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Guest Blog by Marion Mlotok

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Texas Senate held a public hearing on redistricting as a launch of the 83rd 1st special session.  The hearing started at 9:00 am and closed at 11:30 am after everyone had testified.  Testimony was for 3 minutes each. I arrived early to a nearly empty auditorium, and when the hearing started, the hearing room was far from packed.

A number of attendees at the hearing, including some of the Senators, pointed out that this was mighty short notice for a public hearing with such far-reaching consequences.  The announcement of the hearing was made Monday, May 27 at 5:30 pm, 62 hours before the hearing, according to Chair, Kel Seliger.  Also the hearing was set for 9:00am on a work day.  No field hearings were or will be scheduled.  It was also brought up that the minorities most affected by this redistricting were the least likely to be able to arrange and afford to take time off work, arrange and afford childcare and afford transportation to Austin.

There will be two more Senate redistricting hearings, Thursday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 12, both at 9:00 a.m. in the Finance Room, E1.036.  All amendments and alterations must be submitted by noon June 10 for consideration for the June 12 meeting.

Most of the testimony was opposed to the maps in SB1, SB2, SB3 and SB4 on the basis of disenfranchisement of minorities.

My testimony was about Austin being split into 6 US Congressional districts, one snaking to Houston, one to Fort Worth, two to San Antonio and one to Laredo.  I pointed that Austin would have no US Congressional representation in Washington.  Austin is big enough to have 7/8 of it as one Congressional district.  In a world that made sense, the other 1/8 of Austin would be in a compact district contiguous with the main Austin district.  Likewise, Travis County is big enough to be almost two US Congressional districts and shouldn’t be split into 5 districts, effectively disenfranchising Travis voters in Washington.

The only elected officials from Travis County or Austin represented were the Travis County Commissioners who registered opposition to the US Congressional map splitting Travis County into 5 US Congressional districts, each having less than 35% of the voters from the district living in Travis County.  The objection was that effectively Travis County would have no representation in the US Congress.

The maps in these bills are the interim maps that were drawn so we could have 2012 elections.  You’ll find interactive maps on the official Texas Redistricting website here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html

You can choose cities and choose to overlay various maps that have been submitted as well as overlay the interim maps for US Congress, Texas Senate and Texas House.

Parallel to this, court is in session in San Antonio with various minority plaintiffs on our redistricting vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.

House Hearings
The House will be having hearings on the companion bills HB1, HB2, HB3 and HB4 tomorrow, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, both days at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004, opposite the cafeteria.

I would urge those who can to attend the hearings and record your opposition to these bills.  They disenfranchise the minority vote and they disenfranchise Austin and Travis County.  To that end,  I’ve reached out to a number of our City Council members and Texas House Reps from Austin and our Austin/Travis Senator Kirk Watson to please come to the hearings and get on record with their voice on this significant issue for the area.

Video of the hearing is at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchives/ramav.php?ram=00006247

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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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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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2007 ACT coordinated over 1000 Texans to rally against a Texas Coal Rush

2007 ACT coordinated over 1000 Texans to rally against a Texas Coal Rush

Whether you’re concerned about eminent domain and oil & gas regulations, climate change and the effects of drought on our water supplies, or you’re ready to see Texas move toward a 21st century clean energy economy, the 83rd legislative session presents a critical opportunity to speak up for the environmental issues you care most about.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over many legislative sessions is that no matter what the issue, legislators pay most attention when their constituents take time to write, call, and show up in person to discuss the issues that are important to them. As a member of the Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT), we are working hard to achieve big gains for our environment, but if we’re going to win on issues like water conservation or state park funding, your voice MUST be heard.

Get started by registering for ACT Lobby Day today. Even if you can’t make all the way to Austin to meet face to face with your legislator or his/her staff, you can still have an impact by lobbying right at home in your district.

Because of your voices and hard work, last legislative session we saw significant gains on issues like energy efficiency and recycling. But with 67 freshman and sophomore members of the Texas House of Representatives this year – yes, 67 – we’ll need your help more than ever to educate and mobilize a broad grassroots response to the important environmental issues facing our state today.

Sign up for ACT Lobby Day and someone from our team will get in touch with you about making sure your state representative and senator know that clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment are key to growing the Texas economy.

Over a hundred Texans have already signed up to be there.  We hope to see you in Austin too.

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Yesterday, Texans from across the state made their voices heard in the Texas state house by calling their state senators and asking them to stand up to  industry’s power play to pollute at will. 

On Tuesday night, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (HB 25, Angleton), offered an amendment on SB 875 that would provide industry an affirmative defense against civil suits. This amendment would severely restrict Texans’ ability to protect their property by giving industry immunity from nuisance and trespass action on nearly every type of regulated activity.  On Wednesday afternoon, after an hour-long debate, the House tried to remove the Bonnen amendment from SB 875. The vote was 82-63 to take it off the bill, but the motion failed because, according to the House rules, an amendment on 3rd reading, requires a 2/3rd majority for passage.  So the bill passed on 3rd reading with the Bonnen amendment on it and headed back to the Senate.

Last night, due not by any small amount to all of you who called in expressing your concern about this bill, the Senate refused to concur on the bill, sending it to conference committee.  The senate members of the conference committee (conferees) are:

  • Senator Troy Fraser – Chair, R-Horseshoe Bay – 512-463-0124 
  • Senator Robert Duncan – R-Lubbock – 512-463-0128
  • Senator Kirk Watson – D-Austin – 512-463-0114
  • Senator Mike Jackson – R-La Porte – 512-463-0111
  • Senator Craig Estes – R-Wichita Falls – 512-463-0130 

Later today we expect the House to announce their conferees and we will update this blog with that information.

UPDATE

The house appointed their conferees.  They are:

  • Rep. Kelly Hancock – Chair, R-North Richland Hills – 512-463-0599
  • Rep. Dennis Bonnen – R-Angleton – 512-463-0564
  • Rep. Warren Chisum – R-Pampa – 512-463-0736
  • Rep Craig Eiland – D-Galveston – 512-463-0502
  • Rep Wayne Smith – R-Baytown – 512-463-0733

This all sounds familiar to those who have followed the TCEQ Sunset legislation and industry’s attempt to weaken the public’s ability to contest a permit.    The original bill (SB 875) only limited local governments’ right to bring nuisance or trespass lawsuits for greenhouse gases that negatively impacted their communities, but that was significantly expanded with Bonnen’s amendment, that upon review was so broad that it took away people’s right to protect their property from pollution beyond greenhouse gases.  The Senate conferees have said they are committed to taking the Bonnen amendment off, however this is still a bad bill.   

How can you help? Call your representative and senator’s Capitol office today. Here’s what you need to say:

Vote no on SB 875 as it comes back from the Conference Committee.  Texans believe in private property rights–and they will rightly object to laws passed to restrict these rights and the rights of our local governments to protect our interests.

If you’re not sure who represents you, you can find out here.

Thank you again for your efforts to keep this bad bill from becoming law. 

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The Texas Senate just unanimously approved House Bill 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Senate sponsors Huffman and Hegar fought to pass a clean TCEQ sunset bill and Senators Watson and Huffman clarified the intent of Senators to keep this bill clean in an anticipated House-Senate conference committee.

In the months leading up to the 82nd Texas legislative session, Public Citizen and numerous other organizations who are members of a coalition, the Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT) worked to alert the public to their opportunity to participate in the Texas Sunset process, turning out thousands of Texans at local town hall meetings to ask the Sunset Commission to make the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do its job better — to more strongly protect our environment and communities from pollution.

The Sunset Commission heard the public and recommended that TCEQ be continued and that its powers to enforce pollution control laws be strengthened.   House Bill 2694 as introduced in this session reflected those sunset recommendations.   Although the bill was not perfect, it was a decent bill that would further environmental protection.  The partner groups in the Alliance for a Clean Texas have supported it on that basis.

Unfortunately, the bill was hijacked on in the House floor by pro-polluter interests and amended to limit the rights of Texans to challenge permits to polluters for air emissions, wastewater discharges, hazardous waste disposal, and other pollution and to weaken the enforcement improvements in the original bill. 

Fortunately the Texas Senate came to the rescue and jettisoned those pro-polluter amendments before passing the bill on the Senate floor today. Texans should express their thanks to the Senators and support the position of the Senate in conference committee.

 We will update this blog with the names of the conference committee members as soon as they are named and encourage all who are concerned to call the conference committee members and ask them to pass out the senate version of the bill.

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Contribution by the Alliance for Clean Texas.

When the 82nd Legislature convened in January, we knew we were in for a fight. We knew that industry would try to weaken the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and make it easier to get permits and skirt enforcement. We knew that the odds were stacked in favor of businesses that threatened the loss of jobs over regular folks who could count days lost to illness, add up the doctors bills, calculate the lawyers fees.

But when they decided to attack our ability to protect our families and our land, they went a step too far.

Today, Texans’ right to protest the permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is under attack. Our state senators can put a stop to this. Please contact your state senator and tell him or her to maintain your right to protect your family and community!

The Texas Senate will soon debate HB 2694–the TCEQ Sunset bill. This bill, as introduced, made much-needed changes to TCEQ that would strengthen its ability to enforce environmental laws. It was the result of the 18-month TCEQ Sunset review that involved thousands of Texans from across the state. But the Texas House amended HB 2694 on the House floor to limit our rights as citizens to contest permits for most categories of pollution including air emissions, wastewater discharges and hazardous waste. The Texas House took a balanced bill and turned it into a vehicle for pro-pollution interests. Now, it’s up to the Texas Senate to put things right and restore our right to protect our families and our land.

Tell your senator to strip off the House amendments and vote for for a “clean” TCEQ Sunset bill. If you’re not sure who represents you, you can look it up here.  A directory of all the state representatives is available online and includes all Capitol office phone numbers.

Texans from around the state need to call their senators. Please forward this email to your friends around the state. Even if your senator “knows better’ than to support amendments that would take away our right to defend our communities from pollution, give him or her a call. It’s essential that each senator hear from their constituents.

Thanks for taking the time to call.

Alliance for a Clean Texas
www.acttexas.org

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18-Wheeler Accident Spills Radioactive Material in Pineville, LA

With the passage of SB 1504 in the Texas Senate, radioactive waste could soon be barreling down Texas highways and through our neighborhoods by way of Interstate 10 through Houston, San Antonio and El Paso; I-20 and I-30 though Dallas and Forth Worth, Midland and Odessa ; and I-27 though Lubbock and Amarillo. 

The greatest risk we face is having an accident with vehicles containing waste.  Cleanup estimates range from $100 to a billion dollars or more according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but the state of Texas has set aside only $500,000.  Taxpayers would pay the rest.

 And what if an accident happens next to a school, playground or hospital?  Don’t we want to make sure that our local emergency responders have the training and equipment needed to handle an accident where a truck is leaking radioactive waste?

 Thanks to Senator Seliger’s leadership, there have been some important protections added in, but a number of loopholes remain that dramatically increases the risk and liability assumed by Texas taxpayers.  There is still a chance to close these loopholes.  This bill goes to the Texas House floor next week and Texans should ask their legislators to make sure that there is an immediate thorough analysis of transportation risks, costs of cleaning up contamination from accidents or leaks, and waste capacity at the site.

 As the Japanese nuclear disaster has taught us, cleaning up after radioactive waste can be a costly and dangerous process.  We urge the house to make sure we have protective measures in place before an accident.

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The Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce will convene in a joint hearing with the Senate Committee on Natural Resources at 8:30 a.m. on February 15, 2011, in the Senate Chamber.  The purpose of the hearing is to receive updates on the power outages of February 2nd through 4th and to discuss the status, preparedness, and responsiveness of current operating procedures.  Invited and public testimony to be taken.

The hearing will begin with invited testimony divided up into 4 panels of witnesses.  The panel makeup is as follows:

Panel 1

  • Barry Smitherman, Chairman, Public Utility Commission of Texas
  • Trip Doggett, President and CEO, Electric Reliability Council of Texas
  • Michael Williams, Commissioner, Railroad Commission of Texas
  • Bryan Shaw, Chairman, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
  • Sheri Givens, Public Counsel, Office of Public Utility Counsel

 Panel 2

  • David Campbell, Chief Executive Office, Luminant
  • Ned Ross, Director, Government Affairs, Direct Energy
  • John Ragan, Regional President, NRG

Panel 3

  • Brenda J. Pulis, Senior Vice President of Operations, Oncor
  • Wade Smith, President and Chief Operating Officer, AEP Texas
  • Larry Weis, General Manager, Austin Energy

Panel 4

  • Dick Erskine, President, Atmos Pipeline Company
  • Scott Doyle, Division Vice President, Texas Operations, Centerpoint Energy
  • Steve Turk, Vice President of Operations, Southern Division, Chesapeake Energy

Following the invited testimony, the committees will take testimony from the public.  You may submit written testimony, please submit 24 copies with your name on each copy to the Committee staff at the hearing, and please provide an electronic copy at your earliest opportunity.   If you would like to speak during public testimony, please limit oral remarks to three minutes.  Only those providing oral testimony will be listed as witnesses on the record, but you can still submit written testimony even if you are unable to speak at the hearing.

Live Video will be available on the Senate website

Senate Business and Commerce Committee Members
Committee Clerk:

Chair:

Kimberly Selinger

Sen. John Carona

Vice Chair: Sen. Chris Harris
Members: Sen. Kevin Eltife
  Sen. Craig Estes
  Sen. Mike Jackson
  Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.
  Sen. Leticia Van de Putte
  Sen. Kirk Watson
  Sen. John Whitmire
 Senate Natural Resources Committee Members
Chair: Sen. Troy Fraser
Vice Chair: Sen. Craig Estes
Members: Sen. Bob Deuell
  Sen. Robert Duncan
  Sen. Kevin Eltife
  Sen. Glenn Hegar
  Sen. Juan Hinojosa
  Sen. Mike Jackson
  Sen. Robert Nichols
  Sen. Kel Seliger
  Sen. Carlos Uresti

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wewonLast night at 11:58 pm (wink, wink), just as we suspected would happen, the Texas Senate unanimously passed through the net metering bill, HB 1243, with solar SB 545 amended on as a bonus.  This is great news for Texas consumers, the environment, and solar power.

As you may recall, HB 1243 will ensure that owners of solar installations, small wind turbines, or biogas generators get paid a fair price for the excess power they produce.  SB 545 — which after the Voter ID slowdown, we thought was dead — increases incentives for distributed solar power generation by creating a pool of $500 million in solar rebates over the next 5 years.  It also calls for a pilot program with a minimum funding of $4 million to put solar on schools (nudge: the State Energy Conservation Office could potentially spend considerably more of their pending stimulus funds to further these projects) and will create thousands of green, local jobs across the state of Texas.

Another amendment to the bill added on SB 2349.  This provision would allow oil wells that create natural gas, but not enough to justify paying for collection, to build a generator to run the gas through, make electricity, and sell it back into the grid.  The bill would limit production to 2 MW so that they can provide distributed generation.  As of right now, they’re just flaring that gas off, so this is definitely a good thing.

According to our friends at Environment Texas (via the Houston Chronicle’s NewsWatch: Energy blog), the amended HB 1243 also

• Requires home builders to offer solar as a standard option in developments with 50 homes or more.

• Prevents homeowners associations from blocking solar panel installations

• Allows up to 70% of incentive funds to be used for utility-scale solar projects

• Allows the Public Utility Commission to extend the program for an additional five years and another $500 million if it determined that a “substantial” amount of manufacturing of solar generation products located in Texas after the initial five-year program

• Requires electric co-ops to allow consumers to interconnect solar to the grid

• Clarifies that consumers will not have to register as a utility and that third party ownership of solar is allowed

• For the next two years, requires retail electric providers to pay at least five cents per kilowatt hour for surplus solar and four cents for other renewable technologies and directs the PUC to determine a fair market price that will become a new “floor” following the two years

• Creates a “Made in Texas” program to certify and encourage Texans to buy locally manufactured solar panels and other energy products.  As a result, locally produced products qualify for a 20% larger rebate than imports.

Now that HB 1243 has successfully passed through both chambers of the legislature, we’ve just got to wait and see what comes out of conference committee, where bill authors from both sides will smooth out the differences between their bills.  Many thanks to all of you that wrote e-mails and made phone calls in support of these bills.  This is a tremendous victory for Texas solar.  Keep your fingers crossed that we can send this bill to Governor Perry’s desk!

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Earlier this morning, I offered the consolation that bills which died due to the Voter ID debacle could be revived as amendments to other bills.  This afternoon, I’m keeping an eye on the Senate to see if my solar dreams will come true.

rays-of-hopeThis afternoon, the Senate has HB 1243 on their intent calendar.  HB 1243 is a “net metering” bill which would ensure that owners of solar installations, small wind turbines, or biogas generators get paid a fair price for the excess power they produce.  As HB 1243 is a solar-related bill, it can be deemed germane, or related, to solar SB 545, which “died” last night (as a reference, I’d also recommend this Houston Chronicle article).

Which means that SB 545 can (maybe, possibly) be amended to HB 1243.  Tentative huzzah!

It gets better.  HB 1243 is co-authored by Senator Troy Fraser — the same fellow who sponsored SB 545.  As both of these bills are Fraser’s babies, the chances of SB 545 living on as an amendment are looking pretty good.

Senator Fraser has yet another opportunity with this bill to fix a gaping hole in the 500 MW non-wind renewable portfolio standard (RPS) passed last session.  When this bill was passed, the RPS was described as a “goal” rather than a “target” — which due to a rather frustrating determination by the PUC, means that it can be interpreted as a recommendation rather than a requirement. Fraser was heard in committee calling this determination “the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.”  Translation: PUC has decided they don’t actually have to do anything to work toward that 500 MW of non-wind renewables.

fraserDuring these dark, cloudy times at the Texas legislature, Senator Fraser can shine a ray of hope into the Senate chamber.  He can create a pool of $500 million in solar rebates over the next 5 years, start a pilot program to put solar on schools, and create as many as thousands of green, local jobs in one fell swoop.  He can fix net metering so that individuals get a fair buy-back for the excess electricity they produce and actually have an incentive to shell out the cash for a new solar installation.  He can also ensure that Texas ends up with an additional 500 MW of non-wind renewables.

So cross your fingers, cross your toes… cross your arms and legs if you think it will help.  If Senator Fraser is your representative, give him a nudge — but otherwise, I’d stick to chanting.

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If you’ve been following the Texas Legislature at all over the weekend, you’ve probably heard the term “chubbing” at least once.  Yesterday marked the deadline for all bills that originated in the Senate to pass second reading — which means that any bills that didn’t make it through the House by midnight last night are dead for the session.  One of the bills on that list was the contentious Voter ID bill, which would have required Texas voters to present a valid driver’s license to vote.  In order to block this bill, which would have suppressed voter turnout across the state, House democrats adopted the “chubbing” tactic — talking bills to death — to avoid getting far enough down the bill list to have to vote on Voter ID.

Unfortunately, this stalling technique killed a tragically long laundry list of bills that were scheduled after Voter ID.  Among these were many of the bills we have been pushing hard this session to improve air quality in Texas, increase our energy efficiency standards, reform electric coops, and encourage solar development.

Missing Tuesday’s deadline is an enormous set-back, but not all hope is lost.  Bills that died last night can still be revived as amendments, which can be tacked on to House bills that are alive in the Senate.  As the Austin American Statesman reports,

Legislators now have two ways of bringing proposals back to life. The first option is for senators to tack dying proposals onto other related bills that did not fall victim to the voter ID fight in the House. For example, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said Tuesday that he may be able to salvage some, but not all, of a comprehensive air quality bill that he has worked on for two years.

“I’ve come to expect tragedy at the end of the session, and tragedy always appears,” Averitt said.

The other option is for the House to take a two-thirds vote to bring up bills.

The two-thirds vote is a pretty enormous step, and highly unlikely for most of the bills we’ve been working one, but the amendment strategy is tried and true.  We’ll be scrambling this week to salvage what we can — it ain’t over til its over, and you can bet we’ll be doing everything we can to fight for what matters for Texas.

Thanks to all you citizens for all your hard work, e-mails, and phone calls to representatives this session.  In the next few days, we’ll be needing your help more than ever.  Stay posted, and we’ll let you know what you can do to help save solar power, air quality, and energy efficiency.

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nuke plantA bill currently moving in the Texas Legislature, HB 4525, would create new state subsidy of $50 million each for new nuclear and coal plants.

We need your help to stop this pork bill from passing.  Call your Senator now and tell them that nuclear power doesn’t need taxpayer help!

Although the claim of HB 4525 is that subsidies are necessary to attract new manufacturing plants to Texas, the bill would actually primarily reward plants already intending to build here with a totally unjustified housewarming gift.

In particular, the two nuclear projects singled out by the Legislative Budget Board analysis as the most likely beneficiaries of these subsidies –the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak — are expansions of existing complexes.  We aren’t in danger of these facilities relocating to out of state, and giving them $50 million a pop “to stay” is an extravagant waste of taxpayer money.

At a time of economic crisis, when state tax revenues are plummeting, Texas cannot afford to give that kind of money away, especially to such financially and environmentally risky projects.

Nuclear plants are already the most heavily subsidized energy industry in the United States at both the state and federal level. Coal plants are heavily subsidized as well, and the Texas Legislature is currently considering two new subsidies for “clean coal” projects. Considering the likelihood that a cap-and-trade bill will take effect soon, this is the wrong time to be adding financial support to the quickly changing energy industry.

Call your Senator today, and tell them to STOP this new coal and nuclear subsidy by voting NO on HB 4525.

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Bad news from the big pink dome. Looks like two of our key bills to promote solar power this session, SB 545 (Fraser/Strama) and SB 541 (Watson/Farabee) are getting stuck in the gummy gears of the legislative process. These bills have both made it through committee and the Senate, but still need to be voted on by the House. Unfortunately, they may never make it that far due to the tremendous power of a little group called the House Committee on Calendars.

At this point, Calendars has an incredible amount of power over what bills will make it to become laws this session. There are now just ten days left before sine die, and hundreds of bills left waiting to go to the House floor. Calendars is like the legislative bouncer at this point, only letting certain skinny, sexy, well-dressed bills into the club.

SB 545 has yet to come out of Calendars, and SB 541 hasn’t even made it onto the list yet. If 541 isn’t at least on the list by tomorrow, it is dead. If 545 hasn’t made it from the list and into the club by Sunday, it’ll be the bill’s last chance to shine.

You think old Bill had it had it bad, at least he didn’t have a Calendars committee to hold him up.

House Reps on the Calendars committee need to hear that these bills are necessary to jump-start Texas’ solar future. If one of the following members is YOUR representative, please give them a call today and tell them that you want these solar bills moved up the calendar and out to the dance House floor!!

Rep. Brian McCall (Chair) — (512) 463-0594

Rep. Eddie Lucio III (Vice Chair) — (512) 463-0606

Rep. Norma Chavez — (512) 463-0622

Rep. Garnet Coleman — (512) 463-0524

Rep. Byron Cook — (512) 463-0730

Rep. Brandon Creighton — (512) 463-0726

Rep. Charlie Geren — (512) 463-0610

Rep. Jim Keffer — (512) 463-0656

Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst — (512) 463-0600

Rep. Jim McReynolds — (512) 463-0490

Rep. Allan Ritter — (512) 463-0706

Rep. Burt R. Solomons — (512) 463-0478

Note: Word on the street is that the Calendars committee has locked its door and taken the phone off the hook.  How’s that for open government?  This shouldn’t keep you from calling individual members though, their offices will still be answering the phone.

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EDITORIAL: Seeing the light and all its power

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dismiss talk of global warming and environmentalism if you must. But times are changing fast and, along with them, the very way we heat and cool our homes and businesses.

The Texas Senate signaled as much this week, approving a bill encouraging development of solar energy plants to generate electricity, much as the state has done in making wind an energy player in Texas and beyond.

Now it’s up to the House and Gov. Rick Perry to show similar vision for Texas.

We hope it isn’t much of a stretch. Sunshine is something we have plenty of in Texas — and we’re unlikely to run out of it anytime soon.

Passage of state Sen. Kirk Watson’s legislation, with help from Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, is remarkable for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the Senate is dominated by Republicans. Watson is a Democrat.

Yet many lawmakers on both sides want to encourage the solar, geothermal and biomass energy aims in this bill. Some see the writing on the wall.

A Texas Public Utility Commission report issued Tuesday concludes that electricity prices could jump as much as $10 billion a year — $27 a month in the average electric bill — if Texans don’t anticipate looming federal greenhouse regulations aimed at cutting carbon-based fuels like natural gas and coal.

Environmentalists and lawmakers see Watson’s bill as neatly bolstering our state’s energy arsenal, especially as Texas continues to grow. Solar could help ensure energy offerings at peak times of the day, while wind will prove of greatest impact during the night hours. (more…)

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