In a shameful display of kowtowing to the power of the oil and gas industry, the Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to restrict the rights of citizens and cities to protect themselves against pollution and hazardous activities. In a 122-18 final vote, HB 40 now heads to the Senate, where anti-rights legislation is being passed with ease in favor of corporate interests.
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Yesterday, the Senate passed SB 709, a bill designed to make it more difficult for citizens to contest permit applications at the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), on a 22-9 vote. The bill’s author, Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), claimed that the intent of the bill is to align state statute with a recent Third Court of Appeals decision related to how and when citizens can get a hearing before an administrative law judge if that citizen believes the permit would affect them negatively.
State Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) recommitted the controversial HB 40 back to the House Energy Resources Committee today due to a technicality. The bill would take away the rights of citizens and cities to protect themselves against pollution and hazardous activities. A point of order was raised on the bill related to technical problems with recording witness testimony. The bill quickly went back to committee, where it was voted out again. HB 40 is expected to be on the House floor for a vote as soon as Friday.
As the Texas House of Representatives prepares to vote on HB 40, which would take away the rights of communities and citizens to protect themselves against pollution and hazardous oil and gas drilling activities, a gas well leak in Arlington, Texas, forced surrounding neighborhoods to evacuate over the weekend. A spokesperson for Vantage Energy said the company had just started the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” process on the well when the fluid leak started Saturday.
The Texas Legislature is close to passing a bill that would take away the rights of citizens and cities to protect themselves against pollution and hazardous activities. HB 40, a bill heavily influenced by the oil and gas industry, would fundamentally undermine a community’s right to regulate oil and gas activities within its borders. The vote on this bill is expected to take place this Tuesday.
Friday the 13th marked the official deadline to file bills in the Texas Legislature. By then, over 4,000 bills were filed in the House and some 2,000 in the Senate, as well as multiple “resolutions” and even a few proposed constitutional amendments. The approaching deadline shifted the relatively slow early pace of bill filing to a frenzied rate as Senators and House members were spurred into action by hundreds of clock watching lobbyists. A backlog of bill drafts at Legislative Council was partly to blame for the flurry of activity, as well as the high number of new Senators and new House members just getting their feet wet and learning the bill writing and filing process.
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The Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation released a report estimating that reasonable restrictions on lawn watering could save Texas billions of gallons of water every year. As shown in Water Conservation by the Yard: Estimating Savings from Outdoor Watering Restrictions, 52 billion gallons (about 158,000 acre-feet) of water savings per year could be achieved in the North Central Texas and Houston-Galveston regions alone if even minimal outdoor watering restrictions are adopted more widely.
Between 8am on January 13, and 6:54am the next day, Marathon Petroleum’s Blanchard Galveston Bay Refinery (formerly owned by BP) in Texas City dumped an estimated 216,000 lbs. of spent catalyst into the air during a major “upset event” when air pollution control equipment failed that was designed to capture catalyst dust from a “cracking” unit. The catalytic dust, a fine white powder somewhat like talcum but grittier, fell onto the community of Bayou Vista, and visibly accumulated on cars and homes in the area. More than two months later, residents are still asking questions, concerned for their health and the health of the bay, and still getting the cold shoulder from the Marathon and the TCEQ.
By Dave Cortez and Mayté Salazar
Have you ever fallen behind on your bills? What about getting your power, water, or gas service cut off because you fell behind? As Austin confronts a poverty crisis, persistent drought, and ongoing economic segregation, thousands of Austinites continue to struggle to pay for one of the most fundamental services we’ve all become accustomed to – electricity.