Mixed Results for Environment in 82nd Legislature

Media Contacts

Environment Texas Highlights Budget Cuts to Parks, “Fracking” Chemical Disclosure, Solar Energy Bills

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – The chemicals used in certain oil and gas drilling techniques will soon have to be disclosed to the public in Texas, but regulators will have a more difficult time curtailing pollution from drilling under two bills passed by the Texas Legislature and sent to the Governor this week. The Legislature adopted bills promoting energy efficiency and television recycling and removing barriers to installation of solar panels, but also made massive budget cuts to the state parks system.

HB 3328 (Keffer) is one of the nation’s first requirements on oil and gas companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”). Hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling – a form of natural gas and oil extraction rapidly spreading across Texas – poses serious potential for harm to our environment and our health. While the legislation will give the public important information about chemicals that could threaten water supplies, oil and gas companies were able to weaken the standard in the final days of negotiations by potentially delaying disclosure of certain chemicals for an additional year.

“The dramatic growth of drilling using the fracking technique – often right in the middle of major populations – has caused many Texans to fear for the health of their families,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “This bill is a first step in addressing these concerns. Texans have a right to know exactly what we’re being exposed to.” 

Unfortunately, the Legislature also approved SB 1134, a bill which delays implementation of air quality requirements for oil and gas drilling outside the Barnett Shale region (those standards remain in place within the Barnett Shale). The US EPA wrote the bill will “prevent the implementation of important air quality standards that assure the protection of health and the environment in air planning and permitting programs as intended by the CAA (Clean Air Act).”

Funding for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was slashed under the budget approved by the Legislature. As a result, at least seven state parks may be closed down and grant funding for local parks and playgrounds is eliminated.

“This summer, many Texas families – and out-of-state tourists – will spend time and money in our state parks,” said Metzger. “Closing state parks is not only bad news for campers, anglers and hikers, but it doesn’t make fiscal sense either.”

Modest bills to promote solar energy and energy efficiency also made it through the Legislature. Companies will now be allowed to lease solar panels to customers, including schools and churches, a financing strategy which can help make it easier to avoid a large upfront investment. Homeowners associations, which have a long track record of blocking their members from installing solar on their homes, will now be limited in their ability to prohibit solar. More than a half dozen bills promoting energy efficiency also passed, including two signed by the Governor over the weekend.

Environment Texas also highlighted legislation:

  • reforming the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which increases the maximum penalty for pollution violations from $10,000 a day to $25,000 a day
  • requiring the recycling of old televisions
  • allowing for the importation of low-level radioactive waste to Texas from 36 states
  • attempting to circumvent federal law by allowing for in-state sale of energy inefficient light bulbs
  • regulating light pollution near the McDonald Observatory to protect Texas’ famous starry nights

Environment Texas’ Metzger lamented the failure once again of the Legislature to adopt a program to incentivize solar power or to retrofit or retire Texas’ aging fleet of polluting coal-fired power plants.

“Texans want clean air and water and access to state parks and they know we can achieve those goals while keeping our economy strong,” concluded Metzger. “Unfortunately, the Legislature largely put the interests of big polluters ahead of the health and safety of Texas families. There were some bright spots, for sure, but Texas’ environment deserves better from our elected officials.”