the state.  The Texas Legislature took some steps but missed a big opportunity to move beyond a fossil fuel economy in this state.   ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLES “The Legislature passed a dozen, ‘small’ electricity energy bills this session that will help us reduce the amount of energy we burn, lower customer’s energy bills, further eliminate the need to build new power plants and reduce the amount of pollution that's produced as a result,” said Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith with Public Citizen.  Click here for a full list of the good energy bills that passed this Session http://texasgreenreport.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/a_bakers_dozen_good_energy_bills_in_82nd_texas_legislature.doc Among the good bills passed this session were: SB 1125, which modernizes the energy efficiency goals and programs that investor-owned utilities must run; HB 51, which will require the State Energy Conservation Office to adopt high-performance buildings standards for state agency and university buildings, and, HB 362, which will require Homeowner Associations to set up the rules to allow homeowners to add solar or other cool roof technologies;  and, SB 981, which will clarify that third-party ownership of on-site solar is allowed in Texas, allowing both residential and commercial building owners to lease their roof-space and buy back the energy from solar companies. “While small steps -- taken together, these dozen bills should help create jobs in Texas and open up opportunities for energy efficiency and on-site solar,”noted Cyrus Reed. However, the Legislature failed to move more significant solar power bills -- a state solar incentive program, guaranteeing a fair buyback rate for homeowners who generate excess electricity from their solar panels, or an expansion of the state's goal for solar and other non-wind renewable energy, which has languished at the PUC since it was first passed in 2005. "Texas is shuffling towards the 21st century energy economy while other states are in an all out sprint to attract the growth and jobs that innovators and new industry will bring,” said Colin Meehan with Environmental Defense Fund.  “In a state known for big ideas and big things, small steps are not enough to attract new businesses and it's disappointing to see Texas stand on the sidelines." FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT SERIOUS OIL AND GAS PROTECTIONS “The Texas State Legislature passed the nation’s first state statute to require the disclosure of water volumes and names of chemicals and additives used in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the production of natural gas,”said Cyrus Reed with Sierra Club.  “Unfortunately due to last minute lobbying by some industry players on the Senate side, the rules for that list are not required until July of 2013.   Also problematically, the provision that allows operators, suppliers and service companies to ask that certain chemicals or additives not be disclosed by declaring them trade secrets is too favorable to industrial polluters and hard for the public to challenge.” Read more about the gas fracking chemical disclosure bill at - http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/press/scr.asp Beside weakening the gas fracking disclosure bill, the Texas Legislature: ·         Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes in the Railroad Commission of Texas (the state agency that regulates oil and gas activity); ·         Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes at the Public Utility Commission to reform the governing structure of ERCOT and open up the market for renewable energy; ·         Failed to pass a Texas Energy Planning Council to look at a transition toward clean energy and away from dirty coal plants. ·         Failed to find a better funding mechanism for the agency other than continued reliance on general revenue. ·         Passed SB 1134, which delays the implementation of new TCEQ rules on air emissions from oil & gas operations including fracking in the rapidly developing Eagle Ford and other shales beyond the already much-abused Barnett Shale;  and, ·         Failed to pass any additional protective measures related to oil and gas regulation such as pipeline safety, saltwater disposal regulations and green completions of wells; and, ·         Protected private industry from local governments recovering damages from global warming emissions. OTHER ENERGY-RELATED ISSUES: The Legislature passed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Sunset bill re-authorizing the agency charged with protecting Texas environment.  The Sunset bill passed with penalties for air pollution increased from $10,000 per violation to $25,000.  However, the Legislature made it harder for citizens and attorneys to produce discovery in contested case hearings. The Legislature opened up the state to become the nation’s radioactive waste dump by allowing 36 additional states to send their radioactive waste to the Andrews County Waste Control Specialists site that was originally intended only for Texas and Vermont ‘compact’ waste. "In an act of utter disgrace to Texas, the legislature voted to allow radioactive waste from around the country to be dumped in Texas showing a complete disregard for Texas' health and safety and pandering to a Dallas billionaire and his waste empire,"said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.  “Even basic amendments such as studying transportation risks on our highways and whether emergency responders are trained and equipped to deal with an accident involving radioactive waste were struck down. Some legislators deserve huge credit for trying to improve the bill, but overall, money ruled the day instead of common sense and decency."