Environmental Bills To Watch This Texas Legislative Session

By Mose Buchele, KUT

Texas is not a state known for strong environmental protections. The fact is, many green groups head into legislative sessions more concerned about stopping bills that might do harm than supporting bills that might help.

With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown of some bills that have been filed and some that might be in 2019.

Bag Bans Back?

They say Texas is bigger than France. But you know what’s bigger than Texas? A massive island of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. One of the aims of single-use plastic-bag bans that many Texas cities adopted was to stop plastic from polluting the environment. The Texas Supreme Court ruledearlier this year, however, that those bans violate state law.

To allow cities to regulate single-use plastic bags again, Austin Democratic State Rep. Gina Hinojosa has filed a bill amending the law.

Plastic bags are a “needless waste that ends up polluting our environment, especially here in Austin where so many of us have become accustomed now to using reusable bags at the grocery store,” Hinojosa told KUT.

Some Republican state lawmakers have argued bag bans are an overreach by local government and infringe on personal liberty.

Climate Resilience

For the last several sessions, state Rep. Eric Johnson has filed bills requiring state agencies to prepare for the impacts of global warming. This year the Dallas Democrat is back with House Bill 100, which tells state agencies to consult with the Texas state climatologist to figure out how extreme weather linked to climate change might impact the agencies’ work.

“For example: Texas A&M Forest Service; they deal with wildfires. It would be great if they had the state climatologist data at their disposal and used it to predict how much more resources they might need to make sure Texas is prepared for the next wildfire,” Johnson says. “Same thing for the Texas Department of Agriculture, the General Land Office and other state agencies.”

Johnson thinks the hurricanes, floods and fires that have occurred in Texas since the last session may spur action where there’s been none before. And, indeed, he may have more evidence to make the case for climate preparedness.

A commission convened by the governor after Hurricane Harvey told the state to prepare for more extreme weather.  (While it warned of a “changing climate,” however, the commission never once used the term “climate change.”)

Bracing For A Wind War

Texas leads the country when it comes to wind-power generation, but advocates for wind power are worried plans are brewing to end policies that have helped it flourish. While no bills have been filed at the time of this story’s publication, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has called for an end to subsidies that help wind and other renewable power.

The TPPF often guides the legislative agenda of conservative Texas lawmakers.

“It seems like they’re gunning for some rollbacks of renewable energy support in the coming session,” says Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. “We’re concerned that pulling the rug out from under the industry right now would be really harmful to the environment.”

Metzger says it’s worth noting that the TPPF rejects the scientific consensus that climate change is a threat to public health and the environment.

“I think that makes them not very honest brokers on the issue,” he says.

The wind industry has become so big, though, it has many allies now outside the environmental community. A group called Powering Texas recently formed to defend pro-wind policy. Its members include the Texas Association of Business, as well as the chambers of commerce from many wind-rich – and often politically conservative – parts of the state.

And Many, Many More …

These are just a few of the bills that may shape the environmental debate in the next session, which begins Jan. 8. Other legislation includes restrictions on concrete plants, a commission to study bee die-offs and stricter rules for permitting Texas’ booming sand mining industry.

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