The Austin Chronicle

Bill of the Week: Changing the Climate

By Jordan Smith, February 9, 2013, 10:38am, Newsdesk

Climate change, says Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is "going to be the critical issue of our time." But does that mean the Texas Legislature can – or will – do anything to address the issue? That remains to be seen.

Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Ellis' climate change bill, Senate Bill 78, which directs a number of state agencies – from the Department of Agriculture to the Texas Department of Insurance to the Texas Water Development Board – beginning Sep. 1, 2014, to develop and publish every four years a "climate adaptation plan" assessing each agency's strategy to "identify, minimize, and adequately prepare for the effects of climate change on the social, economic and ecological systems" of the state, and to "manage the risks associated with a changing climate." Among other things, the bill requires an agency's plan to include a vulnerability assessment, a review of existing agency programs – "in the context of anticipated changing climate conditions" – how the agency will fulfill its mission during "anticipated" climate change, the 5- to 10-year impact of climate change on the agency's budget, and a statement from the state climatologist "regarding the adequacy of the scientific basis of the plan."

It is, indeed, a modest proposal that to date hasn't gotten much traction under the dome. The bill got a hearing in 2009, but didn't make it out of committee. In 2011, it wasn't even called up. (This year Ellis has a seat on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, which may help things along.)

Ellis says he'll keep pushing because the bill makes sense, and because "Texas can't just be merely oppositional." Drought, wildfire – devastating to forests, crops, livestock and wildlife – and water woes are here to stay; sooner or later, the state's going to have to get on top of the issue, Ellis says. "Thankfully, I think more and more folks on both sides of the aisle – and in both chambers &ndash realize that the impact is real and something needs to be done," he says, "and soon."

Check out all the latest from the 83rd legislative session at Legeland.

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