Issues Facing the 78th Legislature
(Austin) - Recently, the Senate Research Center (SRC) issued a document highlighting some of the issues my Senate colleagues and I will address this session. This article contains the SRC report on Natural Resources. Subsequent articles will focus on other issue areas that will be addressed by the legislature. If you would like to view the full document, you can read it on-line at www.senate.state.tx.us, or contact my office for a copy.
The 78th Legislature will continue efforts to comply with the federal air quality standards established by the Federal Clean Air Act (FCAA). The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) was established by the 77th Legislature in S.B. 5, but the constitutionality of the statewide fee contained in the legislation was challenged in court, and the TERP annual budget was reduced considerably because those fees could not be collected. The legislature will likely consider the restoration of funding to fully implement TERP.
S.B. 312, 77th Legislature, was designed to address many state water issues. The Joint Interim Committee on Water Resources charged with studying this issue focused on the regions of the Texas-Mexico border and looked for innovative solutions to the water needs of colonias, residential communities on the border that lack basic water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and sanitary housing. The 78th Legislature may look at ways to directly fund the Colonia Self-Help Program (CSHP) created by S.B. 312. Increased public awareness will also be a key issue, especially among nonprofit organizations whose participation in CSHP is considered essential. Legislation and incentives encouraging public/private partnerships will be addressed along with increased funding for engineering services and skilled professional work.
The 78th Legislature will continue to review and build a comprehensive water policy that could include incentives to increase the conservation and efficiency of existing water resources, improvement of existing water conveyance systems, water marketing, and the protection of the natural condition of beds and banks of the stateowned watercourses. The development of sufficient long-term water financing strategies will also be an issue.
There are many issues involving natural disasters that overlap with the priorities and resources relating to homeland security. These issues include: Cell phone towers that can be used in the event of man-made and natural disasters; and Increased funding for the Division of Emergency Medicine (DEM) for additional full-time employees (FTEs) to respond to disasters and train other responders. Other natural disaster issues facing the 78th Legislature include mutual aid contracts to allow local governments to share resources; a state disaster contingency fund for responding to disasters that do not meet the criteria for federal relief funds; and increased use of Spanish in public awareness campaigns and publications. Updated and technologically improved floodplain maps, management, and reporting are also key issues along with coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) in utilizing lane reversals to expedite evacuations.
Alternate Fuels and Additives / Waste Conversion
Alternative fuels and the conversion of existing waste into fuel continue to be an issue in state government. Alternative fuels have been discussed as a potential solution to problems with air quality, water quality, waste disposal, rural development, and national security.
Discussion of alternative fuels will likely involve the production of ethanol and the State Energy Conservation Office study on the feasibility of creating an ethanol industry in Texas. Ethanol does not compete directly with gasoline because its energy content is lower than that of gasoline, and it takes approximately 1.5 gallons of ethanol to deliver the same mileage as one gallon of gasoline. Oil companies began to market ethanol as a gasoline volume extender and octane booster in an attempt to decrease dependence on Middle East oil supplies and to phase out lead from gasoline. Congress mandated the use of oxygenated fuels in some regions with the Clean Air Act amendments, and ethanol is the most cost-effective way to increase the oxygen level in gasoline.
The ethanol industry relies heavily on federal and state subsidies to remain viable as a gasoline blending component, and corn prices are the dominant cost factor in ethanol production. Reductions in ethanol production costs may be made possible by replacing corn with less expensive cellulose-based feedstock. Legislators may be following the progress of the Energy Policy Act of 2002 and the State Energy Conservation Office report in considering the future course of the ethanol industry.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0102 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.Senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.