Texas Observer’s Rundown of “the Chosen” Environmental Bills

I’m going to cross-post the following article from the Texas Observer’s Floor Pass blog whole hog, because it is just that good.  Look for Smitty’s quote in bold, and hold on to your hat 🙂

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Chosen Ones

posted by Susan Peterson at 03:12 PM

There’s a lot to celebrate this Earth Day when it comes to the Texas Legislature. Republicans in both chambers are carrying environmental legislation – if for no other reason than to stick it to the feds before the feds, under President Obama and a Democratic Congress, begin regulating the environment themselves. And Speaker Joe Straus has been a boon to environmental bills, as well, since he’s actually letting the legislators run the show in the House, unlike his predecessor.

The upshot? More good environmental bills and fewer bad ones.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, says there are just two main bad bills this session. Both would both speed up the permitting process for power plants. Rep. Dan Flynn’s HB 2721, which is being heard today in Environmental Regulation, would speed it up for nuclear plants. The other bad bill, Rep. Randy Weber’s HB 4012, would fast-track permitting for coal power plants.

And I know it’s unlike us to report good news, but Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen in Texas, says he is “suffering from a crisis of abundance” when it comes to all the worthwhile environmental bills this session.

“There are more good bills in the lege session than I can keep up with,” Smitty says. “It is reminiscent of the 1991 legislative session when Ann Richards was elected and there was a wave of reform. This is the best session I’ve had in 18 years.”

Hot damn!

But which of these good bills actually have a chance? Read about them after the jump.

By this point in the session, it usually pretty clear what the “chosen” bills are – the ones that have the leadership and support to put up a good fight in a system designed to kill bills. These bills are often omnibus bills resulting from negotiations with legislators of both parties, industry representatives and advocates.

Of the dozens of environmental bills filed this session, here’s a rundown of which appear to be the chosen ones, and where they are in the process.

Energy Efficiency

“Energy efficiency” generally describes low-tech measures that reduce energy use, such as increasing insulation in buildings, replacing standard appliances with Energy Star appliances, and using compact fluorescent lighting rather than conventional.

On the Senate side is Troy Fraser’s SB 546, which would establish concrete goals for utilities to decrease their demand. The bill passed the Senate 29 -1 on April 20, and so it’s on its way to the House.

The chosen energy efficiency bill on the House side is Rafael Anchia’s HB 280, which also sets demand reduction goals – but was described by Smitty as “much more aggressive” as the Fraser bill.

Renewable Energy Resources

The big solar bill on the Senate side is also Fraser’s. SB 545 is an incentive program that would primarily promote the use of rooftop solar panels, mostly for private residences. It passed out of the Senate yesterday, 25-4.

On the House side, it’s still up in the air which bills will emerge as the chosen ones. The major contenders, authored by Reps. David Swinford and Mark Strama, may get out of committee as early as this week and hit the House floor next week. Stay tuned.

Senate Bill 16

And finally, there’s Sen. Kip Averitt’s SB 16, which has been pegged as a big’un since the beginning of the session, and passed the Senate a couple weeks ago.. The bill is an omnibus clean air act which requires, among other things, better building codes, appliance standards, improved incentives for plug-in hybrid vehicles and more oversight when it comes to power plant locations and specs. It will be heard in House Environmental Regulation sometime next week.