Update: HB 3509 passed out of the state House Thursday, the final day for bills to be voted out.
Earlier: The Texas House could vote today on a bill that would strip the Texas Comptroller’s office of its endangered species monitoring duties and send the job over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Advocates of the legislation, like Bill Stevens, a government affairs consultant for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers who lobbied for the bill, say the switch could help keep potential species off the endangered species list. The listing of species can invite federal intrusion and hinder business.
“We need a more transparent and broader state-government involvement,” Stevens told StateImpact.
A battle was recently wage over the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard. Listing the reptile as endangered would have complicated drilling and exploration around the Permian Basin. The lizard was never listed. Instead, the comptroller’s office, the U.S. Government and industry groups agreed on a voluntary conservation program to protect the animal.
The bill, HB 3509 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would create a “Coordinated State Endangered Species Response Committee” composed of officials from the Department of Agriculture, General Land Office, Railroad Commission, Comptroller’s Office, Wildlife Department and others. The legislation would also create a habitat protection research fund financed through appropriations, grants and gifts, according to the bill.
Speaking on the merits of his bill last week at a Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting, Seliger said the Wildlife Department is better suited for the job of endangered species monitoring than the Comptroller — Texas’ top tax and accounting office. He also said the move could save Texas money, as the Wildlife Department already employs biologists capable of doing the job while the Comptroller has had to contract that work out.
The bill is not without its opponents.
Agricultural and environmental groups have registered against it. Those include the Exotic Wildlife Association, the Texas Farm Bureau, and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
Bonnen’s bill has also divided the oil and gas industry. While the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association are for the bill, oil companies Exxon and Chevron as well as the Texas Oil and Gas Association have registered against it.