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Posts Tagged ‘Texas Legislature’

Public Notice at the site of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits - Photo from TexansTogether.org

Public Notice at the site of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits – Photo from TexansTogether.org

UPDATE:  This bill passed in the House 96 to 44 on Monday, April 27.  There is still a chance to stop it in the Senate.  Call your Texas senator and ask him or her to vote no on HB1794 when it comes up. 

On Monday, the Texas House of Representatives will consider another bill that attacks local control and would protect polluters. HB 1794 by, Representative Charlie Geren would place a cap on the amount that local governments can assess in civil penalties for violators of environmental regulations. The penalty would be capped at $4.3 million in total fines and a five year statute of limitations would be put in place on the filing of such law suits. While Geren describes his bill as a way to curb “lawsuit abuse” these caps would really just erode the ability of local cities and counties to collect on damages from major polluters in cases in which the clean up far exceeds $4.3 million.

This is bad legislation because cities and counties need the ability to force polluters to pay civil penalties because state enforcement of environmental laws is so weak. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) does not have the resources or the guts to go after the biggest polluters, and those are the polluters that are going to get away with penalties that are far less than would be needed to actually clean up their mess.

San Jacinto River Waste Pits' Disposal in the 1960's - Photo from TexansTogether.org

San Jacinto River Waste Pits’ Disposal in the 1960’s – Photo from TexansTogether.org

For example, this legislation comes largely as a response to the high profile litigation between Harris County and three companies liable for the San Jacinto Waste Pits, an EPA superfund site and one of the biggest environmental disasters of the past decade. The pits were first dug in 1965 by a paper company for disposal of its waste from nearby mill. Hundreds of thousands of tons of waste with a highly toxic chemical called dioxin was dumped on the river’s west bank. A few years later the pits were abandoned.

Later, a natural environmental processes took place,-the river moved. What was once a waste dump next to the river became a waste dump in the river. In the following decades, communities were built on the banks of the San Jacinto river and the families that lived there were unaware of the toxins they were living right on top of. New companies moved in who ignored the waste pits, so they did not get discovered until 2005, decades after the dumping began.

Local authorities, environmentalists and citizens of nearby neighborhoods contend that the waste pits have caused incalculable harm to the ecosystem and are responsible for a cluster of cancers and other diseases in these communities. The estimated cost of complete remediation is somewhere between $100 million and $600 million, well above what Geren’s proposed cap. The estimated medical costs for the 17,000 people living on top of these waste pits is incalculable.

The San Jacinto Waste Pit civil court settlement that inspired HB 1794 was for $29 million from two companies.  Far from being excessive, this is an amount that won’t come close to covering the costs to the local community.

Houston Ship Channel - Photo by Bryan Parras

Houston Ship Channel – Photo by Bryan Parras

County or city led lawsuits seeking penalties are relatively rare. In most cases companies pay their fine and clean up their site, however not all of them do. In those cases where the company and the state environmental agency have failed to solve the problem, local governments are all that’s left. We do not need legislation that hamstrings the ability of local governments to penalize the biggest polluters and offenders of the law.  Communities that are home to these polluting industries will suffer.

Email your state representative now to voice your opposition to this bill.

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected] And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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pants on fireAccording to PolitiFact Texas, State Representative Wayne Smith’s pants are on fire.  PolitiFact Texas recently analyzed a statement regarding global climate change by Mr. Smith, a Republican from Baytown.

During floor discussion of his greenhouse gas permitting bill, HB 788, he said, “Science has not shown greenhouse gases to be a problem.”  Then Smith went on to say, “There’s no need to regulate greenhouse gases.”  Well, Politifact Texas disagreed.  They throughly researched Mr. Smith’s statements and found them to be totally false, or “pants on fire” as they put it.

Take a look at the PolitiFact Texas analysis and give Representative Smith’s office a call and tell them what you think about his inaccurate statements: (512)463-0733.

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Just before Earth Day, the House of Representatives once again demonstrated its commitment to protecting the fossil fuel industries that fund many of the members campaigns instead of protecting the people of our state from the devastating impacts of climate change by passing HB 788. The bill requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to permit greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, but would remove the agency’s authority to limit such emissions.

You might wonder “what’s the point?”  The point is to take control of greenhouse gas permitting for Texas facilities from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and place it in the hands of our state environmental agency – which has a much cozier relationship with industry.  While EPA may ultimately prefer that states take responsibility for such permitting, we hope they wouldn’t support such a ineffective system as is proposed in HB 788.

Adding insult to injury, the author of the bill, Representative Wayne Smith, took advantage of the opportunity to spread misinformation.  Smith stated, “…the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are based on an unfounded science,” claiming this language was struck to remove the politics from the bill.  His remarks epitomizes a legislature that continues to threaten the health and safety of the people it should protect through weakened environmental regulations.

In fact, removing language which has been in Texas’ Health and Safety Code for 22 years which gives TCEQ the authority to limit greenhouse gases put the politics in the bill and took the science out of it.  Governor Rick Perry is an avid climate change denier and may have influenced the drafting of HB 788.

This type of misinformation does a disservice to Texas citizens who must endure the harmful impacts of climate change, such as drought, wildfires, sea-level rise and more volatile weather patterns. These changes have already cost our state billions of dollars and numerous lives.  Climate change is happening now and given the big jump in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year, we’re probably in for more harmful impacts than many predicted just a few years ago.

Image

This graph compares increasing CO2 levels (dark line) to increasing average global temperature over the last century (blue and red bars).

Although our efforts to stop or amend HB 788 in the Texas House were unsuccessful and it was disheartening to hear Representative Smith’s comments, Earth Day brought a refocusing on facts.

The Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs held a hearing on Global Climate Change and Trade.  Attendance was sparse in the audience, but a stellar line-up of scientists, delegates, and business representatives took the witness stand to testify on the fact of climate change.

HB788 was mentioned in anonymous fashion as a bad greenhouse gas bill on several occasions.  But, the most glaring comments were directed at Texas’ lack of policy to address climate change.  Cynthia Connor, the Resource Security Policy Adviser for the British Consulate General in Houston spoke in serious tones.  Her message was that Texas has a responsibility to adopt climate change policies to protect $20 billion in Texas investments by UK-owned business, which are responsible for  70,000 jobs.

Almost all of the witnesses addressed Texas’ policy of climate change denial.  To their credit, most of the Representatives on the committee asked questions to confirm the scientific findings, how climate change affects Texas, and how our climate change policies compare to the rest of the modernized world.  The general consensus is that Texas lags far behind the rest of the world.  Texas fails to acknowledge the potential harms of climate change and ignores its responsibility to lead the nation in ethical energy policies as the top producer of oil and natural gas.

While these weren’t messages of hope, at least they were based in scientific facts and observations.  At least for a brief time, science was recognized in our state capitol.

We must each do what we can to reduce our personal impact and we must convince our elected officials that the time for climate change denial is over.

HB 788 is now being considered in the Texas Senate.

Email your Texas state senator to oppose HB 788 and protect Texas’ climate, economy and people.

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While Austin City Council continues to move forward with an ordinance to transfer governing authority of Austin Energy from our elected City Council to an unelected board, Austin democracy is being attacked at in the state legislature as well.  Senate bill 410, sponsored by Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Paul Workman, would allow the city to establish an unelected board without a charter election, as our city charter calls for.

The issue of who should govern Austin Energy is important, but it’s also local in nature.  There is no need for state to amend Austin’s charter.  That is a right reserved for the citizens of Austin.  If the changes proposed by City Council are truly in the best interest of our city, that case should be made to the voters and decided upon at the ballot box. 

To have a state representative who doesn’t even live in Austin carrying a bill to change our charter is unacceptable.

The Austin City Charter was adopted by the people of Austin and the people of Austin approved a governance structure for Austin Energy that is accountable to the people through elections.

An unelected board won’t be directly accountable to the ratepayers and wouldn’t necessarily represent our values.  As we debate this issue in Austin the unelected board at San Antonio’s CPS Energy is slashing the rate customers with solar installations will receive for their energy in half without first consulting the public or the solar industry.  Austin Energy customers could be facing similar changes if we don’t act now to protect our rights.

SB 410 has passed the Senate and will be heard by the House Committee on State Affairs tomorrow.

Please consider attending the hearing and speaking against SB 410.

What: Hearing on SB 410 to change Austin’s charter to move Austin Energy governance to an undemocratic board without a vote by the citizens of Austin, as our charter requires.

When: 1:00pm on Wednesday, May 1

Where: John H. Reagan (JHR) building, room 140 – 105 W. 15th St., Austin, TX, 78701

Why: Because Austin Energy’s governance structure will impact decisions going forward, including on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs and rates.  This is the decision that will determine how other decisions are made.

You can register against the bill at the kiosks outside of room 140.  Even if you don’t wish to speak, registering against the bill would be helpful.  We hope you’ll consider saying a few words about the value of local democracy though.  Speakers will be limited to 3 minutes each.

SB 410 is anti-democratic and is one more example of the state government trying to interfere with Austin’s internal policies and governance.

We need your help to stop this bill.

Public opposition to SB 410 at Wednesday’s hearing may be the only thing that can ensure that our Austin representatives don’t let this bad bill move forward.

Please email Kaiba White at kwhite (at) citizen.org if you can attend the hearing at 1:00pm on Wednesday.

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You may have never heard of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), but it has the potential to make a huge difference in adoption of distributed renewable energy systems, such as rooftop solar installations. PACE allows businesses to borrow money from local governments to work on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the buildings they occupy.

Since PACE is funding is loans, there is no real expense to the taxpayer.  On the other side of the coin, it allows businesses to spread out the costs of becoming more environmentally friendly over time, all while lowering their monthly utility costs.  This strategy is a win-win-win for Texans.  Business save money, the environment benefits, and it cost Texans nothing.

The Texas Legislature is currently considering legislation that would move PACE forward for our state.  Senate bill 385 has already cleared the hurdle of the Texas Senate, and now is pending in our House of Representatives. House bill 1094 is still waiting be voted out of the House Committee on Energy Resources.  The House should move forward to adopt this common sense measure.

As of 2013, 27 states and the District of Columbia have PACE legislation on the books to help combat harmful emissions from electric generation.  States from California to Wyoming have enacted PACE programs.  Generally, in these states, the financing terms are 15-20 years.  It works very much like taking out a home loan, or perhaps a better example would be a home improvement loan, but for commercial properties. Disbursing the payments over a longer period of time makes these efficiency upgrades affordable for a wider variety of business.  It also makes upgrades attainable for smaller businesses.

I urge fellow Texans to get in touch with their State Representative and tell him or her to support the PACE bills (HB 1094 and SB 385).  This is common sense legislation that benefits everyone.

Click here to find out who represents you. 

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algae-open-pondChlorella sp. is a species of algae that has a significant proportion of fatty acids to its body mass. For humans, this can be a problem. But, in a world needing more clean energy, fatty biomass is considered a promising option by many scientists and engineers.

Why algae? Algae can grow in a body of water almost anywhere. We don’t need to use any of our precious farmland to grow it. Water conservationists may initially be concerned, but a group of scientists found that Chlorella sp. thrives in our waste water. Not only that, it cleans up the water, removing ammonia and a host of toxic metals. According to their report, the algae could be used to help clean up waste water at municipal water treatment plants then harvested for biofuels.

graph_algaeI had a chance to speak with Dr. Martin Poenie, Associate Professor in Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology, at The University of Texas at Austin. The Poenie Lab is helping to develop a technique for harvesting the oils from algae that could greatly reduce cost. Dr. Poenie also told me algae can be a significant source of phosphates, which we use in fertilizers. One of the most significant things about algae biofuels, is their small carbon footprint and high energy content. CO2 is sequestered during the growth phase of the algae and it is not released until the fuel is burned. On the whole, biofuels from algae look promising, and the variety of products that can be derived from it will make algae farming even more profitable.

Texas could do more to capture the energy and job benefits from this home grown energy source. Texas Legislature should act to strengthen renewable energy goals. HB 303, SB 1239, and HB  723 would all be good steps in the right direction.

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The following story on testimony provided to the Texas House Energy Resources Committee about the threat the proposed Tar Sands pipeline poses for the state was reprinted with the permission of the Texas Energy Report.

House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer on Tuesday promised environmental advocates warning of dangers posed by pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands – especially under outdated Texas regulations – that his committee will do its “due diligence’ on the issue.

“You have certainly helped me in things I didn’t know. I want to assure you this committee is going to take everything you said very seriously with the utmost respect it deserves,” Keffer (R-Eastland) said during a day-long hearing on Texas energy and regulations governing it.
Comparing pipeline safety and transparency to his landmark legislation on public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, Keffer said he is committed to ensuring “we disclose everything we can to really help the industry going forward.
“We will certainly do it with all due diligence and make sure it is done right,” he added.
He lamented that no one from the pipeline industry attended the hearing to answer questions raised in detail about the safety of pipelines carrying tar sands, also known as oil sands, and commonly referred to as diluted bitumen when in transport.
Julia Trigg Crawford, a family farmer battling TransCanada Corp.’s use of eminent domain to condemn easements on her farm for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, testified that diluted bitumen is not akin to heavy Venezuelan crude, as many in the industry insist. (Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman also made the comparison earlier in the hearing.)
“Please don’t allow our land to be taken and then endanger it by allowing old standards to be used for something that is an entirely new product that’s going to come across Texas soil. One does not have to pull back many layers to discover that Canadian tar sands are not your mother’s crude oil,” Crawford told the committee.
Noting that she’s learned TransCanada could begin pipeline construction on her land as early as August, Crawford said state officials have an obligation to ensure the “highest and most stringent” pipeline construction regulations are in place when transporting diluted bitumen.
She underlined that her family is fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain law to condemn easements on her land, claiming it is a common carrier. Diluted bitumen is not one of seven products listed in the state’s natural resources code that fall under current pipeline regulations, she pointed out.
The Crawford family’s fight against TransCanada will be aired next at a hearing July 18 in the Lamar County Court of Law with Judge Bill Harris presiding, she said. The family will argue the company cannot claim common carrier status in order to employ eminent domain. It also has raised legal issues regarding Native American artifacts that could be disturbed by the proposed pipeline construction route.
“The proposed pipeline that’s going to cross my land will transport Canadian tar sands,” she said. “This product has never come across our soil before. Our current state regulations have never had to address this specific product,” Crawford said, adding officials need to study ample existing data to prevent a repeat of a tar sands catastrophe in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. “We really don’t know what we’re up against with this product. I don’t think we should use our Texas lands and resources as guinea pigs.”
Trevor Lovell, environmental program coordinator of Public Citizen’s Texas office, told the committee that he coauthored an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News warning about Enbridge Inc.’s repurposing of the 36-year-old Seaway Pipeline to carry a “poisonous mix of chemicals and tar sands bitumen up to 20 times more toxic than traditional crude.” The pipeline crosses three major water sources for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The articl,e co-written by Public Citizen-Texas Executive Director, Tom “Smitty” Smith, raised several concerns: tar sands are solid at ambient temperatures, far more acidic than crude oil, and chemical diluents must be added to move them through a pipeline. Yet companies like Enbridge have refused to disclose the chemical mixes, calling them proprietary information.
They added that data from tar sands pipeline spills show the blend is heavy in benzene at toxic levels and other chemicals that are “far more deadly” than contents in ordinary crude oil pipelines.
While a chemical engineer formerly employed at Mobil responded that he agreed with the op-ed points on dangers posed by the Seaway pipeline conversion, Lovell said, a dueling op-ed submitted by an Enbridge executive did not address even one of the 10 key points Public Citizen had made.
Instead, it attacked the two authors, accusing them of distortion and misinformation. It cited statistics showing that no tar sands pipelines have ruptured due to corrosion, a point Lovell said the two did not assert.
After the hearing, Lovell said he felt “pretty good” about Keffer’s pledge to investigate the subject further to ensure safety and continued economic contributions from oil and gas activities in the state.
“It was very encouraging,” Lovell told Texas Energy Report. “I think that Keffer’s done a lot of leadership on that committee. He didn’t make any statements he can’t back up. He framed it in the terms he’s comfortable with, which is protecting the industry from itself, so to speak.
“At the end of the day,” he added, “what we care about is safety on these pipelines.”

By Polly Ross Hughes

Ramrodded by veteran reporter Polly Hughes, the Texas Energy Report’s Energy Buzz specializes in what is happening on the ground in Texas energy ranging from dedicated coverage of the Texas regulatory agencies to battles in the Legislature that affect the future of the industry.

Copyright June 21, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

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We’ve recently realized that TCEQ allowed stock from Waste Control Specialists (WCS) sister company, Titanium Metals Corp to be put up as the financial assurance for their radioactive waste dump and that stock isn’t performing well right now. So we want to know, where does that leave the state of Texas and its citizens?

We hope to have this addressed at the upcoming Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (Compact Commission) meetings that are coming up this week.

  • Thursday, June 28th 5:30 PM – Joint subcommittee meeting at the Capitol – E1.028 Technical and Legal Committees
    (The process for addressing applications is yet to be determined, although the applications could be voted on the next day)
  • Friday, June 29th – 9 AM Full Compact Commission Meeting – at the Capitol – E1.028
    The Friday meeting should be televised live (but won’t be archived) and will be available for viewing at “Texas legislature online

Do come to these hearings if you are able.

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No Bailout for Energy Future HoldingsEnergy Future Holdings, formerly TXU, of Dallas might be looking for a handout – from you.

Back in January, Moody’s changed Energy Future Holdings Corp’s rating outlook to negative and made it impossible to ignore what anyone who had been paying attention to the company’s quarterly reports already knew: Energy Future Holdings is on a path heading towards bankruptcy.  Now there are rumors floating around that the company may ask the Texas Legislature to approve a public or ratepayer-funded bailout.

Neither option would benefit majority of Texas citizens and we urge everyone to sign our petition in opposition to any bailout proposal for Energy Future Holdings

You might wonder how the profitable TXU end up as the failing Energy Future Holdings.  The answer is twofold.

First, in Texas, electricity prices are set based on the price of natural gas.  When natural gas prices were high, this meant that coal-fired power plants could reap additional profit.  This made TXU an attractive acquisition because the company owned many coal-fired power plants.  But now, natural gas prices have plummeted and those same coal-fired power plants, especially the oldest and most inefficient, are dragging Energy Future Holdings down.  The private equity investors made a big bet on the wrong energy source.

The second problem is that Energy Future Holdings was acquired in a leveraged buyout.  What that means is that instead of the investors paying the full amount to buy TXU, they financed the deal partially through loans to the company.  While the company has done a good job of staving off the day of reckoning by refinancing many of those loans, many are approaching maturity and additional refinancing options are limited by the negative prospects for the company.

So, while TXU was a profitable company with relatively low debt, Energy Future Holdings is an unprofitable company (because of low natural gas prices) with massive debt (because of the leveraged buyout) that is approaching maturity.  This isn’t a good combination and some people are going to lose money on the deal (many already have).  However, those losses shouldn’t be placed on Texas taxpayers or ratepayers.

Tell your state representatives and senators that you oppose bailing out failed corporations.

Most of us have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions.  Help us make sure that Wall Street and private equity firms must do the same.

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TCEQ will soon be making some big decisions on how to implement reforms passed during the last legislative session, especially on its penalty policy–and your input is needed quickly:

  • Comments are due on August 30th

Last session, Public Citizen worked with a partnership, The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT), and thanks to the efforts of thousands of citizens who joined forces with ACT, the Texas Legislature made some very important improvements to TCEQ’s laws regarding enforcement policies and penalties for polluters.

Lawmakers raised penalties to $25,000 per violation and told TCEQ to minimize the economic benefit to polluters of breaking the law. Now, to make these new policies work, TCEQ commissioners must adopt rules that address:

  • The economic impact of decisions to pollute (The state auditor has previously found that fines are 1/8 of the economic value gained by violating the law.)
  • How to assess fines for repeat violators.
  • Whether to assess a separate fine to each permit violation or just one per overall incident, called speciation. (This can make a huge difference in the size of the fines and the incentive for companies to not pollute.)
  • Whether to put TCEQ’s enforcement policies into the rules or just adopt them as general guidelines. (Putting the policies into rule makes them stronger and harder for the TCEQ to let polluters off with inadequate penalties.)

Comments are due August 30th on these rules. To sign on to ACT’s draft comments, go here. You may also use them to develop for your own comments. You can find tips about writing comments here. Go here for the TCEQ Sunset Process hub on the ACT website.

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from http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4882451468/The Texas Legislature has taken steps to offer more transparency in government this legislative year. As a Texas Tribune article  written by Becca Aaronson points out, lawmakers hope this will provide a lot of information to be available online. However, some people are worried that private information could be leaked to the public because of the recent breaches in security online on the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services website. Some experts are concerned that with the amount of information being released some private information could become public.

As quoted in the article, Sherri Greenberg, former State Representative and interim director at the Center of Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, says that “we must be very careful when we talk about personal privacy, security and certain data that should never… be online”.  Public Citizen’s own Andy Wilson was also quoted in the article saying that it should not be a problem to take out the private information and that “it should be fairly simple if it is in the form of a spreadsheet or a database to just simply eliminate those columns of [private] data.” Adding that it is “a technical issue, not a privacy issue”.

Many lawmakers and experts hope that the new bills will help with efficiency as well as transparency. Representative Kirk Watson from Austin thinks that when the information is released, some people will “offer ideas for efficiency in government”. Although lofty thinking by Rep. Watson, the public disclosure laws passed in the Legislature will be a major victory in the fight for good government. It is difficult to predict the ramifications of the new laws, but at least now it is up to the public to determine the outcome.

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In a recent NPR show, former Labor Secretary and political commentator Robert Reich addressed the potential executive order by President Obama to require government contractors to disclose their political spending. Reich wants to take the executive order a step farther by eliminating all political contributions from government contractors. Reich explains that contractors such as Lockheed Martin get a large portion of their contracts from the federal government and then use that money to lobby members of Congress.

However, not everyone is as much of a fan of the proposed order as Reich. Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling was scheduled to attend a breakfast yesterday morning hosted by a PAC fro Fluor which is a major government contractor. Last week Rep. Hensarling voted in favor of an amendment to counteract President Obama’s executive order. Adam Smith of Public Campaign wrote on his website ” I wonder if Hensarling discussed his concern about the influence of money in our political process with the government contractor lobbyists handing him money this morning.”

In addition, this cycle has left many Congressional staffers feeling as though Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has changed the game in Congress as showed in a recent Public Citizen survey. Furthermore, as Stephen Colbert demonstrated, the Citizens United ruling made it much easier for unlimited funds to flow into politics.

Colbert proves just how dangerous the Supreme Court ruling can become. He jokes about the implications, but in Texas it is very real. In Texas, individuals as well as corporations have always had a major impact in elections and legislation. Most recently, a new Texans for Public Justice report shows that Bob Perry along with two conservative PAC’s gave substantial amounts of money to opponents of the new Home Owner Association Reform bill. Anther report by Texans for Public Justice shows that the Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons gave money to more than 61 percent of the Texas House of Representatives. Of that group, 83 percent of them voted in favor of the out-of-state nuclear waste bill. Public Citizen advocates for the government to serve the voters and not corporate special interests such as Bob Perry’s Homes or Harold Simmons‘ corporations. Public Citizen Texas fights for clean and fair elections through public financing, not corporate funded elections. We also want greater accountability in government. The public should know where political contributions are coming from, especially when corporations are involved. Because as Stephen Colbert said that the American Dream is about people working hard enough so “someday they can go on to create a legal entity which can then collect unlimited funds [for elections].”

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Today, several Texas environmental organizations spoke up on the recent Texas legislative session and their failure to protect public health or achieve clean energy jobs potential for the state.  Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen, and SEED Coalition hold Texas State Legislators accountable for missed opportunities to both protect public health from big energy polluters and create jobs in the growing, global clean energy economy.  

A full year before the session started, environmental groups, business, health, and community leaders from across the state were calling on the Texas Legislature to protect Texans’ health, air, water, and land from pollution, to implement serious protections and build the clean energy economy and create new long term jobs in the state.  The Texas Legislature took some steps but missed a big opportunity to move beyond a fossil fuel economy in this state. 

FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT SERIOUS OIL AND GAS PROTECTIONS

The Texas State Legislature passed the nation’s first state statute to require the disclosure of water volumes and names of chemicals and additives used in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the production of natural gas.  Unfortunately due to last minute lobbying by some industry players on the Senate side, the rules for that list are not required until July of 2013.   Also problematically, the provision that allows operators, suppliers and service companies to ask that certain chemicals or additives not be disclosed by declaring them trade secrets is too favorable to industrial polluters and hard for the public to challenge.

Beside weakening the gas fracking disclosure bill, the Texas Legislature:

  • Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes in the Railroad Commission of Texas (the state agency that regulates oil and gas activity);
  • Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes at the Public Utility Commission to reform the governing structure of ERCOT and open up the market for renewable energy;
  • Failed to pass a Texas Energy Planning Council to look at a transition toward clean energy and away from dirty coal plants.
  • Failed to find a better funding mechanism for the agency other than continued reliance on general revenue.
  • Passed SB 1134, which delays the implementation of new TCEQ rules on air emissions from oil & gas operations including fracking in the rapidly developing Eagle Ford and other shales beyond the already much-abused Barnett Shale;  and,
  • Failed to pass any additional protective measures related to oil and gas regulation such as pipeline safety, saltwater disposal regulations and green completions of wells; and,
  • Protected private industry from local governments recovering damages from global warming emissions.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLES

The Legislature passed a dozen, ‘small’ electricity energy bills this session that will help the state reduce the amount of energy we burn, lower customer’s energy bills, further eliminate the need to build new power plants and reduce the amount of pollution that’s produced as a result. 

Click here for a full list of the good energy bills that passed this Session http://texasgreenreport.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/a_bakers_dozen_good_energy_bills_in_82nd_texas_legislature.doc

Among the good bills passed this session were:

  • SB 1125, which modernizes the energy efficiency goals and programs that investor-owned utilities must run;
  • HB 51, which will require the State Energy Conservation Office to adopt high-performance buildings standards for state agency and university buildings,
  • HB 362, which will require Homeowner Associations to set up the rules to allow homeowners to add solar or other cool roof technologies, and,
  • SB 981, which will clarify that third-party ownership of on-site solar is allowed in Texas, allowing both residential and commercial building owners to lease their roof-space and buy back the energy from solar companies.

While small steps, taken together, these dozen bills should help create jobs in Texas and open up opportunities for energy efficiency and on-site solar.

However, the Legislature failed to move more significant solar power bills — a state solar incentive program, guaranteeing a fair buyback rate for homeowners who generate excess electricity from their solar panels, or an expansion of the state’s goal for solar and other non-wind renewable energy, which has languished at the PUC since it was first passed in 2005 resulting in Texas shuffling towards the 21st century energy economy while other states are in an all out sprint to attract the growth and jobs that innovators and new industry will bring.  In a state known for big ideas and big things, small steps are not enough to attract new businesses and it’s disappointing to see Texas stand on the sidelines.

OTHER ENERGY-RELATED ISSUES:

The Legislature passed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Sunset bill re-authorizing the agency charged with protecting Texas environment.  The Sunset bill passed with penalties for air pollution increased from $10,000 per violation to $25,000.  However, the Legislature made it harder for citizens and attorneys to produce discovery in contested case hearings.

In an act of utter disgrace to Texas, the legislature opened up the state to become the nation’s radioactive waste dump by allowing 36 additional states to send their radioactive waste to the Andrews County Waste Control Specialists site that was originally intended only for Texas and Vermont ‘compact’ waste showing a complete disregard for Texas’ health and safety and pandering to a Dallas billionaire and his waste empire.  Even basic amendments such as studying transportation risks on our highways and whether emergency responders are trained and equipped to deal with an accident involving radioactive waste were struck down.

Some legislators deserve huge credit for trying to improve bills that passed this session, but overall, money ruled the day instead of common sense and decency.

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Yesterday, the Senate named its conference committee members (conferees) for the important TCEQ Sunset Bill (HB 2694).

The Senate version of the bill that the conference committee is considering was significantly better than the bill that came out of the House.  Please call the senate conferees this week and tell them you want them to pass out the Senate version of the bill as it is, without any of the House amendments If you have not already done so, also call the house conferees and if you live in the district of any of the House conferees, do let them know that you are a constituent when you call.

The Senate conferees named were:

  • Joan Huffman (Chair) of Southside Place (District 17) – 512-463-0117
  • Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay (Distict 24) – 512-463-0124
  • Glenn Hegar of Katy (District 18) – 512-463-0118
  • Juan Hinojosa of McAllen (District 20) – 512-463-0120
  • Robert Nichols of Jacksonville (District 3) – 512-463-0103

The House conferees named were:

  • Wayne Smith (Chair) of Baytown (District 128) – 512-473-0733
  • Dennis Bonnen of Angleton (District 25) – 512-463-0564
  • Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (District 90) – 512-463-0740
  • Warren Chisum of Pampa (District 88) – 512-463-0556
  • Charlie Geren of Fort Worth (District 99) – 512-463-0610

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