AUSTIN – Restoration of a rebate program to help Texans buy electric cars was a rare bright spot amid what was otherwise a bad session of the Texas Legislature for the environment, said Environment Texas.
“This was a pretty lousy session for the environment,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “The Legislature further weakened local and citizen rights to fight pollution, a win for the big polluters who fund their campaigns, but a clear loss for public health and the environment.”
Environment Texas pointed to reauthorization of the state’s clean air program (the Texas Emissions Reduction Program or TERP), which includes $2500 rebates to help Texans purchase electric vehicles, as one of the few exceptions to an otherwise bad session for the environment. Combined with a $7500 federal tax credit, the rebate helps make the price of electric vehicles competitive with conventional vehicles. The rebate, first created during the 2013 session, subsequently was discontinued during the 2015 session and now returns for the 2018-2019 biennium.
“Electric vehicles are creating real benefits for Texas, cleaning the air and helping our climate,” continued Metzger. “These rebates will help put more Texans behind the wheel of these clean cars.”
The Legislature approved bills further weakening local and citizen rights on environmental issues and cutting tax incentives for wind energy:
- HB 2533 allows the state to preempt local lawsuits against polluters.
- SB 1172 preempts local governments from adopting regulations on seeds, including programs to promote drought-resistant landscaping or to help pollinators like bees.
- SB 277 prohibits tax incentives for wind energy facilities within 30 miles of a military base. 40% of wind farms have been built within this distance.
- SB 1045 reduces opportunities for the public to challenge facilities seeking air pollution permits.
- HB 1643 authorizes jail time for citizens and journalists using drones to document pollution by factory farms and polluting drilling sites.
The Legislature failed to take action on other environmental priorities, including failing to strengthen enforcement and bonding requirements by the state’s oil and gas regulator, failing to get the lead out of drinking water in Texas schools, and failing to address the growing problem of urban runoff pollution of Texas waterways:
- The Legislature approved HB 1818 to reauthorize the Railroad Commission, but failed to include recommendations by the Sunset Commission staff to boost enforcement efforts and require oil and gas companies to post higher bonds to protect taxpayers from picking up the cleanup tab for abandoned wells.
- Three bills to address lead in drinking water at Texas schools were filed, but the Legislature failed to approve any of them. 65% of Texas schools which have voluntarily tested their water have found lead.
- According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, more than 400 miles of Texas rivers and streams are unsafe for swimming or fishing due to stormwater runoff, but the Legislature failed to authorize a study green stormwater infrastructure.
In addition to reauthorizing TERP and electric vehicles rebates, the Legislature also took some other modest steps for the environment:
- SB 570 strengthens regulations to address illegal tire disposal.
- HB 1648 requires water utilities to employ a staffer to oversee water conservation programs.
Environment Texas announced it will soon release its Legislative Scorecard, tracking votes on these and other key environmental priorities from the session.