Time is running out for Texas legislators as the 83rd legislative session nears its conclusion. This week will see plenty of activity on bills that deal with water, eminent domain and roads. In our weekly installment, we pick some of the energy and environment legislation we’re watching this week. Think we missed something? Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below.
You Can Lead a Lege to Water …
This afternoon, major legislation on water planning and funding for Texas could be heard in both the House and the Senate. HB 4, by state Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, is one of the big water bills this session. It would create a water infrastructure bank and prioritization process for new projects and conservation. That bill has already passed in the House and could come up on the Senate floor today, a potentially significant step forward. Update: the bill passed in the Senate, 30-1.
The actual money for that plan is in another bill by Ritter, HB 11, which would take $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to kickstart the water bank. That bill recently passed out of committee and will get a hearing on the House floor today. Update: the bill was sunk by a legislative maneuver. Read more here.
Another bill that would change the leadership and functions of the state’s Water Development Board could also come up in the Senate today. SB 4 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would also create a water infrastructure bank similar to Ritter’s plan. Update: SB 4 also passed the Senate.
Other water bills include HB 252 by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, which seeks to improve water shortage reporting by utilities. That’s already passed in the House and gets a Senate Natural Resources committee hearing Tuesday. And there’s House Concurrent Resolution 55, which would ask the U.S. State Department to make sure Mexico fully complies with its water treaty with the U.S. That has already passed the House and will be heard in the same committee hearing.
Pipeline Safety and Greenhouse Gases
A bill by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, HB 1863, is up for a floor vote in the House today. It would significantly increase penalties for pipeline safety violations, which haven’t been increased in decades. It would also bring state pipeline safety more in line with federal rules. A maximum fine for a safety violation would now be $2 million, up from $25,000.
HB 788, by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, would bring Texas greenhouse gas permitting in line with other states. That has already passed in the House and will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources meeting Tuesday.
Here’s some earlier reporting by StateImpact Texas on the background of the bill:
Early in its first term, the Obama administration announced that greenhouse gas was a form of pollution that could be regulated by the EPA under the US Clean Air Act. The next year the EPA asked states if they would be able to regulate their own emissions by 2011. Texas officials, who had recently seen the state’s air permitting program at the TCEQ disapproved by the EPA, replied angrily, refusing to create a state based regulatory framework.
Since then, Texas and the EPA have engaged in a series of legal actions around pollution permitting. In some cases lawsuits from Texas officials, many of whom avow skepticism of a link between Co2 and global climate change, questioned the legal rationale for regulating greenhouse gasses in the first place.
In 2012 the EPA approved a new process, modeled after federal regulations, that would allow Texas to take over air permitting within the state again, excluding Co2.
Lawmakers Look Into West Fertilizer Explosion
After a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West that killed 15 and destroyed nearly 150 homes, lawmakers will hold a hearing this week to look into the oversight and safety of the plant. The House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee will meet Wednesday morning to hear testimony from state agencies that were involved with the plant, like the Department of Public Safety, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Office of the Texas State Chemist.