2011 Legislative Agenda

ACT makes recommendations to the 82nd Texas Legislature in the following areas: Air, Clean Energy, Land, Waste & Recycling, Water, and State Government & the Environment.  Bills of interest may be found here.  PDF downloads of ACT’s March 15th Lobby Day issue papers are available here.

Air: Cleaner Air for All Texans

While some areas of Texas have seen specific air quality improvements over the past decade, serious air pollution challenges remain throughout the state. In 2010, an even greater number of Texans, especially those living in urban and suburban areas, will face additional air quality challenges as most of Texas’ metropolitan areas will not meet the new health standards for ozone. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and much of the surrounding North Texas area is faced with a growing challenge that stems from new threats of air toxics and particulate matter posed by new forms of gas drilling. This threat is likely to spread to other parts of Texas as new gas fields are discovered and developed. Communities located along the fenceline of large industrial pollution sources such as refineries, chemical plants, cement kilns, rock quarries and other facilities – like neighborhoods in Port Arthur, Corpus Christi, and along the Houston Ship Channel – continue to suffer disproportionate impacts from exposure to dangerous air toxics such as benzene. In rural areas, farmers and ranchers face air pollution threats from dirty coal-fired power plants and factory farms.

All of these air pollution challenges come at the same time that our knowledge of air pollution’s devastating impact on human health is rapidly expanding. Here in Texas there are several practical changes we should make to vastly improve the TCEQ.  These recommendations will strengthen our state environmental agency’s ability to minimize air pollution across the state and better protect the health of all Texans:

  • Improve the public’s ability to know about air emissions in their communities by making all emissions data more easily available, and by requiring a public notice and an opportunity to comment on permit alterations and modifications.
  • Sharpen TCEQ’s methods for measuring emissions at facilities, and enhance compliance with air quality standards, by requiring enhanced monitoring and more accurate emission inventory reporting.
  • Reform TCEQ’s penalty policy by increasing the penalty cap to better offset economic benefit and allowing the agency to penalize polluters for each individual pollutant.
  • Require TCEQ to consider the cumulative impacts of air pollution when issuing permits or setting penalties
  • Protect communities that are disproportionately impacted by pollution by making TCEQ’s Effects Screening Levels enforceable standards, and strengthening the Air Pollutant Watch List program.

Clean Energy: Investing in the Future

Clean energy resources in Texas have already brought thousands of jobs to our state while reducing pollution, water use and energy costs.  Whether it’s building solar power plants, energy efficiency upgrades, rooftop solar panels for homeowners, or using market forces to reduce energy consumption, our potential as a state is limited only by our ability to attract new clean energy businesses to the state.

Texas has the best potential for solar power in the country, along with the infrastructure to handle it, yet we’re not taking advantage of this booming market.  Likewise, studies from the PUC show that Texans can save billions of dollars through energy efficiency upgrades, but with six different agencies (that don’t even talk to each other) to choose from, how can residents know how to take advantage of our programs?

Our state is a national leader in electric infrastructure upgrades that enable competitive use of these resources.  Unfortunately, we are still behind most states in taking advantage of energy efficiency, rooftop solar panels or allowing customers a fair value for providing clean energy and other services to the grid.

We can make progress on our clean energy goals this session by:

  • Establishing a goal and create incentives for developing solar and other renewable energy in Texas, and a path to reach that goal that protects customers and brings more clean energy jobs to Texas
  • Creating an Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council to cut down on government bureaucracy so that customers have a “one stop shop” for information on all the rebates and incentives available to homes and create an opportunity to achieve more savings, and coordinate statewide efficiency programs to make them more accountable, transparent and effective.
  • Developing policies that allow customers to get fair market value, for their services to the grid, whether it’s solar panels feeding energy back to the grid or homeowners who want to use advanced technology to reduce their electric bills. Pass a solar bill of rights which prevents homeowners associations from blocking solar, ensures electric companies pay consumers a fair price for surplus solar power, eliminates prohibitive registration requirements, and allow consumers to lease solar panels from third parties.
  • Supporting legislation that would help transition Texas from our oldest and dirtiest coal plants toward cleaner forms of energy like wind power and solar power. Natural gas should be used as a replacement fuel for coal only if safeguards to protect public health and environmental quality from the impacts of gas development, production, and use are strengthened and implemented effectively

Land: Maintaining Balance

The better we are at taking care of Texas’ land, the better off our environment will be. More than 90% of the land in Texas is privately owned. It is essential that Texas provides a balance of incentives, opportunities and protections for landowners to practice land stewardship strategies that benefit water resources and ecosystem services.

Texas A&M research has revealed that Texas leads the nation in loss of farms and ranch lands. Forty percent of the rural land loss occurred in Texas’ 25 fastest growing counties. With significant increases in population projections over the next 10 years, an additional 1.4 million acres will be lost in these counties alone. This trend also exposes an increase in land fragmentation, increase in sprawling development away from urban areas, stress on water resources, and an increased tax burden to pay for the infrastructure costs such as roads and utilities.

ACT supports land conservation incentives, incremental expansion of land use powers for counties and programs that encourage compact growth and coordinated regional planning. We can make progress on our land goals this session by:

  • Providing Advance Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) opportunities such as the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program; where landowners are granted financial incentives to conserve land through voluntary restrictions on future development.
  • Providing additional incentives for landowners to enhance land management practices by creating a new water-stewardship property tax valuation program similar to the wildlife management valuation program. This will provide a tax benefit to landowners who choose to manage their property in a way that provides valuable water resource protection.
  • Expanding land use tools for Texas counties. Grant additional ordinance making authority specific to unique regions, particularly where water resources are fragile and limited. Allow counties to enact buffers between incompatible land uses, collect fees from new development to offset the cost of roads and have more flexibility with density rules by allowing for average lot sizes verses solely a minimum lot size.
  • Maintaining funding for Texas Parks to provide opportunities for Texans to experience the great outdoors
  • Encouraging uniform standards for the creation of special development districts. Provide the opportunity for proposed districts to be fully vetted by the public who will be affected by the creation of the new district.

Waste & Recycling

Texas has ample landfill capacity in every region. However, problem trash facilities and sham recycling facilities are decreasing property values and harming neighboring residents and businesses. The lack of focus on recycling is hurting the Texas economy. These resource conservation strategies create at least 10 times as many jobs as wasting them. In addition to increasing jobs, higher recycling rates mean more state tax revenue.

A 2007 state law required computer-makers to provide free, convenient and responsible recycling for desktops, monitors and laptops. However, among major computer-makers only Dell fulfilled the spirit of the law collecting 85% of the total. Furthermore, the first-year collection total in Texas lagged far behind the first-year results in states with more robust producer takeback laws. TVs were not included in the law so local governments and taxpayers and charities such as Goodwill are left with the bill.

  • Electronics companies, including those in the television sector, must do their fair share to provide consumers with free, convenient and responsible recycling.
  • Pass recycling refund legislation for beverage containers to incentivize the recycling of aluminum, plastic and glass bottles, expand the availability of these resources for businesses, create jobs for Texans, and decrease the financial burden for pollution clean up at the state and local level. A portion of the unrefunded deposits could offset the state’s budget deficit.
  • Require that entities that want a permit to build new industrial hazardous waste and municipal solid waste facility hold an early public meeting when an application is submitted to inform the nearby residents, businesses and property owners about the proposed facility.
  • Raise the existing $1.25 per ton Solid Waste Disposal fee on landfilling to $2.50 and adjust it every five years to account for inflation. These funds assist local governments to fight illegal dumping and build recycling infrastructure. They also fund the oversight of waste permits.

Water: Planning for the Future

The protection and proper management of water resources in order to sustain a clean and ample water supply for the people and environment of our state is one of the most important challenges facing Texas in the 21st century. For our economic well-being and quality of life we must become more efficient in our use of water, protect and enhance water quality, make progress toward the goal of sustainable groundwater resources, and maintain necessary flows in our rivers and streams and freshwater inflows into the state’s highly productive coastal bays and estuaries.

There are ongoing needs for funding for water and wastewater infrastructure but any such funding must be coupled with funding for water conservation programs, environmental flow studies, and acquisition of water rights for flow protection. State water programs providing financial assistance for infrastructure projects should be subject to periodic legislative and public review rather than established as perpetual programs without adequate public accountability.

We can make progress this legislative session toward achieving our water goals by:

  • Fostering water conservation through legislation to improve measurement of progress in achieving water conservation and reducing water loss, legislation to assure implementation of water conservation plans, and maintenance of funding for current state agency water conservation activities.
  • Promoting responsible use of groundwater through a management process that facilitates public participation, allows for expeditious resolution of groundwater controversies, requires groundwater conservation districts for all priority management areas, recognizes groundwater-surface water connections, protects sustainability of groundwater resources, and provides for appropriate transfers of groundwater supplies.
  • Taking a balanced approach to funding of water strategies that recognizes both infrastructure needs and management of water resources.

State Government & the Environment

A well-functioning state government that Texans can trust to protect their health and their environment is to advantage of all who live and work in our state. State agencies that provide the public ample opportunity and support to be involved in regulatory matters that affect their well-being, their property and their communities are essential to a balanced approach to environmental regulation. Robust public participation in the permitting process, transparency in rule and decision-making, and ready access to health and legal information provide this balance.

This year, the Texas Legislature has the opportunity to make our state government more transparent, more responsive and more inclusive through the Sunset review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The review process has determined many ways TCEQ can be a more effective and efficient agency and the 82nd Legislature has the opportunity to enact these improvements. To ensure that TCEQ’s processes are balanced and meet Texans’ expectations for openness, fairness and accessibility in state government, we make the following recommendations:

  • Require that permit applications and policies be available and accessible through the Internet.
  • Limit the revision of permit applications without new public notice.
  • Strengthen the Office of Public Interest Council.
  • Preserve an effective hearing process.