Top 10 wins for Texas’ environment this year
Here are the top 10 wins Environment Texas staff helped make happen this year. I hope they are as motivating for you as they are for me, and that you will take a moment to contribute as 2021 comes to a close and we look toward 2022.
10. Expanding recycling in Houston to multi-family properties
Houston is one of the more wasteful cities in the U.S. With a recycling rate of about 19%, the Bayou City falls 15 points below the national average of 34.7 percent. So we jumped at the chance to work with Council Member Abbie Kamin to successfully convince the city council to start the process towards requiring multifamily properties in the city to offer recycling.
9. More than 2000 press hits
Getting our message out on TV and radio and in the newspaper is critical to winning policy and winning the hearts and minds of Texans. In the last fiscal year, we were quoted or cited in more than 2000 press stories, including The Economist, Bloomberg, and The Guardian.
In November, I spoke with Spectrum News’ Dr. Nicole Cross about global warming.
8. First ever student climate action lobby day
In April, we hosted the first ever student climate action lobby day at the Texas Legislature. We and our partners at Jolt, MOVE, Texas Rising, and TexPIRG Students helped recruit more than 80 middle school, high school and college students from across Texas to attend 35 meetings with state representatives and senators about key bills to tackle the climate crisis. Through this and other efforts, we helped defeat bills to preempt cities from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and more.
Students talk global warming with Rep. Todd Hunter (R- Corpus Christi)
7. We helped Texans during the February blackouts
My staff and I all lost power for three days during the deadly freeze in February. Once we got power back, we immediately got to work putting together resources to educate the public on pressing concerns, including will my electric bill go up?, what to do about frozen pipes, how to handle boil water notices, and an FAQ about dripping faucets. We also started investigating how the blackouts happened, how the state could avoid them, and the environmental impacts.
Rep. James Talarico presented us with a commendation thanking us for our “vital assistance” in “helping to ensure the safety and well-being of area residents during the winter storm.”
6. Barton Springs, local waterways defended
We raised the alarm about HB 1683 by Rep. Brooks Landgraf which prohibits cities from enforcing federal restrictions on oil and gas. According to the city of Austin, the bill could force them to close Barton Springs Pool. After the threat to Barton Springs was picked up by the media, Rep. Landgraf amended his bill to remove the prohibition on cities.
And after seven dogs died due to exposure to toxic algae in Lady Bird Lake and Lake Travis, we launched a campaign to get the city council to adopt tough new water quality measures.
5. Defending wind and solar energy at the Legislature
As Texans, including my young family, suffered from blackouts from Winter Storm Uri, Gov. Abbott went on Fox News’ Hannity show and blamed wind and solar energy for the energy shortages. The Governor changed his tune the next day as state energy regulators made clear natural gas failures were primarily responsible, but the damage was done. Bills were filed in the Legislature to make wind and solar farms pay potentially billions in new fees, slamming the brakes on the enormous planned growth of clean energy and led some existing renewable companies to declare bankruptcy.
We worked to debunk myths about the blackouts, alerted the media about the threat to wind and solar energy and were quoted in the Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, and other prominent outlets. Our lobbyist made our case directly to lawmakers. Our call center and digital organizers generated thousands of phone calls and emails into the offices of key lawmakers. We produced a video which was seen more than 300,000 times on Facebook and via mobile phone ads in key districts.
Together with the work of our champions in the Legislature and other allies, we ultimately defeated the bills.
4. Progress for Texas parks
Our Million Acre Parks Project aims to get Texas to add one million acres of state parks to make sure we protect threatened wild areas and have sufficient camping and other recreational opportunities for Texas’ rapidly growing population. This year, we met with dozens of legislators, built a strong coalition in support of our bold goal, made our case in op-eds in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, and more. Arch “Beaver” Aplin, owner of Buc-ee’s and chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, wrote to thank me for this work saying our “engagement and voice are meaningful.”
Our work is starting to pay off. For the first time in decades, the Legislature appropriated new funds for state park land acquisition (just $7 million, but, hey, it’s a start) and critical habitat is closer to protection.
3. Electric buses for Houston
In November, the board of transit agency METRO Houston approved the purchase of 20 electric buses as part of a commitment to an all electric or zero emission fleet. Environment Texas has worked with METRO Houston since 2019 to advance a robust, electric public transit system for the Houston region.
METRO Houston Board Chair Carrin Patman (left) shares a laugh with Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher during an Environment Texas event in January.
2. New infrastructure investment law to bring billions to help clean up Texas
Texas will get $408 million for EV charging stations, $2.9 billion to remove lead pipes and other clean water programs, and much more as part of the new infrastructure investment law. Environment Texas worked all year to build support for the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act with Texas’ congressional delegation. I joined with Congressman Henry Cuellar in writing this celebration of the law for FoxNews.com.
1. Judge orders ExxonMobil to pay $14 million penalty in our clean air lawsuit
In March, a federal judge ordered a $14 million penalty against ExxonMobil — the largest civil penalty ever imposed in a citizen-initiated Clean Air Act suit. Environment Texas and the Sierra Club originally took ExxonMobil to court for their violations of the Clean Air Act back in 2010. After a decade-long legal battle and two trips to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, we’re very excited about the Judge’s ruling. Unfortunately, Exxon continues to appeal, so this likely won’t be the last you hear of our lawsuit, but the ruling confirms that even the world’s most powerful corporations must be held accountable when they violate our environmental and public health laws.
While the pandemic posed significant challenges to our work defending our environment, Environment Texas was able to play a crucial role delivering concrete victories for our air, water, parks, and climate.
I hope you’ll consider making a year-end gift to help us ensure we can deliver similar achievements in 2022 and beyond. We can’t do it without you, and I hope you’ll be by our side in these challenging times.
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.