Naked City

Enviro Heaven, Enviro Hell

It was good news/bad news on environmental bills this week: The Senate passed HB 1365, to fund the state's air-quality Texas Emissions Reduction Program with increased fees on vehicle-title transfers. But almost simultaneously, the House passed SB 1265, an industry-favored monstrosity that would prevent prosecutors from acting against environmental polluters unless they first receive approval from that champion of the public interest, the TCEQ.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has informed the state that unless it soon finds funds for mandated air-quality programs, federal highway monies are in jeopardy. So the TERP bill (which still needs House approval of Senate amendments) will add from $12 to $20 on vehicle-transfer fees (higher in urban areas) to underwrite programs intended to reduce air pollution in the state's major metropolitan areas.

SB 1265, on the other hand, authored by Victoria Democrat Ken Armbrister and carried by Corpus Christi Dem Jaime Capelo in the House, would force prosecutors to defer to the TCEQ on pollution permit holders rather than enforce laws against environmental crimes in their jurisdictions. Capelo was hard-pressed to defend the bill on the floor, and it took him a couple of tries -- and the backroom intervention of the GOP leadership -- to force it through the House on a mostly partisan 84-56 vote. (Among the bill's harshest detractors on the floor was Georgetown GOP Rep. Dan Gattis.) Next up on the House agenda: a bill to defer prosecution of bank robbers until the DAs first check in with the comptroller.

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