By Matt Johnson
I was at the Texas Capitol this week with Sierra Club’s lobby team and, my oh my, the hearing schedule is relentless! We’re pretty much at the midway point of our state legislative session, and I’ve seen first hand how visible the wealthy corporate lobbyists are - in the hearing rooms, in the offices of your Senator and Representative, and of course, in the literal lobby!
Before I share some top line highlights of the week, I cannot stress enough the importance of constituent activism at this point of the session. There are long stretches when your elected officials are only hearing from lobbyists on issues you care about. That doesn’t sit well with me, and I bet it doesn’t sit well with you either.
Now is the time, if you haven’t already, to take action. Start simple and easy, with an email to your State Senator and State Representative. Tell them you want people-centered solutions to fixing the grid and action to reduce plastic pollution in our water. Then, tell a friend or family member to do the same. After that, follow it up with a phone call. You don’t need to be a subject matter expert in policy. All they need to hear is that you care about these issues and you want them to do the right thing for Texas families and our environment. It’s either your voice or the influence of a corporate suit.
Also, I’d like to invite you to our Thursday night meetings at 7pm, where Texans from across the state are talking about these issues and how to raise pressure on our lawmakers. Here’s the Zoom link to RSVP. Hope to see you there!
On to the updates!
UPDATE 1: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s energy grid bill package was heard in the Senate Business & Commerce Committee on Thursday, the first step towards what would be a huge ratepayer giveaway ($11 billion) to the Berkshire Hathaway types. Conservation Director Cyrus Reed is on top of it all and wrote up our positions on each of these bills (there are nine plus a resolution) here if you want to dive deep (fair policy wonk warning though). I also recommend checking out KUT's story, Texas state lawmakers unveil plan to curb renewable energy, subsidize natural gas.
Although there are powerful and wealthy interests who are pushing the Chair, Sen. Charles Schwertner, and Patrick to prioritize these bills, they face an uncertain future when they make it to the House because several other wealthy corporate interests are backing another (but still not good for Texas families) plan. More on that to come.
UPDATE 2: The Sunset bills for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) were taken up in House committees this week. The TCEQ hearing was packed with a roomful not only of the familiar industry lobbyists but a bus load of citizens from the Houston area who are tired of the explosions and pollution in their neighborhood. Shout out to our friends at CEER, Air Alliance Houston, and Public Citizen for all of their organizing to ensure frontline voices are represented at the Capitol! Both conservation Chair Craig Nazor and Cyrus Reed (while supporting the bill which includes improved public transparency and enforcement provisions) called for much more action in the bill. Predictably, industrial lobbyists complained that raising fines on bad actors was somehow unfair. We will be working with committee members to improve the bill and add provisions on standing for contesting permits, cumulative impacts, and improved water quality regulation.
UPDATE 3: Although it wasn’t on the radar when the session began, the fate of Fairfield Lake State Park has garnered a lot of attention. There is a lot of interest both from communities and within the legislature to keep this beloved green space a park, but the bill (HB 2332) that would use eminent domain to do that was substituted in committee this week with another, more problematic version. Read this KXAN piece to learn more, and be sure to catch our own Alex Ortiz’s quote in the story too!
Stay tuned next week for what will hopefully be good news on the nurdle bill (HB 4144), as well as updates on energy efficiency legislation and more!