Archive for March, 2019

On Monday, the committee substitute for House Bill 2860, was up for a public hearing in the Texas House Committee on State Affairs. We delivered testimony in support of the bill, while also asking for a significant change.

You can send and email to support these recommendations.

What the Bill Does

This bill would set standards that residential and small commercial customers in many parts of Texas can rely on when considering the use of distributed generation. A growing number of Texas residents and businesses are utilizing distributed solar energy systems to reduce their electric bills. This is improving affordability for residents, reducing operating costs for businesses, and creating local jobs.

There are now over 14,000 Texas residents and businesses using distributed solar energy. And over 9,600 people are employed in the solar industry in Texas. All of this is good news and the average solar customer has a positive experience and is happy to be paying less for electricity while doing something reduce air pollution, improve public health and address climate change.

But, the lack of statewide standards has led to frustration and bad practices in some cases. This bill would start the process of standardizing what should be included in a solar lease, where and how customers have a right to utilize distributed solar energy, and how electric utilities should treat customers who use or wish to use solar.

Change Needed to Avoid Safety and Environmental Hazards

Section 6 of this bill would add Section 39.1015(a) to the Utilities Code to define “distributed generation.” It expands the definition of “distributed renewable generation” found in Section 39.916(a)(1) of the Utilities Code, to all energy sources. This expanded term is referenced throughout this bill and would limit the ability of HOAs, municipalities and electric utilities from regulating the use of fossil fuel generators if they were connected behind the meter. While it is unlikely that many residential or small commercial customers would utilize such generators because of the relatively high cost, we don’t think this is a wise change.

As the Association of Electric Companies of Texas (AECT) pointed out in its letter to the House Committee on State Affairs, there are “safety and environmental risks associated with generators that use fossil fuel.” This is the one statement in that letter that we agree with. Fossil fuel generators, are noisy, polluting, often include exposed elements that get very hot and include moving parts. These are not characteristics that many would welcome into their residential or mixed-use neighborhoods.

This problem can be remedied by simply using the definition of “distributed renewable generation” everywhere that you currently find the new definition of “distributed generation” referenced. The remainder of this testimony is written assuming this change was made.

Standards for Solar Leases

Solar leases are a common tool that can allow certain customers to access distributed solar energy systems that may not otherwise be able to do so. They are especially helpful for nonprofits and other customers who don’t have tax liability, as a way to access the benefits of the federal solar investment tax credit. They are also attractive for customers who don’t want to be responsible for maintenance.

While they can be beneficial, they are also often quite complicated and customers can sometimes find themselves trapped in a bad agreement that wasn’t what they expected. Every industry has its good actors and bad actors and the solar industry is the same. Most companies that offer solar leases already comply with the provisions proposed in Section 1 of this bill. This short list of requirements will simply establish a standard that all companies offering solar leases must abide by, in order to protect the customer. In addition to information about equipment, costs, maintenance and warranties, terms regarding the transfer of the lease to a future property owner would need to be clearly stated in writing.

Homeowner Association and Municipal Regulation of Distributed Solar

In most Texas towns and cities, residents and business are able to install distributed solar energy systems on their property. As with any electrical work a permit and inspection may be required. That represents a fair and smart balance between allowing property owners to benefit from this valuable resource and protecting the city and other residents and businesses from harm.

In the past, some homeowners associations would ban or severely restrict distributed solar installations, but the Texas Legislature acted in 2011 and 2015 to set standards for how HOAs can and cannot regulate the use of solar energy systems. Section 4 of this bill would clarify the allowable inspection and interconnection process that an HOA can impose on a property owner. Section 2 would apply some of the same standards set for HOAs to municipalities.

Fair Utility Rates and Practices for Customers with Solar

Section 6 of this bill would set minimum standards for how investor owned utilities should treat customers wishing to utilize distributed generation and energy storage. Numerous studies have shown that distributed solar energy provides greater financial benefit than is accounted for even through full net metering. Texas is one of only 5 states that have no net metering requirement and this bill would not change that. It would only prohibit investor owned utilities from unfairly punishing customers who wish to use solar and or energy storage at their homes and businesses. Utilities would be required to provide timely interconnection of distributed generation and would not be allowed to charge customers punitive rates simply because they chose to utilize distributed generation or energy storage.


We encourage Texas House Committee on State Affairs to amend CSHB 2860 to utilize the existing definition of “distributed renewable generation” and then pass it out of committee.

You can email the committee to support this recommendation.

Read Full Post »

Representatives of Public Citizen’s Texas office will testify in a state House Committee today against legislation that would allow a major nuclear company to pay less to dump more contaminated waste.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf’s HB 2269 is scheduled for a hearing late this afternoon in the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

This bad bill would allow the expansion of Waste Control Specialists’ radioactive waste dump in West Texas and would eliminate the fee that the company pays to the state.

A companion bill, SB 1021, sponsored by Sen. Kel Seliger, is scheduled for a 9 a.m. hearing of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development on Wednesday.

If you oppose state policies that allow nuke waste operators to dump more while paying less for the privilege, please consider showing up at either – or both – hearings to register your opposition. Texas oil industry representatives are also expected to testify against the bills because they fear nuclear waste could contaminate the oil-rich Permian Basin.

Meanwhile, read testimony from Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, against Landgraf’s House bill here: HB 2269.

Read Full Post »

Public Citizen testified in the House State Affairs Committee this month about three important government ethics bills pending in the chamber.

All three bills are sponsored by Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston Republican.

The first of Davis’s bills Public Citizen lent its public support for is HB 1297. This legislation would bar those who have been fired or have resigned from a state agency position due to malfeasance from serving as the executive or on the executive staff of a state agency. Malfeasance is defined in the bill as “intentional misconduct or the knowingly improper performance of any act, duty, or responsibility, including unethical or criminal conduct, financial misconduct, or fraud.”

Public Citizen also testified in support of HB 1876, which reflects the recommendations of the Texas Ethics Commission. This bill would, among other things, address the “revolving door” of legislators-turned-lobbyists by barring a former lawmaker from registering as a lobbyist for one year, beginning with the first regular legislative session to convene. It would also ban political contributions during special legislative sessions.

We also spoke in favor of HB 1877, which would enact eight different ethics-related bills that passed the House in the 85th Session of the Legislature but not the Senate.

Read all three letters from Public Citizen’s Texas office director, Adrian Shelley, to members of the Texas Legislature on these important bills:

Read Full Post »

Chemical Fires Far Too Common in the Houston Area

HOUSTON – A chemical fire that erupted early Sunday morning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) plant in La Porte, Texas, and is expected to continue to burn through Wednesday shows the dire need for tougher regulation and enforcement, Public Citizen said today. In addition, the disaster underscores the need for more public information from both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about chemical risks and disaster response efforts.

The fire, which so far involves seven petrochemical storage tanks, sent a thick plume of smoke over the Houston region, forcing local officials to urge residents to shelter in place and cancel classes in both the Deer Park and La Porte Independent School Districts. At least three toxic chemicals involved in the blaze – naphtha, xylene and toluene – pose a danger to public safety. Short-term exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, breathing irritation, weakness and memory loss – with potentially fatal effects from longer-term exposure.

The ITC fire comes on the heels of a separate, unrelated fire at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery on Saturday, which has been contained. A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found that chemical incidents occur once every six weeks in the Houston area.

“The ITC chemical fire demonstrates how chemical disasters happen far too often in our region, often due to lax regulatory oversight and enforcement,” said Stephanie Thomas, researcher for Public Citizen’s Texas office. “While this fire rages on for days, the Trump administration is trying to slash the budgets of the EPA and the Chemical Safety Board, and is rolling back the 2017 Risk Management Plan amendments, which sought to bring greater safety to communities like Deer Park that are surrounded by the petrochemical industry. We need more protections for our communities and a serious investment in our health and safety.”

Public Citizen has called for restoring chemical right-to-know standards, so that first responders and residents who live near industrial facilities can fully understand the potential hazards of plants’ chemical inventories. The TCEQ needs additional staff and tools – such as a mobile monitoring unit for full-time use in Houston – to be able to adequately respond to pollution disasters, and needs to be more forthcoming with information about serious health-related incidents, Public Citizen maintains. As of 1 p.m. CDT on Monday, the agency still had not posted any information about the Houston fire on its website or social media accounts.

“Industrial disasters are the natural and inevitable outcome of administration policy to let corporate wrongdoers off the hook, slash regulatory and enforcement budgets, and not update regulations to deal with serious health, safety and environmental risks,” added Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.


Read Full Post »

Public Citizen’s Texas office wrote to state lawmakers today urging them to vote in support of HB1.

The letter calls on lawmakers to support funding specifically for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP.

“TERP is the most cost-effective way to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution in Texas,” the letter says. “Reducing NOx pollution improves public health and reduces ozone pollution in our federal ozone non-attainment areas of Houston, DFW, and San Antonio. Despite this, the 2018-19 biennial allocation to TERP was down 22.3 percent from 2016-17 spending levels.[1]

Our letter also aims to address some misconceptions about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program.

“We would…like to correct a misperception about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program (LDPLIP), which provides grants for the purchase of passenger electric vehicles,” we wrote. “This program has been characterized as providing funds for “rich environmentalists to buy electric vehicles.” While we would love to meet some of these rich environmentalists, we aren’t aware of too many of them, and we note that the two most popular vehicles in the LDPLIP program are the Nissan Leaf, with a 2018 MSRP of $29,990 and the Chevy Volt, with a 2018 MSRP of $33,220.[4]”

Read Public Citizen Texas Office Director Adrian Shelley’s complete letter to lawmakers below.


Read Full Post »

San Antonio’s draft climate plan – SA Climate Ready – is out for public comment until March 26 and is expected to be up for a vote at City Council in May. We hope that city staff will take the next several weeks to strengthen the plan, and that the City Council will then adopt it without further delay. You can weigh in here.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on communities around the world, with the loss of life and damage to ecosystems, public infrastructure and private property already at unacceptable levels, and worse to come. So the most important thing is to avoid further delay in acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, and subsequently extreme weather, including droughts, wildfires, floods, and stronger hurricanes, as well as rising sea levels and melting permafrost

Greenhouse gas emissions actually increased in 2018, demonstrating why every city in the U.S. needs a climate plan and needs to implement those plans with a real sense of urgency. There is no time to waste and our federal government isn’t helping.

How does SA Climate Ready stack up? In short: it needs work.

At the most fundamental level, the plan doesn’t set goals that align with the scientific consensus on how quickly emissions must be reduced to keep global warming to 1.5°C (a level that will result in more disasters than we are currently experiencing, but will hopefully avoid ecological collapse). Likewise, it fails to recognize that U.S. cities, including San Antonio, have a responsibility to reduce emissions more quickly than cities in poorer countries with lower emissions. The reality of what is needed from U.S. cities (ending our addiction to fossil fuels over the coming decade) may seem daunting, but the least we can do is recognize the fact, even if we don’t have a clear plan to achieve the goal.

What the World’s Climate Scientists Say

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,” which made it clear that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change that is irreversible on the human time scale is closing. We need big changes now. We will have the best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C if we can achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions on a global level by 2040. Postponing significant emissions reductions until after 2030, as is implied by the SA Climate Ready plan, won’t land us in a world we want to live in.

From IPCC “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C”

Listen to the Experts on City Climate Planning

C40 Cities – the leading organization that works with cities in the U.S. and internationally to take on climate change has developed a very helpful guidance document called “Deadline 2020” to help cities develop climate plans that align with meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The name of the report comes from the fact that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 to give us a decent shot of limiting warming to 1.5°C, but the report describes emissions reduction paths for cities through mid-century.

As an organization that works with the world’s largest cities, C40 Cities is intimately aware of the fact that not all cities can reduce emissions at the same rate and that it’s not fair to expect all cities to be on the same path. Cities in wealthy countries with high emissions – like the U.S. – have the responsibility and the ability to reduce emissions much quicker than average. According to the C40 Cities methodology, San Antonio should be on the “steep decline” emissions reduction path.

From C40 Cities “Deadline 2020” report

Big, but Achievable, Emissions Reductions Needed in San Antonio

The “Deadline 2020” methodology was developed before the IPCC released its latest and most dire report, so we think that, taken together, the IPCC and C40 Cities reports point to U.S. cities needing to reduce emissions by around 80% by 2030. That’s a big drop, but fully transitioning to renewable energy (which is possible and can be done affordably with planning) and electrifying transportation (which is already a growing trend), would achieve this goal for a city like San Antonio. It’s cities that are home to more polluting industries that will have a bigger challenge.

CPS Energy Must Take Responsibility

San Antonio, along with the rest of the world, needs to stop burning coal and natural gas to make electricity. Cheap wind and solar, paired with now cost-competitive energy storage, along with energy efficiency, can replace fossil fuel power plants that pollute the community and are the city’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. CPS Energy made a big deal about funding the development of the climate plan, but the utility failed to provide any analysis of options for phasing out it’s use of fossil fuels during the planning process. The city-owned utility is holding firm on waiting until 2050 to stop burning coal and natural gas. This simply isn’t compatible with climate action. That’s why we’re calling on CPS Energy to shut down the Spruce coal-burning power plant by 2025 and phase out it’s natural gas power plants by 2030

Our message to the city is this: Be straight about the facts and set goals that give the city a decent chance of meeting the challenge at hand. Do your fair share to preserve a livable planet.

If you live in San Antonio or are a CPS Energy customer, you can send the San Antonio City Council and the Office of Sustainability a message, asking them to strengthen and adopt the SA Climate Ready plan.

You can read our full comments on the draft SA Climate Ready plan here.

Read Full Post »

In the week since we learned from news reports that state and federal regulators inexplicably rejected NASA’s offer to monitor air quality in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Public Citizen Texas has asked the Texas Legislature to investigate this “willful negligence.”

“Both EPA and TCEQ officials must be held accountable for this inexplicable decision in the face of a grave public health threat,” Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office said in a statement.

Public Citizen continues to discuss this with state lawmakers to ensure that they are aware of the issue and responding accordingly. Of course, we weren’t the only ones appalled that the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decided to rebuff NASA’s offer to help in those environmentally hazardous days after Harvey.

Harris County (Houston) Judge Lina Hidalgo took to Twitter to voice her dismay.

“This is disturbing,” Hidaldo tweeted about the news. “By rejecting NASA’s plan to measure pollution post-Harvey, EPA & TCEQ missed a critical opportunity. Air quality is vital to the health of Harris County residents. We need more assessments not less of potential environmental hazards.”

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board published an editorial asking “Why would Texas officials refuse NASA’s help?”

“Harvey knocked down smokestacks, damaged pipelines, broke chemical storage tanks, and flooded hazardous waste sites, causing poisonous runoff to spill into nearby streams,” the newspaper noted. “All hands were needed to assess the 2017 storm’s environmental impact and figure out what immediate steps should be taken to protect the public. Yet when NASA extended its hand, it was refused.”

Congress also wants answers. The U.S. House Science Committee last week wrote letters to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Michael Honeycutt, chief toxicologist at TCEQ, demanding an explanation. The letter called the decision to reject NASA’s help “deeply troubling.”

This story isn’t over. We’re joining others in a call to Reps. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, and J.M. Lozano of Austin, who chairs the House Environmental Regulation Committee, to investigate the matter. Advocates have also requested that Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, open an inquiry.

We hope you’ll click the links on their names above for telephone numbers and join us in calling their offices and asking them to hold TCEQ accountable. The public deserves more information about why TCEQ rejected some of the world’s most sophisticated air quality monitoring equipment in the midst of an epic natural disaster.

Read Full Post »

Election day as a state holiday

By Adrian Shelley, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen

Today, Public Citizen supported, in the Texas House State Affairs Committee hearing, HB 935. A bill that would designate certain election days as state holidays. We are supportive because this bill would offer Texas voters more opportunity to vote and participate in elections.

Texas has the worst voter turnout in the nation.[1] I have personally experienced the difficulty of encouraging civic participation in Texas through my participation in the Houston in Action Coalition, which works to increase participation in voting and civic life in Harris County. Voter apathy and barriers to participation depress voter turnout in Texas. Texas’ population is increasingly young and diverse. The legislature should do everything possible to encourage civic participation among all Texans. When more Texans participate in elections, and in turn become more civically active, the democratic process benefits. Making election day a state holiday will surely increase voter turnout and participation in elections. And it comes with no fiscal impact to the state.

[1] See, e.g., https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Voter-turnout-in-Texas-is-dead-last-in-America-13241845.php.

Read Full Post »

Public Citizen Texas today filed testimony in the legislature supporting a bill requiring landlords to notify renters if the dwelling they’re renting is in a flood plain or has been damaged by flooding in the past 20 years.

A FEMA representative looks at a house which shows the effect of flooding. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Home buyers already receive such notice. Renters also deserve to know all of the risks that they are assuming when they rent. The bill has no fiscal implication to the state.

Texans should be informed if their residence is prone to flooding and we urge state lawmakers to support this common sense legislation.

Read Public Citizen’s letter to members of the House Committee on Business and Industry, which has jurisdiction over the bill, below.

Read Full Post »