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Posts Tagged ‘Sunset Advisory Commission’

The House Energy Resources Committee is scheduled to hear Representative Dennis Bonnen’s bill, HB 2166, relating to the continuation, functions, and name of the Railroad Commission of Texas; providing for the imposition of fees, the repeal of provisions for the suspension of the collection of fees, and the elimination of a fee.

During the 81st interim session, the Texas Railroad Commission underwent a review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.  During the 82nd Legislative session, the legislature failed to pass a bill reauthorizing the continuation of the Commission and instead added it to the ombudsman bill that extends an agency temporarily when it fails to get sunset legislation passed.  Now that bill is starting to move through the 83rd legislature and the first hearing is scheduled on Wednesday, March 27th starting at 2pm or upon final adjournment or recess of the House in John H. Reagan building on 15th Street between Colorado Street and Congress Avenue in room 120 (JHR 120).

To read the entire bill, click here.

We will keep you posted on this bill as it moves forward.

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Public Citizen’s positions on the pre-filed amendments to the PUC Sunset bill can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/Guide_to_Amend_PUC_Sunset_bill_HB1600 or in the table below.

Support These Amendments to Improve the PUC Sunset Bill

Bar code # Sponsor Description Comment
830096 Cook clean up cleans up language in bill – no substantial changes
830097 Cook clean up cleans up language in bill – no substantial changes
830077 Davis bans sharing of customer info from advanced meters eliminates the value of smart meter – demand response providers may not be able to operate (NOTE: amendment to the amendment will fix this problem)
830076 Davis requires annual  review of certificate holders
830087 Davis requires written disclosure prior to releasing info from advanced meters protects customer privacy while allowing demand response providers to operate with permission of customer
830088 Davis makes utility liable for damages to advanced meter during installation or removal protects customer from unreasonable charges
830089 Davis bans billing for average use of electricity restricts customer choice (NOTE: amendment to the amendment will fix this problem by allowing customers to choose levelized billing)
830090 Davis reregulates the electric market assures adequate resources to meet the load
830101 King caps transmission congestion costs protects consumers
830104 Phillips prevents Texas generators from exporting electricity from ERCOT during an electricity emergency protects reliability in ERCOT
830084 Phillips bans cost recovery for interstate transmission lines out of state electric generators must finance their own transmission
830086 Rodriguez sets 35%  renewable portfolio standard by 2020 increases generation, local jobs and investment
830082 Strama establishes a peak energy portfolio standard improves reliability and increases local investment and jobs
830106 C Turner requires study by gas utilities on replacing their gas distribution lines improves safety
830072 S Turner requires legislative approval to increase the Universal Service Fund limits costs to consumers
830073 S Turner restricts cease and desist orders for customers to those causing a danger provides reasonable restrictions of PUC power and protects customers
830078 S Turner increases state penalties for market abuses and eliminates double jeopardy restores recommendation of Sunset Advisory Commission staff to increase fines for market abuse
830103 S Turner requires cost-benefit analysis when PUC makes significant market changes helps protect consumers
830102 Vo requires 30 day notice of discretionary changes in electric rates provides some customer protection against unexpected electric rate increases
830098 Walle limits water companies to one rate increase each 3 years and limits the amount of any increase protects consumers

Oppose These Bad Amendments to the PUC Sunset Bill

Bar code # Sponsor Description Comment
830095 Cook changes qualifications for PUC commissioners allows utilities to have too much control over commission
830100 Gonzalez gives PUC citing authority over a new plant in the El Paso area shouldn’t apply to just one company
830085 Krause eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830105 Laubenberg eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830091 Phillips interferes with reliability must run plans could jeopardize reliability and create inefficiencies
830092 Phillips requires CREZ lines to be buried in a specific municipality significantly increases electric consumers’ costs
830093 Stanford eliminates cease and desist orders for retail customers prevents the PUC from stopping abusive behavior and protecting reliability of the electric grid
830094 Sheets creates a 5 member Public Utility Commission two commissioners could meet without following open meeting requirements
830079 Simpson eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830080 Simpson eliminates cease and desist orders for retail customers prevents the PUC from preventing abusive behavior and protecting reliability of the electric grid
830081 Simpson shifts cost of opting out of advanced metering to other customers puts unfair cost burden on customers
830074 S Turner changes to single elected commissioner opens door to even more industry influence over regulators through campaign contributions

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The Public Utility Commission (PUC) sunset bill (H.B. 2134) would give the PUC the authority to approve or change the annual budget of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT),  stipulates that no member of the PUC could work for ERCOT for at least two years after he or she had stepped down, and fines would quadruple (from a maximum of $25,000 per day to $100,000 per day) for any company found to have manipulated the electric market for its own gain under the Sunset bill that will be heard in House State Affairs Committee on Monday, March 14th.

Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton)

State Rep. Burt SolomonsHouse Bill 2134 largely tracks the recommendations approved in January by the Sunset Advisory Commission and includes language that the Carrollton Republican has been advocating for at least two years to cut the number of ERCOT board members who have ties the electric industry.

State Affairs is scheduled to take up the Sunset bill during its hearing that convenes 30 minutes after the House adjourns Monday. The meeting will be held in Room 140 of the Reagan Building northwest of the Capitol.

To see the full text of H.B. 2134, click here.

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State Rep. Warren Chisum, a Republican from Pampa, Texas plans to seek a place on the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), either by gubernatorial appointment once Michael Williams resigns in April or by running for the seat expected to be vacated next year when Elizabeth Ames Jones declines to seek re-election because of her aspirations to the U.S. Senate.

The 72-year-old lawmaker has served in the House since 1989 and is an oil and natural gas producer and rancher who began his career on oil drilling rigs and in truck yards.  A key lieutenant of former Speaker Thomas Russell “Tom” Craddick, Sr., and an active candidate in the ill-fated attempt to unseat Speaker Joe Straus at the beginning of the current session, Chisum has not had a committee chairmanship since Tom Craddick was toppled in 2009.

Recent recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission call for changing the name of the agency to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and restructuring it to be governed by a single statewide elected official who would serve a four-year term concurrent with the governor and the other major statewides.  Chisum disagrees with the move to change the RRC from a three member elected commission to a single elected commissioner.

If he does enter next year’s Railroad Commission primary, Chisum starts with a heavy “war chest.”   His current report on file with the Texas Ethics Commission shows him with more than $632,000 cash on hand.

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The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission will make its recommendations on how and whether to allow such state agencies as the Railroad Commission, the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to stay in business, tomorrow, January 12th.

The meeting convenes at 8 a.m. in the Senate Finance Committee room Room E1.036, Capitol Extension, 1400 Congress Avenue, Austin, Tx.  However, we don’t expect the Commission to get around to the Railroad Commission or TCEQ until after noon and the final Vote on Commission Recommendations to the 82nd Legislature is the last thing on their agenda.

Meeting materials are available on the Sunset Commission’s website at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/whatsnew.htm.

Staff reports on the above agencies are available at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/82.htm.

If you want to watch the meeting via the internet rather than attending, access is available through a live  broadcast at www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.php.

Current status of the proceedings will be posted at www.sunset.state.tx.us.

Join this meeting however you can.  It should prove to be interesting.

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A Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing, which was part of the first legislative review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 12 years, drew hundreds of regular citizens from around the state, with most of them saying the agency had failed to protect them from pollution. Dozens of people, including doctors, school teachers, church-going grandmothers and a rabbi, who were able to stick it out until well after 5pm before the Sunset Commissioners got around to taking their testimony, asked Texas lawmakers to make the state’s environmental agency tougher on polluters.

The Legislature’s Sunset Advisory Commission evaluates and considers potential reforms at state agencies every 12 years, and its findings have the potential to lead to significant changes in the TCEQ’s operations during the legislative session that begins next month, if the Sunset Commissioners so recommends.

The Sunset commission’s staff, in response to complaints that TCEQ is too lenient on polluters, has recommended that the Legislature increase the statutory cap on penalties from $10,000 to $25,000, as well as change the way the agency calculates fines.  In fact, TCEQ agreed with the two dozen recommendations made by the Sunset commission’s staff, but TCEQ critics are asking for even more changes.  They accused the agency of being too cozy with industry and ignoring public concerns. They expressed frustration over the recent approval of air pollution permits for coal-fired power plants near Abilene and Bay City, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, even though State Office of Administrative Hearings administrative law judges recommended denying both permits.

Texas Sunset Commissioner, State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) asked TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw whether the agency has the authority to deny a permit application. Shaw said yes, and it had done so 14 percent of the time.  However, no one pursued how many had been denied in the past four years or if any of them had been for large industrial projects since TCEQ’s permitting process ranges from permits for auto repair and lube service shops to dry cleaning facilities to waste water treatment plants to billion dollar coal-fired electric plants. 

Wesley Stafford, an asthma and allergy specialist in Corpus Christi who opposes a proposed petroleum coke-fired plant in Corpus Christi because of the potential public health effects, asked lawmakers to require that one of the TCEQ commissioners be a physician to “bring more balance to the commission than we’ve seen in recent years.”   In the face of these criticisms, TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia defended the agency’s performance, saying that it protects public health by “following the law”.

The Sunset staff’s 124-page analysis does not address the heated dispute between the federal government and Texas over the way the state regulates industrial air pollution that resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently rejecting some of the state’s permitting rules, saying they fall short of federal Clean Air Act requirements.  Texas has challenged the decision in court, even though the problems were first brought to the TCEQ’s attention shortly after the Texas rules were implemented, as far back as the Bush administration.  It is unlikely that the Sunset Commission will address these issues, and they will probably leave it to the courts to sort out that conflict.  But the Sunset Commissioners do have the opportunity to address the issues put to them by the citizen’s of Texas who pleaded with them yesterday for change.  Their recommendations will be released on January 11th, the day the 82nd legislature convenes.

Cross your fingers and hope they take up that mantle.

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Andy Wilson talking at a press conference on campaign finance in the Railroad Commission at the Texas Capitol

 

Hey folks, here’s our press release about the report I’ve been slaving away over working on. Money’s a problem at the Railroad Commission. How bad? You have no idea. Read on, if you dare, and join us for our 1pm press conference in the Speaker’s press room in the Texas Capitol.

Sweeping changes are needed at the Texas Railroad Commission because of the huge amount of industry money being poured into the campaign coffers of sitting commissioners, a study released today by Public Citizen found.

The report, “Drilling for Dollars: How Big Money Has a Big Influence at the Railroad Commission,” details how fundraising by incumbents increased 688 percent between 2000 and 2008. It also shows that the biggest driver of the increase was donations from individuals associated with the fossil fuel industries – the same industries the commission is charged with regulating.

“We need fundamental reform at the Texas Railroad Commission,” said Andy Wilson, a campaign finance researcher with Public Citizen and one of the authors of the report. “The Legislature needs to change how railroad commissioners are elected or do away with electing commissioners all together.”

Cover of report Drilling for Dollars

The report details where the commissioners’ campaign money is coming from. By 2010, 80 percent of all donations to incumbents were from industry, up from 45 percent in 2000. The volume of donations from industry also increased nearly fivefold, from just over $420,000 in 2000 to more than $2 million in 2008. And while “big money” has always played a role, it has gotten even larger: In 2000, 80 percent of all money came in donations of $1,000 or more; by 2008, it was 85 percent and an astounding 92 percent for 2010.

“The Sunset Advisory Commission called campaign fundraising a ‘possible conflict of interest,’ and that is putting it mildly,” Wilson said. “What we see is the absolute domination of campaign money by the fossil fuel industries in Texas. One of every two dollars raised by sitting railroad commissioners comes from individuals and corporations whose fortunes rest upon the decisions made by the commission. Commissioners may play coy and act innocent – they may not even see themselves as being influenced – but the people writing the checks know exactly what they are doing.”

This is of particular concern to Texans because decisions made at the railroad commission affect them every day. Charged with regulating the oil and gas industry, the Texas Railroad Commission has failed to protect Texas families who live on top of the Barnett Shale. Gas drilling on the shale contributes more to air pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth region combined, according to research done while at Southern Methodist University by EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armindariz. And just this week the EPA issued an endangerment order, ordering gas drillers to clean up contaminated drinking water.

Public Citizen’s report examined and catalogued campaign finance disclosures from the Texas Ethics Commission and identified those individuals and entities who identified themselves as being a part of the fossil fuel industry, a lobbyist or from a law firm. Concerned industry insiders and other public interest advocacy groups identified additional individuals and entities as being members of the industry.

The Texas Railroad Commission is undergoing a sunset review, mandatory every 12 years for every Texas state agency. In a special session of the Legislature in 2009, the review of the railroad commission, along with several other state agencies, was moved up by two years to be done in the 82nd Legislature, which convenes in January. The Sunset Advisory Commission will hear public testimony on the railroad commission on Wednesday at the State Capitol.

A copy of the report can be found at: http://www.citizen.org/drillingfordollars

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

 

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The proposed revisions to the state’s controversial (and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – illegal) flexible air permitting programs submitted in June in an effort to reach a compromise with the EPA, are scheduled for a formal vote at tomorrow’s hearing of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Under the proposed revisions, facilities with flexible permits would be subject to stricter record-keeping.  In addition, tighter caps would be placed on some emission points within affected facilities.

The EPA has ruled that Texas’ flexible permits do not comply with the U.S. Clean Air Act, and that ruling has touch off a political and legal war between the state and the federal agency. The state’s legal challenge to the EPA is pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The program, which has been in place since 1994 without the EPA’s formally approval, even with the proposed revisions to address the EPA’s concerns, still has provisions that the federal agency, during the public comment period, deemed “too broad.”

TENASKA Air Permit

Also on TCEQ’s agenda tomorrow is the air quality application for Tenaska Energy of Omaha’s 600-megawatt plant, Trailblazer Energy Center between Sweetwater and Abilene in Nolan County.

We expect the permit will be approved by the Commissioner, since it is a rubberstamp commission, however, the administrative law judges from the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which heard several days of testimony about Tenaska’s plans, recommended in October that TCEQ should require the plant to meet stricter limits on a range of harmful emissions that the facility would produce.

Under the ALJs’ recommendations, Trailblazer would have to demonstrate that the plant would have lower emissions for nitrogen oxide, or NOX, as measured by 24-hour and 30-day averages and lower volatile organic compound, or VOC, emissions as measured by 30-day and 12-month averages than currently projected.

The judges also asked that a special condition be imposed that would require VOC testing both when the carbon-capturing technology is being used at the plant and when the technology is being bypassed.

Goliad Uranium Mining

Also on this action packed agenda is Uranium Energy Corporation’s (UEC) proposed permit to drill for uranium in Goliad county.

An administrative law judge from the State Office of Administrative Hearings recommended in September that UEC be required to do additional testing on the fault area covered by the permit, which is about 13 miles north of the city of Goliad and nearly a mile east of the intersection of State Highway 183 and Farm-to-Market Road 1961.  If granted, the permit would allow uranium drilling in a 423.8-acre area, according to the docket.

The TCEQ hearing starts at 9:30 a.m. at the agency’s headquarters 12100 Park 35 Circle (near Interstate 35 and Yager Lane in North Austin).  If you want to watch the streaming video of this hearing, click here.  Video is also archived on this site, generally within 24 hours after a hearing and you can get to it from the same link above if you can’t watch it tomorrow while it is happening.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Sunset Advisory Commission has put TCEQ on the agenda for December 15th, following the Department of Transportation and the Railroad Commission. What this means is that public testimony on TCEQ should begin sometime after lunch.

We hope some of you can make it to the December 15th hearing.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us directly with your questions! Feel free to email us at texasfeedback (at) citizen.org.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT) hosts another town hall addressing TCEQ sunset.

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Today, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission staff released their report on the Texas Commission on Environental Quality.  The Sunset Avisory Commissioners will meet to take public testimony – December 15th or 16th and will vote on their recommendations to the legislature on January 12, 2011. 

The public can respond to the Sunset staff report up until the Commissioners meet.  To read a copy of the report, click here. To access the form for submitting your comments on the staff report, click here.  You can submit comments to the Commission up to the date that the Commissioners vote on their recommendations to the legislature.  To submit a comment, click here.

Below is a statement from the Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT).  The ACT partner organizations include: Sierra Club, Public Citizen (Texas office), Environmental Defense Fund, Texas IMPACT, Air Alliance of Houston, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Environment Texas, Texas League of Conservation Voters, ReEnergize Texas, the Enviromental Integrity Project, Texas Center for Policy Studies, Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, Hill Country Alliance, National Wildlife Foundation, Clean Water Action and the Baptist Commission on Christian Life.   

Is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – the state’s environmental agency – doing a good enough job protecting the health of Texans?  The Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report on TCEQ, issued today, is a first step in answering that question.  The report contains a number of positive recommendations that, if adopted by the Sunset Advisory Commission and ultimately enacted by the Texas Legislature, will help strengthen the TCEQ in carrying out its responsibilities to protect the environment and public health for all Texans. However, the report failed to make recommendations to resolve a number of chronic problems plaguing the agency. (more…)

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