Fossil Fuels Got A Boost From Lawmakers Who Aim To Fix Texas’ Grid, While Renewable Energy Escaped Stricter Regulations

June 5, 2023- Texas Legislators largely ignored pleas for reform from environmental advocates during this year’s legislative session — failing to act on lowering energy use, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lessening the disproportionate impact of pollution on communities of color.

At the same time, the laws they did approve try to block local attempts to control greenhouse gas emissions, eliminate tax incentives for renewable energy companies and support building more fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

Lawmakers passed a huge economic incentives package to lure companies to Texas, which included the oil and gas industry but excluded wind and solar energy companies.

Still, some significant climate and environment legislation passed: Texas will spend more than $2 billion to boost water supplies and prevent flooding, two of the most destructive climate impacts in Texas as droughts are worsened by higher temperatures and rains and hurricanes get stronger. State lawmakers also approved Bills that will buy more land for state parks and increase penalties for companies that pollute.

Energy Efficiency Proposals Fail

Politicians have mostly failed to push the state to improve energy efficiency in businesses and homes and reduce energy demand to alleviate strain on the state’s main power grid.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, argued that Senate Bill 258, which included the 1% energy efficiency goal, would have helped during the deadly 2021 winter storm that saw skyrocketing power demand push the grid close to collapse and plunged millions of Texans into darkness for days. Supporters highlighted how it would lower electricity costs and reduce emissions created by producing electricity.

The House Committee on State Affairs never voted on it.

Other ideas died with it, including one that would have offered loans or rebates for upgrading or retrofitting homes. Legislators also rejected a bill to create a Texas Energy Efficiency Council to coordinate the state’s energy efficiency approach.

Local Climate Policies Restricted

Texas Republicans passed several pieces of legislation that will tip the scales toward fossil fuels and thwart local efforts to speed the transition to renewable energy.

Senate Bill 1017 will block cities from adopting ordinances that prohibit engines based on their fuel source starting Sept. 1.

Another Bill, Senate Bill 1860, targeted a proposed “climate charter” in El Paso. Proposition K, which El Paso residents voted down in early May, would have amended the city’s charter to create aggressive renewable energy goals and make controlling carbon emissions a cornerstone of major city decisions. The Senate Bill, which is awaiting approval by the governor, would require cities to get permission from the Legislature before approving changes to their charters that purport to address climate change.

Texas Republicans continued their fight against ESG — commitments, mostly in the financial industry, to environmental, social and governance causes. Financial firms have adopted strategies in recent years that attempt to account for the negative societal costs of investing in companies that worsen climate change, use exploitative labor practices or engage in corporate corruption. Using ESG criteria typically reduces the attractiveness of oil and gas companies as an investment.

Environmental Justice Proposals Die

Frustrated Texans who live near industrial facilities took buses from Houston to the Capitol to call on lawmakers to strengthen environmental regulations on concrete batch plants — where materials like sand, water and cement for concrete are poured into mixing trucks — and other industries that tend to pollute predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. Their activism appeared to get some results with Senate Bill 1397.

Lawmakers also increased pollution penalties for industrial facilities from a maximum of $25,000 a day to $40,000 a day for major violations of state environmental regulations. They also lengthened the time the public can comment on agency matters following a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality permit hearing to 36 hours. Currently, the public can comment on permits for new plants before, during or, in some cases, after a public meeting. The Bill still needs the governor’s approval to become law.

Legislators did direct the TCEQ, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, by the end of next year to study the environmental effects of installing, operating and disposing of wind, solar and battery energy infrastructure.

And a Bill that would give TCEQ authority to not investigate certain complaints against polluters was approved by the House and Senate and awaits the governor’s approval. Opponents say Senate Bill 471 discourages citizen reports of air and water pollution.


Author: Ethan Klein

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