Sierra Club Staff and Volunteers
spent hundreds of hours at your
State Capitol advocating for
good environmental policies!
The 83rd Regular Legislative Session adjourned Memorial Day, May 27, 2013. Governor Rick Perry called for a Special Session to begin immediately, however, to address redistricting. The Governor may add other issues to the Special Session agenda at will. Sierra Club staff will be following the Special Session closely in case additional issues are added, and also working with our progressive allies on the complex issue of redistricting.
While several court cases are ongoing, the conservative leadership in the House and Senate plan to adopt the interim redistricting maps used during the 2012 elections as permanent maps. I encourage all Sierra Club members to weigh in on this issue. Public hearings on redistricting are being held in Austin TODAY and TOMORROW (June 1). More information on the process can be found at the non-partisan group Empower the Vote Texas. The official redistricting site for the state is maintained by the Texas Legislative Council.
The following is a summary of the issues Sierra Club staff and numerous member volunteers have been working on this year. The Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter identified several legislative goals and I am happy to report we enjoyed considerable success on many of them.
Before you read further you should know that our lobbying program and other work in Texas is largely dependent on the support of our members in Texas. Please consider making a donation to the Lone Star Chapter today!
GOAL: Assure that water conservation and water reuse is addressed as part of a comprehensive water infrastructure funding plan
Increased funding for water infrastructure was a top priority for many legislators this year. House Bill 4 (Ritter et. al., Fraser) contained extensive provisions for establishing a new fund to implement the state water plan and restructure the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The Sierra Club played a key role in ensuring that not less than 20% of the funding will support projects designed to conserve water or reuse it. The bill also requires that 10% of the funding support rural political subdivisions or agricultural water conservation projects. Sierra Club Water Resources Chair Ken Kramer helped develop this legislation.
Numerous bills focused on water conservation, drought management, curbing water loss and almost every other water-related subject that you can imagine. Sierra Club staff and volunteers identified several "good bills" and actively worked throughout the session to ensure their passage.
• HB 857 (Lucio III, Hegar) – Requires each retail public water utility with more that 3300 connections to conduct a water audit annually to determine its water loss and to submit that audit to the Texas Water Development Board. This should help ensure the utilities track this information about their systems and help to pinpoint infrastructure needs.
• HB 3605 (Burnam, et. al., Hegar) – Requires a public water utility receiving financial assistance from the TWDB to use a portion of that funding to repair their systems to reduce water loss if their system loss meets or exceeds a threshold established by TWDB. Requires TWDB to evaluate a utility's water conservation plan for compliance with TWDB's Best Management Practices for water conservation when evaluating an application for financial assistance.
• SB 198 (Watson, Dukes) – Prevents a Property Owners Assn. (HOA's) from prohibiting or restricting property owners from using drought tolerant landscaping or natural turf but allows an HOA to require that the property owner submit a landscape plan to the HOA for review and approval. HOA's may not unreasonably deny approval of plans.
For a comprehensive list of water-related bills, please see our longer post here.
There were several bills of concern, as well. The Sierra Club worked especially hard to amend or defeat HB 824 (Callegari, Hegar). The bill would have eliminated a requirement that all sewer overflows (aka: raw sewage spills) be reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) within 24 hours. Utilities would only have to report such spills of 1000 gallons or more. In order to address persistent problems before they become big problems, TCEQ needs to be aware of all sewage spills, not just the "big" ones. HB 824 was amended and passed in the House but died in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Outreach to decision makers about this bill played a large role in its demise.
GOAL: Secure additional funding for public parks and wildlife programs
State parks, wildlife programs and local parks will receive additional funds over the next two years with the passage of Senate Bill 1, the budget bill, and House Bill 1025, the supplemental appropriations bill. Thanks to your efforts and that of many others on this issue, no state parks will likely be closed over the next few years and many state park employees who lost their jobs as a result of devastating budget cuts last session can be rehired. Sierra Club staff, volunteers and many other organizations also advocated tirelessly for funding for local parks grants, which were zeroed out last session. Everyone's hard work resulted in approximately $8 million per year for local parks.
Sierra Club staff also played a positive role in passage of HB 3509 (Bonnen, Seliger), a bill to better define the state's response when species are listed or considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Exxon-Mobil and the Texas Oil and Gas Association initially opposed this effort. While the final bill is not one the Sierra Club would have written, we were able to gain important concessions through negotiations, including the addition of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the task force that will coordinate state policy, and assurances that at least a quarter of those appointed to an advisory committee will be from conservation organizations. All Task Force meetings will be public and the state's responses to proposed listings will be placed on a website, initially by the Comptroller of Public Accounts.
Similarly, HB 7, one of the so-called "budget transparency" bills introduced this session, includes several provisions to ensure that funding from dedicated fees will go toward their intended purpose. The omnibus bill includes a provision to ensure that the voluntary fees drivers pay for specialty license plates will actually go to the organizations that are suppose to receive those funds – including the wildlife diversity programs at Texas Parks and Wildlife -- outside the appropriations process. Kudos to Conservation Chair Evelyn Merz for initiating and making sure this important provision survived the legislative process.
GOAL: Assure full funding of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan to address transportation-related air pollution throughout the state
Fees collected from Texas drivers and businesses under the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) total almost $190 million per year. The initial budget bill proposed appropriating only $65 million per year for TERP grants to reduce emissions from multiple mobile sources. Conservation Director Cyrus Reed worked alongside Public Citizen, several business stakeholders and Chamber of Commerce advocates to secure $77.6 million per year in the final budget deal. In a parallel effort, the legislature passed major reforms to TERP. Senate Bill 1727 (Deuell, Isaac) assures the program will continue through 2019, and provides new incentives for electric cars and renewable energy storage. TERP funds can also now be used to help reduce emissions produced at the Port of Houston and by fracking operations and associated vehicles that are impacting air quality in urban areas.
GOAL: Assure the deployment of clean and renewable energy is advanced, or at the very least, did not suffer serious setbacks during the legislative process
Favorable bills for renewable energy, peak energy demand response programs, and net-metering for residential solar installations were introduced, but all stalled during the legislative process. Fortunately, a bill that would have removed the state's Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard also died in committee. A couple of favorable bills passed and are awaiting the Governor's approval:
• SB 385 (Carona, Keffer) allows municipalities and other local political subdivisions to create local Property Assessed Clean Energy Districts in order to make low-interest loans for energy efficiency and water conservation projects in commercial and industrial buildings.
• SB 700 (Hegar, Kacal) requires that state agencies and universities set annual goals to conserve water, electricity and natural gas and report on their efforts.
• HB 2500 (Bohac, Watson) set some limits on property tax valuation for large solar plants.
GOAL: Continuing -- and improving -- the Texas Public Utility Commission and Railroad Commission, both of which were undergoing so-called Sunset review
The Public Utility Commission sunset bill, HB 1600 (Cook, Nichols), passed and contains many of the positive Sunset Commission recommendations the Sierra Club supported, including transferring water rate making and contested case hearings from the TCEQ to the PUC. Unfortunately, the Railroad Commission Sunset bill, SB 212 (Nichols, Bonnen), containing modest reforms -- ultimately failed. Instead the RRC will undergo a more stringent sunset review in 2017. It appears that changing the outdated name of the agency in charge of oil and gas regulation and some modest campaign finance reforms for the Railroad Commissioners were too politically charged this session. A separate bill, SB 219 (Huffman, Bonnen), continues the Texas Ethics Commission and includes a provision that requires Railroad Commissioners to resign their position if they intend to run for another office.
GOAL: Strengthening public health and safety regulations associated with oil and gas development
A few modest improvements were made to oil and gas regulations, including:
• HB 2982 (Keffer, Duncan) addresses gathering pipeline safety in rural areas;
• SB 901 (Fraser, Paddie) provides general safety standards for oil and gas pipelines;
• SB 900 (Fraser, Wu) raises administrative penalties on pipeline safety violations;
• HB 2767 (Phil King, Estes) encourages water recycling in fracking;
• HB 3309 (Crownover, Estes) provides additional funding for the oil and gas regulation fund; and
• SB 514 (Davis, Wu) regulates saltwater pipelines to take fracking wastewater to its ultimate destination.
GOAL: Defending Texans' right for public review of state environmental permitting and enforcement actions
• SB 957 would have seriously curtailed the public's access to contested case hearings for most industrial permits. Sierra Club staff and members prevented five different versions of this legislation from receiving a vote on the Senate Floor.
• SB 467 would have required a cost-benefit analysis and the potential for a court review of any environmental rule at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Although the bill passed in the Senate, our efforts prevented the bill from passing out of the Environmental Regulation committee in the House.
• HB 3234 would have limited contested case hearings in water rights permitting. The bill passed in the House but was stopped in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.
• HB 1079 limits Texans' and local governments' access to contested case hearings for certain types of uranium mining permit amendments. This bill did pass but Sierra Club staff worked to improve the bill slightly.
The Sierra Club and many others were vehemently opposed to SB 791 (Seliger), as introduced, because it would have negatively impacted on-going litigation against the privately-owned low-level radioactive waste site in Andrews County. I hope everyone will join me in sending a Big Thank You to Representative Lon Burnam, who initially killed the bill on a Point of Order. Unfortunately, much of SB 791 was amended onto another bill that finally passed. Senate Bill 347 (Seliger) increases the annual limit of radioactive waste that can be imported from other states from 120,000 curies per year to 275,000 curies per year. Sierra Club worked with our allies and Seliger's staff to remove three provisions that would have directly impacted our lawsuit and supported provisions in the bill related to a Perpetual Care Account to clean up the site if – some would say when – waste control problems occur. Fortunately, we were able to significantly improve an initially troublesome bill.
Every legislative session we find ourselves working on bills related to issues we did not imagine we would have to work to defend. This session that bill was SB 217 (Patrick, Anchia), the Sunset bill for the State Employees Charitable Campaign. For 19 years, state employees have been provided this low-cost opportunity to make voluntary donations to their charities of their choice throughout the state. Last year over 49,000 state employees -- including me -- contributed more than $9 million to nonprofits that provide critical health care services, support public and private education programs, support numerous Boy and Girl Scout organizations throughout the state, etc. The SECC also includes the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter and the rest of our EarthShare Texas partners. Governor Perry's staff warned the bill sponsors during the final days of session that the Governor might veto the bill, which would have ended the SECC. SB 217 makes many changes to the SECC and requires another sunset review in 2017. Sierra Club staff advocated that the SECC be included in an additional bill, HB 1675 (Bonnen), and it was. Should Governor Perry choose to veto SB 217, the SECC will continue through 2025.
If you read this far, THANK YOU! I hope you will soon get outside to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet! As always, please don't hesitate to contact me at Scheleen.Walker@sierraclub.org if you have questions or would like more information about legislative issues.
Scheleen Walker, Director
Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter
P.S. Your support makes our work possible. Please consider a donation to the Lone Star Chapter today.