Environmental Bills to Watch
With just 21 days left in the legislative session, I wanted to give you a quick update on how Environment Texas' priorities are faring at the Legislature. State Energy Plan: What started out as a bold vision to retire some of Texas’ dirtiest coal-fired power plants and replace them with cleaner sources of energy has unfortunately devolved in to a bill which would actually move Texas backwards on clean energy.
With just 21 days left in the legislative session, I wanted to give you a quick update on how Environment Texas’ priorities are faring at the Legislature.
State Energy Plan: What started out as a bold vision to retire some of Texas’ dirtiest coal-fired power plants and replace them with cleaner sources of energy has unfortunately devolved in to a bill which would actually move Texas backwards on clean energy. As SB 15 (Fraser) passed the Senate, the bill now just sets up a council to develop a state energy plan. However, the one actual legislative change in the bill could seriously hurt the wind industry. “Section P” of the bill, which amends the state’s renewable energy law, reads: “This section is intended to increase the amount of renewable generating capacity as provided by Subsection (a) and is not intended, unless specifically stated otherwise in this section, to provide operational or competitive advantages through Electric Reliability Council of Texas protocols to renewable energy generators to the detriment of other generation resources.” Under the current market rules, the lowest-priced source of energy – which, because its fuel is free, is usually wind – is used first. Section P could be interpreted by ERCOT to change the process, leading to less wind and higher electric rates and more pollution. The House State Affairs committee takes up the bill on Thursday morning.
Trash Burning To Qualify As Renewable Energy: Rep. Solomons is planning to amend the PUC Sunset bill to add “gasified waste” to the definition of the state’s renewable energy law. Trash incineration or gasification is not clean, is certainly not renewable and would take away incentives for wind and solar power.
Solar: With Rep. Darby’s solar funding bill still stuck in committee, its outlook is grim. However, bills to block homeowners associations from restricting solar and to allow companies to lease solar panels to consumers are moving and have a good shot at becoming law. Rep. Strama’s bill to put solar on schools also still has a chance.
State Parks: The budget that passed the Senate Finance Committee had significantly higher funding for Texas Parks and Wildlife – enough, perhaps, to avert the closure of seven state parks. However, Sen. Ogden made some last minute cuts to the overall budget before it was voted on by the full Senate. We’re still looking into the impacts to state parks.
Environmental Enforcement: The House approved legislation reauthorizing the state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but included amendments by Rep. Chisum that weaken the public’s rights to contest permits for polluting facilities near their communities. Fortunately, it appears the Senate’s version won’t have these bad provisions. So, a conference committee will ultimately decide whether to keep the Chisum amendments.
Electric Cars: Yesterday, by a vote of 78 to 67, the House approved a bill by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to allow electric vehicles to drive in High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
Energy Efficiency: HB 1629 (Anchia) changes the metric of how we calculate energy efficiency requirements for utilities. By tying the goal to peak demand versus load growth (as we do now), we will have a more stable program that doesn’t fluctuate wildly when demand goes down (as it has with the poor economy). It’ll also boost spending on efficiency in 2013 from $103 million to $117 million and in 2015 from $115 million to $120 million.
Mercury pollution: Last week, the Senate approved a bill to direct the health department to better alert the public about health risks associated with fish containing high levels of mercury.
Green State Buildings: Legislation by Rep. Eddie Lucio would require “a state building to be designed and constructed or renovated so that the building achieves certification under a high-performance building standard approved by the Texas Facilities Commission.” The bill was placed on the General State Calendar yesterday.
Light Pollution: Outdoor lighting is making it a lot harder to get great views of Texas’ famous night skies, especially for scientists at the McDonald Observatory. Representative Pete Gallego’s HB 2857 regulates outdoor lighting of municipalities and counties located within a 57 mile radius of any major astronomical observatory of the McDonald Observatory. The bill has passed the House and will be heard by the Senate Intergovernmental Relations committee tomorrow.
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.