Original photo by Al Braden
While we celebrate May 1 - International Worker’s Day - including participating in a large union rally at the Capitol - we are hard at work trying to pass bills that will help working Texans. The week ahead will give us our best - and maybe our last - chance to advance good legislation.
One of our priority bills, SB 258 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, which would increase energy efficiency goals for the state for the first time since 2011, has been placed on the intent calendar in the Senate. That means that it could be voted on as soon as tomorrow (May 2). If it is voted out favorably, it will go to the House with just under three weeks (May 20) to get passed out of House committee.
It isn’t the only good bill that might make it out of the Senate. SB 114 (by Sen. Jose Menéndez), which would direct the PUCT to develop rules to help develop residential demand response in the competitive market to help customers reduce peak demand, and SB 2453 (Menéndez), which would fix a conflict in statute which has prevented the State Energy Conservation Office from moving forward on raising energy codes for state-owned and certain private buildings, have also been placed on the Senate’s intent calendar with a similar timeline.
Our understanding is that on SB 2453, an amendment will be offered to meet some concerns about the bill and require a cost-benefit analysis before any new code could be adopted by SECO, and allow for amendments to the code itself.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that HB 4144 (by Rep. Erin Zwiener) was scheduled for a hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee. The bill would allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to include pre-production plastic (aka, nurdle) pollution when it considers updates to its surface water quality standards. It seems pretty basic, especially when you realize that they already had discretionary authority to include nurdle pollution under the Clean Water Act. However, last year they claimed they didn’t, so this bill would remove any doubt by saying so explicitly.
In addition, the House and Senate named who they will send to the budget conference committee, the group of Representatives and Senators who will resolve differences between the House and Senate passed versions of the budget bill. It’s the only bill that must pass this session so the deliberations bear watching for key changes to environmental, utility, water, and other regulatory agency two-year budgets. Sierra Club has communicated with key conferees about which aspects of the budget we like best, including ensuring that we set aside general revenue to the Texas Water Development Board so we can access billions in federal funds, and setting aside $1 billion for future parks and land acquisition.
Finally, we expect the large corporate polluter tax bill (HB 5) to be placed on the House Calendar this week. A replacement of the school district tax abatement programs (known as Chapter 313), HB 5 would largely recreate the corporate welfare program but specifically excludes solar and wind projects, and has no requirement for good public notice or public hearings. Sierra Club is united in our opposition with many other community and labor organizations, even as we also work on amendments to improve the bill.