Yesterday, on the last day of session (known as "Sine Die"), the 84th Legislature gavelled to a close. Congressman Joaquin Castro called it "perhaps the worst legislative session in Texas history" and the Texas League of Conservation Voters called it a "disaster for the environment, public health, and local control." It's true, it was a pretty rough session for the environment. The Legislature ended the rights of cities to ban or even regulate fracking unless it's deemed "commercially reasonable" (yeah, nobody really knows what that means). They also made it harder for cities to sue big polluters who break the law and harder for citizens to challenge companies seeking permits to pollute near their communities. A rebate program to help Texans buy electric cars was allowed to expire.
Yesterday, on the last day of session (known as “Sine Die”), the 84th Legislature gavelled to a close. Congressman Joaquin Castro called it “perhaps the worst legislative session in Texas history” and the Texas League of Conservation Voters called it a “disaster for the environment, public health, and local control.” It’s true, it was a pretty rough session for the environment. The Legislature ended the rights of cities to ban or even regulate fracking unless it’s deemed “commercially reasonable” (yeah, nobody really knows what that means). They also made it harder for cities to sue big polluters who break the law and harder for citizens to challenge companies seeking permits to pollute near their communities. A rebate program to help Texans buy electric cars was allowed to expire.
There were some bright spots. Our state and local parks got an increase in funding and the Legislature agreed to end the practice of diverting sales taxes on sporting goods away from parks. Fines for illegal dumping were doubled and stronger chemical safety protections to avoid West-type disasters were adopted. And there are the things the Legislature didn’t do – bills to repeal our renewable energy law, to block cities from banning plastic bags, and to block high speed rail all failed. See below to see the outcome of all the major environmental bills this session.
Session is over, but of course our work continues. And despite the significant setbacks we’ve been dealt, I remain optimistic that we can continue to make real progress for Texas’ environment. Just last week, the EPA finalized a rule which restores Clean Water Act protections to 143,000 miles of Texas streams. We’ll need to defend that rule, as well as a proposed rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, from attacks in Congress, but they represent major victories for our environment. We will also continue to push for action at the local level, including municipal ordinances to promote solar power, limit plastic pollution and protect honeybees from toxic pesticides.
We have our work cut out for us, but I’m glad to know that most Texans agree that we need to do more to protect our environment (polls show that, as do the tens of thousands of conversations our canvassers have every summer with Texans across the state). With the people and the facts on our side, we will ultimately prevail.
Good bills which passed
HB 158 – dedicates all of sporting good sales tax to parks
HB 274 – increases fines for illegal dumping to $4000
HB 942 – stronger chemical safety protections to avoid West-type disasters
HB 1016 – protects Nueces, Frio, Sabinal, San Marcos, and Comal rivers from being dammed
SB 1626 and HB 706 – removes restrictions, makes it easier to get tax credits for solar power
SB 1356 – sales tax holiday for water efficient products
HB 1579 – bans sale of shark fins
Bad bills which passed
HB 40 – preempts local control on fracking
SB 709 – weakens the right of citizens to contest pollution permits
HB 1794 – caps penalties cities can collect when suing polluters for environmental violations
Bad bills which died
SCR 27 – blocks state from adopting state plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants
SB 1806 – blocks cities from adopting plastic bag bans
SB 931 – repeals Texas’ renewable energy law
HB 3298 – studies creation of water conveyance network to pipe water across the state, potentially damaging rivers and aquifers
Budget rider to block high speed rail
Good bills which died
HB 14 – continues the $5 million electric car rebate program for two more years
HB 2425 – the “Texas bottle bill”
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.