Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

David Barer


David Barer is an intern at StateImpact Texas

  • Email: TX_david@stateimpact.org

Sunset Bill Packs More Than New Name For Railroad Commission


While it's called the Railroad Commission of Texas, it actually deals with regulating oil and gas in the state. A name change could be in the works this legislative session.

Update, May 2, 2013: The Senate Bill passed on the Senate floor today, and now heads to the House.

Original story, April 24, 2013: 

SB 212, which would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Resources Commission passed out committee today. The bill would also restrict campaign contributions for Commissioners, their ability to run for a different office while overseeing the Commission and institute a pipeline permit fee. There were no amendments. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. 

The Railroad Commission wields a big stick in Texas. It regulates the state’s most profitable industry, oil and gas, and all Texans elect its three commissioners. One thing the Railroad Commission doesn’t control, however, is railroads.

A bill discussed at a Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday would rename the Railroad Commission to the Texas Energy Resources Commission, and implement other reforms as part of the Sunset review process.

Few oppose a more apt title for the agency, but wrapped up in the legislation are also rules restricting campaign contributions for commissioners and their ability to run for a different office while overseeing the commission.

What “we’d like to see changed in the bill are the resign-to-run [provision] and the two ethics financial issues,” relative newcomer Commissioner Christi Craddick said during testimony. “But otherwise I’d like to see this bill move.” Continue Reading

Texas vs. Oklahoma, This Time at the Supreme Court

Map by NPR StateImpact

A water fight between Texas and Oklahoma heads to the Supreme Court today.

The highest court in the land will hear about Texas’ water woes today. It will be the culmination of several years of litigation over Oklahoma water that Texas wants.

Shelley Kofler of KERA in Dallas has more on the story:

“There’s often been tension between Texas and Oklahoma. A dispute over the state boundary line dates back nearly 200 years.  And for more than a century Texas and OU football teams have clashed in the Red River Rivalry. Tuesday, the latest skirmish goes before the U.S. Supreme Court when the State of Oklahoma and the Tarrant Regional Water District in Fort Worth argue over water rights.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann today. At stake is water in the Red River: Texas says it has received less than its fair share of it under guidelines set out in the Red River Compact, which dictates how water in the Red River should be divvied up.

While the case attends to Texas and Oklahoma’s water war, the decision rendered could affect interstate water disputes beyond Texas and Oklahoma. Continue Reading

What to Watch For at the Texas Legislature This Week

Photo by Nika. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nika/

State lawmakers will discuss whether to recognize the City of Garland at the cowboy hat capital of Texas this week.

Time is winding down at the State Legislature, but the pace is picking up.

We’ve put together a list of some important bills on energy and the environment up for discussion this week. They tackle the Railroad Commission, fracking, drought and more. But they aren’t all serious, a House committee will discuss a slew of honorifics as well.

(The bills are not listed in any particular order, and the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive.)

Railroad Commission Name Change and More 

The Texas Railroad Commission’s misguiding name could change to the Texas Energy Resources Commission, if a bill, SB 212 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, passes the legislature. The bill would also implement changes to the agency outlined in a 2011 Sunset review that didn’t pass  last session, such as authorizing the commission to impose a fee for permitting pipelines to help pay for safety programs. The Senate Natural Resources Committee will discuss the bill Tuesday morning.

Continue Reading

Raindrops May Be Falling on Your House, But You Still Can’t Drink Them

Photo by Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

Legislation currently being considered at the Capitol would make it easier for Texans to harvest rainwater.

Conversation swirled around water at the House Natural Resources Committee meeting today at the Capitol. The committee discussed dozens of water bills regarding groundwater, desalination, the border between Texas and Oklahoma and even rainwater harvesting.

The bill for the latter, HB 2781, would allow people with a public water supply connection to collect rainwater for potable purposes. People living in rural, unincorporated areas already have that right.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, said when he started writing the legislation he didn’t realize he was writing a cleanup bill for legislation passed in the last session. A previous bill, written by Rep. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee, was supposed to allow most people to install potable rainwater collection systems, but complications with the language in the bill stopped it short of its original intent.

“It was brought to my attention that the people of Texas weren’t being allowed to use their rainwater at their homes as they saw fit and I just thought it was common sense legislation,” Fletcher said.

Continue Reading

What to Watch For at the Texas Legislature This Week


A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought in Austin, Texas September 10, 2011.

It’s crunch time at the Capitol, and legislators have precious little sand left in the hourglass to push bills out of committee. So you’ll see the pace pick up quite a bit in the coming weeks.

We at StateImpact Texas have compiled a not-so-short list of important bills on energy and the environment to help guide you through this period of legislative overload. (While many of the bills are set in groups, they are not listed in any particular order, and the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive.)

Texas Water Plan 

Two of the most watched bills this legislative session, HB4 and SB4, will be discussed at the Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday morning. HB 4, by Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would create an implementation fund for projects in the Texas water plan.

SB 4, by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would also create a state water implementation fund and restructure the top of the Texas Water Development Board into three-member, full-time board instead of a six-member, part-time board.

Water Conservation 

If you install a water system that captures or conserves water, your taxes could get a little lower. A bill, HB 1173, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would provide people who use systems like drip irrigation or rainwater harvesting with a tax credit. Previously: In Battle Between Lawns and HOAs, Lawmaker Files Bill to Save Water. Continue Reading

Big Switch for Water Regulation in Texas Dominates Hearing at the Capitol


The water tower in Groesbeck, Texas, in December 2011.

Lawmakers had rocketed through more than a dozen bills before they arrived at Rep. Charlie Geren’s complex and controversial water bill, HB 1307.

Then things slowed down at the House Natural Resources Committee meeting at the Capitol today.

Other bills, including one that would expand the water supplies a waste disposal authority could tap and sell to fracking companies, were heard. But Geren’s legislation garnered the most attention this morning.

The bill would transfer water regulation duties from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Public Utility Commission (PUC). The switch would affect how rate increases are handled, among other things. Continue Reading

What to Watch For at the Texas Legislature This Week

Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun /Landov

There's a whole host of bills dealing with energy and environment at the Texas Capitol this week. Check out our handy guide for more.

It’s going to be a busy week at the Capitol for energy and environmental issues. We’ve culled a list of bills that could affect everything from the electrical meter on your house to radioactive waste disposal in West Texas. All of the meetings are open to the public, and you can always watch the House and Senate meetings online.

Smart Meter Opt-Out

Don’t want that new smart meter installed at your house? A bill, SB 241, by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, could allow customers to opt-out of having a smart meter installed, or if they already have one, allow them to get their smart meter removed, for a “reasonable” fee. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee will discuss the bill Tuesday morning.

Meter Data Privacy

New legislation could limit who has access to the information from your smart meter. The bill, SB 1219, by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would continue to give electricity providers and utilities access to your electricity usage data, but third parties would need customer consent to access the data. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee will discuss the bill Tuesday morning.

Solving the energy crunch, renewable power, water rates and more, all after the jump: Continue Reading

Reporter’s Notebook: On Venison, Ted Nugent, ‘Fair Chase’ and the Legislative Process

Photo by Dave Barer

Ted Nugent (left) at the Texas Legislature Wednesday after giving testimony on a hunting bill.

Meetings of the Texas House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee don’t usually gin up a lot of media attention. But Wednesday was no normal day.

Television cameras and reporters lined the back wall, eager to record the arrival of one of Texas’ more controversial figures. There was a certain fever in the room when Ted Nugent, donning his trademark camouflage cowboy hat, showed up.

Nugent, also known as The Nuge, The Motor City Madman or, simply Uncle Ted, is a rockstar, author, reality-television personality and storied bow hunter. His conservatism and pro-gun stances have earned him almost as much attention as his unpredictable behavior.  Lately, he’s been in the spotlight for an apparent habit of making veiled threats against President Obama. Something that earned him intense criticism and at least one visit from the secret service.

But Nugent wasn’t at the capitol Wednesday to talk national politics. He was there to talk hunting, and people were ready for a show. Continue Reading

Outlook Calls for Texas Drought to Continue Into Summer

Thunderstorms soaked swaths of Texas yesterday and could bring more today, but Texas’ longterm weather forecast is saturated with unsettling news.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook summary of Texas weather is a grim reminder that Texas needs far more than a few strong storms.

Here are some of the more interesting findings from the study:

Map by NOAA

This map shows that temperature have been warmer than normal over the last two years in Texas.

Temperatures and precipitation have diverged from historical norms. The last two years in Texas were the warmest since 1985. And the entire state experienced lower than normal rainfall in that time period, according to the report.

One result of the oppressive weather is a shrinking water supply. Central Texas’ two largest reservoirs, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, are at 41 percent capacity, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, LCRA, website. Those low levels aren’t likely to improve much in the coming months, as the NOAA outlook anticipates warmer and drier weather through June.

David Barer is a reporting intern for StateImpact Texas.

What’s On Tap in Energy and Environment at the Texas Legislature This Week

Photo by Mose Buchele/StateImpact Texas

Check out our list of what to watch for on the issues of energy and environment at the Capitol this week.

We’ve compiled a list of several important meetings coming up this week at the state legislature that could have an impact on Texas’ energy and environment. Find out when the lege will tackle new bills that could affect everything from the concrete casing on oil wells to space flights near the beach:

Disposal Well Fee

Oil and gas drillers could soon face an additional fee for disposing drilling waste. A new bill, HB 379, by Rep. Lon Burnham, D-Fort Worth, would assess a one-cent fee for each barrel of waste disposed into commercial injection wells permitted by the Texas Railroad Commission. The money collected would go into the oil and gas regulation and cleanup fund. The House Energy Resources Committee will discuss the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Drilling Into the Saline Edwards Aquifer

There’s saltwater in parts of the Edwards Aquifer and a new bill by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, could allow drillers to tap it. Parts of the saline aquifer sit beneath the Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The House Natural Resources Committee will discuss the merits of HB 340 on Tuesday morning. Continue Reading

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