Fighting the Green Fight

A roundup of this session's environmental legislation

This is the fourth Lege session Luke Metzger, legislative director for Environ­ment Texas, has spent pushing lawmakers to pass green reforms. So far, his scorecard for the 81st Legislature is mixed. He explained, "We had a lot of great hopes when [Speaker] Joe Straus came in, but when I saw the [committee] appointments, I was disappointed by who got on and their voting records." The House Energy Resources Committee, he noted, is little changed from 2007, when former Speaker Tom Craddick made the picks, and while House Environ­mental Regulation now has several environment-friendly members, such as Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, "the fact is that it's still a 5-4 committee with five very pro-industry Republicans."

Some green issues are doing better than others. While there's little movement on water conservation, he said, "there's some pretty big things happening on solar and energy efficiency, and those things are moving pretty fast." He was also impressed by the continued funding of Texas Parks & Wildlife, "but some of the big-ticket items," he said, "like putting money to land conservation – they're still not funded." As for global warming, Metzger praised Senate Bill 16 by Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. "It would require the state to start inventorying emissions, create new incentives for plug-in hybrids, set new building and appliance efficiency standards, so that's a pretty impressive bill," he said.

Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, sits on the two committees with big environmental and green-collar remits (Technology, Economic Development & Work­force and Energy Resources), and while some of his own environmental bills are still languishing in committee, he's most worried that legislators are ignoring what's going on outside the Capitol. In the last month, Texas lost two major green projects to other states – the $600 million National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Batteries research project was awarded to Tennessee, while Austin-based Solar Array Ventures will build its new $220 million factory in New Mexico. Strama explained: "It highlights the urgency of Texas catching up. We all look at Detroit and say, 'How did they fail to see the changes that were happening in the automobile industry?' If we don't get smart about renewable energy, 30 or 40 or 50 years from now, people are going to look at Texas and say, 'Boy, they really blew it.'"

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

81st Legislature, environmental legislation, Luke Metzger, Kip Averitt, Mark Strama, Lon Burnam

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