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Over environmentalists' objections, Texas House approves bill to stop cities from banning gas hookups 

A remote natural gas well releases fossil fuels from under the earth's surface. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
  • Wikimedia Commons / National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
  • A remote natural gas well releases fossil fuels from under the earth's surface.
The Texas House of Representatives has approved a bill preventing cities from restricting natural gas in new buildings, a trend undertaken by some California cities to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

House Bill 17 received House approval Tuesday on a 113-34 vote. It was voted out of House State Affairs Committee shortly after its hearing less than two weeks ago.

The bill was originally filed in January as House Bill 1282, but it was renamed and given priority following February's winter storm, in which 4.8 million Texans lost power.

While environmental groups have generally supported bills trying to address power outages from the recent storm, Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger called HB 17 "fundamentally flawed." Critics say the measure would limit municipalities' ability to encourage use of efficient electrical heating in new structures, thereby cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"If we electrified all buildings, we would actually have surplus gas," Metzger told the Current. "At a time during the blackouts, when we needed every molecule of energy we could get, the electrification would have made us more secure and more likely to avoid blackouts."

Natural gas — backed by the state's powerful fossil fuel lobby — is responsible for approximately 12% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change by trapping heat, according to Metzger. To avoid disastrous global warming, countries must reach net zero carbon emissions by mid-century, climate scientists maintain.

"We think [the answer is] weatherizing the power plants, the gas infrastructure and investing in more conservation and energy efficiency so we can reduce our energy use, so that we're less vulnerable to blackouts," Metzger said.

HB 17 still needs approval in the Texas Senate and the signature of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to become law.

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