A Few Green Sprouts
For activist Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, green efforts at the Legislature this year have been almost entirely about one issue: energy policy. About 100 bills were filed in this arena, he says, and a few still have a chance at becoming law. He's particularly hopeful about Senate Bills 545 and 546 by Horseshoe Bay Republican Troy Fraser.
The former would create incentives for distributed solar-energy programs, hoping to give the boost to sun energy that wind energy has already received. The latter sets goals for utilities for energy efficiency. Both bills passed the Senate and are pending in the House: SB 545 was sitting in Energy Resources at press time; 546 was left pending in committee but may be replaced by a similar bill from Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchía.
Austin Sen. Kirk Watson is also pushing a couple of green bills – SB 541 would set a goal of 10,000 megawatts of installed renewable-energy capacity in Texas by 2025 and creates incentives for utilities to use generation equipment made in Texas; SB 184 – what Watson calls the "no regrets" bill – requires the state to study programs that not only reduce greenhouse gases but also, in the long run, save businesses and consumers money. "The theory is that whether or not we should be doing something about climate change, at least we can save folks some money," Watson says on his website. Still, Watson complains, too many legislators focus on "what's it going to cost right now" rather than long-term effects. SB 541 was scheduled for Senate debate today (Thursday); SB 184 has made it to House Environmental Regulation.
Metzger says the historically conservative Lege hasn't exactly turned into a collection of granola munchers, but this time around, "a lot of environmental bills are at least getting a hearing. ... That's the result of Speaker [Joe] Straus' leadership." Craddick was very autocratic, and this is a testament to Straus' new style of leadership. "But the committees are still stacked for industry – usually five reliable votes so that there's no threat to the oil and coal industries," Metzger says.
One product of that leadership is the new Technology, Economic Development & Workforce Committee, created basically as a reward to Chair Mark Strama of Austin and nicknamed the "green-collar jobs committee." Strama thinks his House Bill 516, the "green jobs bill," has a good shot of passage. It would create a fund for the Texas Workforce Commission to help workers access training needed to get into the home weatherization, solar installation, and other green industries. Strama's bill is currently in House Calendars; its twin, SB 108, passed the Senate on Monday.