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Slow Gains for the Environment at the Capitol

May 31, 2019

Austin Chronicle
By Michael King
Original article here

While the 86th was not a halcyon session for environmental progress – no surprise, alas, in Texas – there was indeed some limited improvement. The Texas Emissions Reduction Program (presuming the governor’s signature pen is in working order) was put on a permanent footing: continuation of the current fund (about $77 million/year, via HB 1) and soon a trust fund (HB 3745) to be administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (meaning more long-term money) for projects to improve air quality, particularly as related to transportation. There’s also new funding for parks and wildlife, and for Railroad Commission inspection of solid waste sites and wellheads.

Although literally years late, under the supplemental appropriations bill (SB 500) money was finally designated for Hurricane Harvey reconstruction ($1.7 billion in rainy day money), and SB 7, addressing infrastructure, was amended to include “nature-based” strategies (e.g., wetland restoration). At the Lege, hindsight rules – rather than acknowledge that changing climate conditions are creating weather disasters, officials are grudgingly funding post-flooding repairs. Nearly a dozen bills were introduced to “study” the effects of climate change – not one received a committee hearing.

The oil and gas industry “own the Capitol building,” said Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment, speaking of the lobby’s success in blocking environmental progress. One bill, HB 3557, caused particular anger among activists: It will criminalize even peaceful nonviolent action against industry projects (e.g., pipelines), imposing state jail felonies for “impairing or interrupting” operations. (Opponents have already announced court challenges on First Amendment grounds.) Overall, said Adrian Shelley of Public Citizen, the Lege continues to value “corporate interests over the health and safety of Texans.”

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