Senate Votes to Pass
Environmental Policy Bill
AUSTIN - The Texas Senate today passed a broad environmental regulation bill that included an amendment that would require so-called grandfathered plants to be brought into compliance.
The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 2912 is based on a review by the Sunset Advisory Commission of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC). The Sunset Advisory Commission conducts regular reviews of state agencies and makes recommendations on the agencies' continuing activities.
"This bill makes necessary changes that will help TNRCC increase its effectiveness, execute their duties and will benefit the agency and the public in the long run," said Arlington Sen. Chris Harris, the sponsor of CSHB 2912.
The bill includes provisions that would increase the agency's role in protecting the environment and give the public greater input to the agency's decision-making process.
Another key component of the bill was added as an floor amendment sponsored by Beaumont Sen. David Bernsen.
Bernsen said his floor amendment, one of more than 30 offered, would require manufacturing and petrochemical plants and pipeline facilities that were grandfathered by the 1971 Texas Clean Air Act to meet current standards.
"I think we've taken a major step forward today with the amendment on the Sunset bill of the TNRCC to meaningfully close the grandfather loophole," Bernsen said. "It's long overdue."
Under the amended bill, facilities in the eastern part of Texas would have until 2007 to comply with emissions regulations. Facilities in the western part of the state would have until 2008.
Another amendment, offered by Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan, would have made wholesale changes to the TNRCC's overall role. The agency is charged with preserving Texas' environment as well as promoting economic development.
Truan said the dual, and sometimes conflicting, roles "confuse" the agency's mission.
"If we're going to look at TNRCC as our state agency, our EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), we ought not to look at this agency to promote economic development," Truan said.
Truan's amendment would have removed language from the bill that directs the TNRCC to promote economic development, instead requiring the agency to focus on environmental protection and public health. The amendment was tabled on a 21-6 vote.
The bill will now go back to the House for the lower chamber to consider the Senate amendments. If the House does not concur with the amendments, a conference committee will be formed to negotiate the differences.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill (SB) 1837, a measure authored by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh that would create and fund a Texas Border Strategic Investment Commission.
"It would invest as much as 250 million Economic Stabilization Fund dollars to take what is the nation's least developed area and set economic development initiatives in place so that we would not face in Texas the continual scenario of (a) declining tax base and declining per-capita income," Shapleigh said.
The Economic Stabilization Fund is sometimes called the Rainy Day Fund.
If Texas were to be divided into two states at Interstate 10, the lower half would be the poorest state in the nation, Shapleigh said.
But it was SB 1837's $250-million appropriation number and other pressing needs around the state that drew criticism from several senators.
"The border doesn't have a monopoly on poverty," Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden said.
Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins was among those who questioned the bill's price tag when it is difficult to fund other worthy programs, while Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, the chair of the Border Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, said the bill was a good idea, but recommended further study of the issue.
"When you talk about another commission, another report, I can tell you faithfully I have enough reports to go from here (the Senate floor) over to the House side," Shapleigh said. "The time is now for investment. The time is now to say, 'Let's fix it. Let's not wait until manana (tomorrow).' Too often, the time to invest is manana when it comes to these issues."
After a lengthy debate, the bill was passed on a 25-5 vote.
The Senate is recessed until 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar will be taken up. The Senate will then reconvene at 10 a.m.