Three weeks to go for Texas Legislature
Here’s where some of the top bills related to the environment, that are still in play, stand.
The 88th session of the Texas Legislature ends on Monday, May 29. It’s late in session and the vast majority of filed bills are now effectively dead (either because they never got a hearing or are too late in the process to have a chance of meeting key deadlines). Here are some of the key bills that are still alive and kicking.
Parks and Conservation
State Parks Land Acquisition: SB 1648 and SJR 74 (both by Sen. Tan Parker) would create the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund, to buy land for more state parks. The bills have passed out of the Senate and the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee and are now awaiting a vote on the House floor. The Senate version of the budget (SB 1) includes $500 million to fund the program, while the House amended SJR 74 to direct the Comptroller to transfer $1 billion to the program. Assuming the bill passes the House, a conference committee between the two chambers will be named to decide the final amount going to state parks. Either amount would represent an historic investment in state park land acquisition, but we’re pushing for $1 billion.
Fairfield Lake State Park: HB 4757 (Orr) would help stop the closure of Fairfield Lake State Park by giving the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) power to stop withdrawals of the lake’s water. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly, but then Sen. Charles Perry “used a last-minute bill substitution this week to quash the idea that Fairfield Lake State Park can be saved by circumventing a future developer’s water rights permit.” It appears legislative efforts to save the park may now be over, leaving the fate of the park to a hail mary effort by TPWD to convince the developer, Todd Interests, to sell their stake in the land to the state so the park can remain open.
Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund: HB 3165 (Holland) would fund local, state and private parks, conservation easements, and other natural resource conservation measures. It passed the House and is now waiting to be referred to a Senate committee.
Anti-renewable energy bills: A package of bills to assign onerous new fees and permitting requirements to renewable energy have passed the Senate – SB 7 (Schwertner), SB 624 (Kolkhorst), SB 1287 (King), SB 2014 (King), and SB 2015 (King). In a positive sign, of these bills, only SB 7 has gotten a hearing, where it received a poor reception by the Chairman and other committee members.
Utility efficiency programs: SB 258 (Eckhardt) raises requirements for electric utilities to reduce electricity use by providing incentives to customers for efficient appliances, home weatherization and other programs. Passed the Senate.
Building codes: SB 2453 (Menendez) allows the State Energy Conservation Office to adopt new statewide codes to make new buildings more energy efficient. Passed the Senate.
Residential demand response: SB 114 (Menendez) requires electric companies to create residential demand response programs, creating incentives for Texans to reduce energy use during peak electric demand periods. Passed the Senate.
Energy Efficiency Council: HB 4811 (Anchia) “seeks to create the Texas Energy Efficiency Council to foster collaboration, coordination, and communication to enhance the state’s energy efficiency performance and strategically utilize the state’s resources to optimize the benefits of energy efficiency programs in Texas.” Passed the House.
Offshore wind: HB 4734 (Lopez) would study the supply chain for the burgeoning offshore wind industry in Texas. The bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Wednesday.
Geothermal energy: SB 786 (Birdwell) would transfer regulatory authority of closed-loop geothermal injection wells from TCEQ to the Railroad Commission, providing “certainty to potential operators seeking to produce geothermal energy.” Passed the Senate.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
TCEQ Sunset: SB 1397 (Schwertner) reauthorizes the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and makes very modest improvements to the agency. For example, in very rare circumstances, the TCEQ could issue fines as high as $40,000 per day (up from $25,000 per day). The bill passed the Senate and the House Environmental Regulation committee and is awaiting a vote for the full House.
Pollution complaints: SB 471 (Springer) got a lot of attention when it was filed for fining citizens who file more than three complaints per year. The amended bill no longer provides for fining citizens, but instead, and potentially worse, gives the TCEQ discretion to not inspect facilities when complaints are filed. The bill will be heard in the House Environmental Regulation committee on Wednesday.
Notifying legislators of pollution violations: SB 813 (Miles) would require TCEQ to alert legislators of major enforcement actions taken against polluters in their districts. Passed the Senate.
Dairy polluters: HB 2827 (Burns) undermines the regulation of industrial size dairies and the protection of the Bosque River in Texas from pollution caused by those dairy operations. Passed the House.
Subsidies for polluters
Chapter 313 renewal – HB 5 (Hunter) provides for abatements on school taxes for new manufacturing facilities. The bill establishes a successor to the Chapter 313 program, but as the Houston Chronicle put it, the new program “is even worse than before.” The 313 program has rightly been criticized for using precious public dollars to subsidize facilities that would have been located in Texas anyway, which often generates just a fraction of promised jobs and other public benefits, and subsidizes factories that pollute our air and water. This program comes at a very high cost for our communities, for our state, and for our planet. Manufacturing companies that had active agreements in 2021 were responsible for over 103 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. The new program has less transparency and accountability, will cost more, and now kicks renewable energy out of the program. The bill passed the House and is now awaiting action in the Senate.
Subsidies for new gas power plants – SB 6 (Schwertner) subsidizes the construction of new methane gas power plants, at a potential cost of $18 billion. The bill passed the Senate, but hasn’t moved in the House. Instead, two new bills by Sen. Schwertner, SB 2627 and SJR 93, quickly passed by the Senate and being heard by the House State Affairs committee on Wednesday, seem to be the new vehicles for subsidizing construction of new gas plants.
Preemption of municipal environmental laws
Super-preemption: HB 2127 (Burrows) is a sweeping bill which blocks cities from adopting regulations that go further than state law, including on environmental issues. The bill passed the House and is now awaiting a vote in the full Senate.
Gas powered lawn equipment: SB 1017 (Birdwell), targeting efforts by Dallas and other cities to limit use of polluting, gas powered leaf blowers and other lawn equipment, prohibits cities from adopting bans on the sale of engines based on its fuel source. On Governor’s Desk.
based on their fuel source.
Enforcement of oil and gas laws: HB 33 (Landgraf) prohibits “Texas state agencies and officials from assisting any federal agency or official with the enforcement of any federal act that purports to regulate oil and gas operations.” The bill passed the House and is now awaiting referral to a Senate committee.
Greenhouse gas pollution: SB 784 (Birdwell) prohibits cities from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote by the full House.
EV Driver Fees:
SB 505 (Nichols) establishes a new $200 annual fee for drivers of electric vehicles (the first two years has to be paid upfront with $400). On the Governor’s desk. More.
HB 3014 (Harris) waives emissions inspections for EVs. Passed the House, referred to the Senate Transportation committee.
EV Charging Stations:
SB 1732 (Hancock) requires Tesla Superchargers to have adapters for non-Tesla vehicles and other stations to have adapters for Teslas by 2030. Passed the Senate.
SB 1001 (Schwertner). Requires EV charging stations to be regulated by the Department of Licensing and Regulation to make sure they function properly. Passed Senate and is in House Calendars to be scheduled for the House Floor.
HB 821 (King) – allow state parks and other state lands to be leased for charging stations.
Eliminating subsidies for bitcoin mining: SB 1751 (Kolkhorst) would requires large bitcoin mines to register with ERCOT and bar them from receiving tax abatements or incentives from the state’s demand response programs. Passed the Senate, was referred to House State Affairs.
Project Connect: HB 3899 (Troxclair) will force the city of Austin to hold a new election to approve bonding authority to build the Project Connect light rail and transit plan. Passed the House.
HB 1239 (Oliverson) would prohibit insurance companies from factoring in companies’ environment, social and governance (ESG) scores in their underwriting and ratemaking decisions. One insurance company representative testified that the bill would “throw into chaos the very essence of what we do.” The bill passed out of committee, but a “point of order” was raised on the bill on the House floor, sending it back to committee. The bill needs to be approved by the House by Thursday in order to still have a chance of passage.
SB 28 (Perry) establishes the New Water Supply for Texas Fund to develop water supply projects that create new water sources for the state. Longtime water expert Ken Kramer notes that while new water supplies are needed, the bill “limits use of the fund (aside from research grants) to certain types of water supply projects, some of which are dubious or unrealistic, and does not make the fund available for other purposes such as water reuse projects, aquifer storage & recovery, and nature-based solutions for maintaining or enhancing water supplies”
HB 40 (Zwiener) amends the tax code to allow counties to exempt from taxation of the portion of the appraised value of a person’s property that is attributable to the installation in or on the property of a rainwater harvesting or graywater system. Passed the House.
Executive Director, Environment Texas
As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.