Report: Despite historic parks funding, Texas Legislature failed to protect environment during session

The Lege agreed to put $1 billion into a fund to develop new state parks, but it also cut back on regulators' ability to protect the air and water, Environment Texas said in its report.

click to enlarge Under new a bill passed by the Texas Legislature, petrochemical plants would qualify for school-tax abatements, but renewable energy facilities wouldn't. - Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress
Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress
Under new a bill passed by the Texas Legislature, petrochemical plants would qualify for school-tax abatements, but renewable energy facilities wouldn't.
During the Texas Legislature's regular session, which concluded last week, lawmakers  passed historic upgrades to state parks but otherwise slid backward on protecting the state's air and water quality, according to a new watchdog report.

"Clearly, when it comes to clear air and water, this session was a step back," said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, which published the report. "At the same time, though, the parks thing is certainly the biggest win in my career. It's the biggest environmental gain I can think of in the 23 years I've been involved in Texas politics."

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature agreed to invest $1 billion in a newly minted fund to create dozens of new state parks. If approved by Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas voters, bills passed this session would allow the state to create the green spaces over coming decades.

Even so, the same lawmakers passed bills incentivizing development of new fossil fuel infrastructure, banning cities from taking action on climate change and otherwise tying environmental regulators' hands, according to Environment Texas' report.

Metzger said the parks funding was largely a result of the state's historic budget. Meanwhile, the other bills show the powerful hold the deep-pocketed oil and gas lobby still has on the Texas lawmakers.  

"The main difference between those bills and the new funding for parks is that there aren't powerful special interests lobbying against state parks," he said.

Environment Texas highlighted the following potentially damaging bills that passed both houses and have been signed by Gov. Greg Abbott or await his signature:
  • HB 2127, referred to as the "Death Star Bill" by municipal officials, would block cities from adopting environmental regulations that go further than existing state law.

  • SB 784 stops cities from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

  • HB 33 bans Texas agencies and officials from “assisting any federal agency or official with the enforcement of any federal act that purports to regulate oil and gas operations.”

  • SB 505 imposes a $200 fee on drivers of electric vehicles. While supporters say the proposal is needed to recoup lost gasoline taxes, Consumer Reports blasted it, arguing the state only needs a $71 fee to recoup those losses.

  • SB 833 would bar insurance companies from factoring businesses’ environment, social and governance scores into underwriting decisions. The bill would “throw into chaos the very essence of what we do," one insurance official said during testimony.

  • HB 5 overhauls controversial rules for offering school-tax abatements for new manufacturing facilities. While it allows polluting petrochemical and LNG plants to qualify for incentives, renewable energy facilities and electric battery producers are barred from participating.

  • SB 471 gives the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's chief environmental regulator the ability not to inspect potentially polluting facilities after complaints are filed against them.
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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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