Tag Archives: Rafael Anchia

Stories From the Frontlines: The Crossroads Between Fracking, Tar Sands, Campaign Finance, and Renewable Energy

How Two Texas Regulatory Agencies Have Embraced Industry Interests Over Citizen Concerns and Public Health

By Dave Cortez and Dewayne Quertermous

This feature was written following two hours of public testimony at an Arlington, Texas town hall regarding the Sunset Review of the Public Utilities Commission and Railroad Commission of Texas – two agencies tasked with regulating electricity, telecommunications, oil, and gas industries, among others. Organized by the Greater Fort Worth & Dallas Sierra Clubs and Public Citizen, the event served as a citizen’s communication forum for North Texans to speak directly to State Representatives Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) and Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas). We thank both of them for their participation.
 
To submit comments directly to the Sunset Advisory Commission, please email sunset@sunset.state.tx.us
 

Last week, more than 80 concerned citizens gathered in Arlington to present passionate testimonials about their experiences with two major state regulatory agencies: the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Railroad Commission (RRC). From concerns about the PUC’s failure to implement state renewable energy mandates and the need to develop net-metering rules for solar, to the financing of campaigns for Railroad Commissioner and the RRC’s track record of neglecting citizen concerns over fracking and tar sands pipeline construction, one unmistakable theme repeated throughout the night was that they are tired of these agencies operating largely by and for polluting industry interests, and not for the public good.

On December 19th, many of these same North Texans will be joining with other concerned citizens from around the state to relay their personal stories of struggle and frustration with the PUC and RRC directly to members of the Sunset Advisory Commission – a 12 member legislative body tasked with the 12 year review to determine the need for an agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs, and considers new and innovative changes to improve each agency’s operations and activities.

(Click here for location, meeting time, and Sierra Club’s comments on the PUC & RRC Sunset Review.)

Keystone 8-24

RULE 37 , EMINENT DOMAIN, AND
Avoiding RENEWABLE ENERGY

Of the more than forty speakers, many criticized the RRC’s lax regulation of the oil and gas industry, especially regarding fracking for natural gas and oil. While there was praise for the Fracking Fluid Disclosure Bill passed in the 82nd legislative session, and the RRC’s quick implementation of the law, as well as a few other fracking related regulations the Commission has strengthened, any positive recognition was always followed by a litany of air, water, public health, and safety concerns.

The Commission’s willingness to let industry have virtually free reign to frequently use the Rule 37 exemption, allowing them to take a mineral owner’s minerals without a lease and with little if any remuneration, came up often throughout the night. A common sore point was that Rule 37 hearings are not held locally but in Austin, forcing landowners to travel to Austin for a hearing that may be rescheduled at the last moment in order to protest what is usually a rubber-stamp approval for the industry.

fracking

Numerous speakers were frustrated by pipeline companies’ abuse of their eminent domain powers, which they get by simply checking a box on a form saying they are a ‘common carrier’. A sustained stream of outraged speakers cited concerns that the RRC does nothing to confirm the veracity of this statement, much less set any criteria for what constitutes a ‘common carrier’, whether associated with gas and oil drilling or with tar sands pipelines. The fact that once they receive ‘common carrier’ status, virtually no limits are placed on the use of eminent domain by a private company, left many incredulous.

“There’s no box to mark or delineate tar sands on the T4 form at the RRC. Tar sands is unlike conventional crude, Syncrude, or Venezuelan crude,” said event organizer Rita Beving. “These tar sands companies get a federal IRS exemption as they have determined with the IRS that dilbit or tar sands is not crude, and therefore are exempt from paying into the U.S. spill liability fund.  Still this company marks their T-4 at the RRC that they are “crude”. What is Texas to do should there be a spill? Who is going to bear the liability? The counties? The state?”

The PUC was not spared by the wave of criticism from speakers. In reference to a petition filed by the Sierra Club and Public Citizen in September, citizens wanted to know why the PUC has maintained a 7-year position that the implementation of a 500 megawatt renewable energy mandate would harm Texas electricity consumers, when many saw it as an efficient means to achieve energy independence and create jobs.

 “The recent denial to hold public meetings for a petition to act on the non-wind RPS, and in documentation on a commission website that compares the capital cost of a natural gas plant to the total cost of a solar PV plant and then declares solar too expensive indicates a bias that needs to be removed or an analysis that needs to be improved,” said Larry Howe of Plano.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AND CAMPAIGN COFFERS

Although audience members expressed their frustrations with the PUC’s deference to industry lobbyists and utility stakeholders, the fact of the matter is members of the PUC are unelected and therefore lack sufficient means for public accountability. The 3 commissioners are appointed by Governor Perry – who ironically enough signed Senate Bill 20 into law in 2005, which established a mandate for 500 mws of “non-wind” renewable energy such as solar and geothermal power.

But commissioners at the RRC are publicly elected. Members of Clean Elections Texas were on hand to present testimony highlighting the need to reform the system of financing campaigns for seats at the RRC.

It isn’t just that 1) there’s been an explosion of campaign spending in RRC races in the last ten years, 2) that most of the money comes from people in industries with business before the commission, 3) that commission candidates raise significantly more than candidates for comparable agencies, 4) that there is no limit to how much any single interested party can give to a commissioner, or 5) that most of the high dollar contributions come from individuals in regulated industries…it’s that some of the campaign contributions simply cannot be explained as an effort to affect the outcome of an election,” said Joel Page of Clean Elections Texas.

Further analysis and review of testimony shows that the volume and source of money flowing into campaigns for the RRC – as documented by a 2010 study by Public Citizen – suggests an effort to buy influence over the Commission. Between 2000 and 2010, money raised and spent by incumbent commissioners increased nearly seven fold; in the 2008 cycle, incumbents spent more than 3.5 million dollars. The amount spent by industry sources – energy companies, their employees, as well as consultants, attorneys and lobbyists – has steadily increased as well.

Problem is: campaign finance reports show that much of the money raised by candidates for RRC goes unspent. This begs the question, “why would donors give candidates more money than they need to run a campaign that receives relatively little public attention?”

IMPLEMENTING REFORM AND
MOVING TOWARD A CLEAN ECONOMY

Wind Solar Worker

There’s no doubt that Texas is an oil & gas state. While our economy is rooted in the days of Spindletop and wildcatting for Texas crude, there’s no reason assume that clean air and water are mutually exclusive to economic and energy development. Texans are proud of our rights to personal property, our independence, and the idea that we can lead in more than low-wage jobs and carbon pollution.

But when our appointed and elected leadership at the PUC and RRC fails to listen to legitimate grievances from of its own citizens,  to respect state law, to protect private property rights, to prioritize transparency & accountability, and to tap into the most abundant renewable energy resource in the nation (the Texas sun), prudence dictactes a greater and more vocal response from the people whom these agencies are tasked to represent and protect.

Send in your comments to the Sunset Advisory Commission, and your State Senator and Representative.  Want to build a local clean economy team in your area? Get started by taking 5 minutes to complete this short survey.

There’s no more compelling case for action and reform than your personal story. However, if you’d like to review talking points and more details of the Sierra Club’s and Public Citizen’s comments on the PUC Sunset Review click here. For talking points and more detail on the Sierra Club’s comments on the RRC Sunset Review click here.

Below is a photo essay featuring all of the speakers at the Arlington town hall. Click on photos to see quotes from the testimony given that night.

What? You didn’t! Part II

Yesterday, the Texas State House of Representatives voted on third reading for House Bill 2694 that, if it passes the Senate, would continue the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  96 numb Representatives — all but one Republicans,  voted for an amendment that Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum attached to the bill.  Chisum’s amendment removes citizen’s rights to contested case hearings by placing the burden of proof on the citizens as opposed to big industry.

Ken Kramer, Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club commented,

The House floor action on the TCEQ sunset bill Wednesday was a historic low point in legislative activity on environmental issues. It represents a failure of the majority of state representatives to protect both public health and the rights of their constituents to a clean environment.

Here’s the record vote on the Chisum Amendment.  You can scan this list to see how your legislator voted, and phone your representative to either thank them or ask them to clean up their act.

Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia made a valiant effort to strip the Chisum amendment from HB 2694 and protect citizens’ rights to a fair, contested case hearing.  David Weinberg with the Texas League of Conservation Voters considered the floor debate on the Anchia amendment to be, “some of the most compelling arguments of this Session.”

Here’s the record vote on the Anchia amendment.  Again, you can check out how your Legislator voted and give them a call.

Ken concluded –

The TCEQ sunset bill as filed in the House represented a balanced piece of legislation that reflected the recommendations of the Texas Sunset Commission after a thorough and careful review of the state’s major environmental regulatory agency. Key amendments to the bill on the House floor today have undermined that balance and have given polluters the best present they could have asked for to celebrate Earth Day later this week. The most egregious changes in the TCEQ bill were those that undercut or in some cases eliminate the rights of Texans to contest proposed pollution control permits that pose a threat to their communities and their families.

There is hope that the bill as it moves to the Senate will be cleaned up to make it the balanced legislation it started out to be. If the TCEQ sunset bill isn’t cleaned up in the Senate, neither will the state of Texas be cleaned up.

Posted by Donna Hoffman, 04-21-2011

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Changes in Committee Heads in House, Solar Legislation and Sunset heat up

So the Legislature is moving. The budget hearings on the House side began already, with key agencies up for public testimony beginning early Monday morning = including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — in House Appropriations, again led by Jim Pitts. Much as we like to malign the agency for failing to protect public health, that doesn’t mean we want major cuts to their programs. Look for more info on it here — on this blog in coming days.

IN other leg news from the Capitol, some key committees changed heads. Most notably for energy and the environment, Byron Cook is no longer chair of Environmental Regulation, but instead will be the head of State Affairs, which often deals with issues related to energy and the electric grid. Leaving his post as head of State Affairs is Burt Solomons, who will still have a seat at the table, but now heads over to Redistricting Committee, which may take some time. Taking over the reins at Environmental Regulation is Republican Wayne Smith from the gulf coast. Energy Resources, which will deal with natural gas, as well as likely some renewable and energy efficiency issues, is still being lead by Republican Dallas-area Jim Keffer. Unfortunately, one of our strongest allies on environmental issues — Rafael Anchia — is no longer on that committee, instead being placed over on Land Resources

In Sunset news, the leaders of the bills have yet to be announced, but in the Senate, inside sources tell us Senator Hegar will be the lead on Railroad Commission, and Senator Huffman will be lead on TCEQ. Bonnen, Vice-Chair of Sunset, will decide next week on House sponsors.

Solar legislation is also heating up — Senator Fraser filed his solar incentive bill — SB 492, which would create a state solar incentive for both rooftop and utility-scale solar, while Senator Seliger filed his Clean Energy Districts — allowing cities to loan out money to individuals for solar, water conservation and energy efficiency — and then pay it back over time through property taxes – as SB 459. Senator Watson’s Non-Wind Renewable Bill — SB 330 — was referred to Senator Fraser’s Natural Resources Committee, though a hearing has not been set. In energy efficiency news, Senator Corona filed SB 552, which would create a Energy Efficiency Coordinating Council between the different state agencies to coordinate programs and policy on energy efficiency.  All three of these bills are supported by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club

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Energy Efficiency produces jobs says Businesses for Energy Efficient Texas, Texas is Hot and Sierra Club at forum at the legislature

About 120 folks huddled together at the Legislative Conference Center over at the capitol yesterday to hear why Energy Efficiency is the “Conservative Approach to Securing Texas’s Energy Future.” Sponsored by the Businesses for an Energy Efficient Texas, TexasisHot.org, Sierra Club, EDF, Public Citizen, and state Representative Rafael Anchia and Senator Carona, a mixed group of state representatives, staffers, and interested parties heard that businesses from HEB to Texas Instruments had fully embraced energy efficiency as a good business model, and the need for state policies — including incentives — to drive people and businesses toward the practice of avoiding electricity through new technologies and behavioral changes. Joining the presenters were a number of companies showing off the latest technologies in energy efficiency, including thermal cameras, LED lighting produced up the road in Georgetown, computer controlled thermostats, and advanced computer energy tracking technologies.
Theresa Gross, with the PUC, pointed out that PUC required energy efficiency programs had already saved enough energy — about 1400 MWs since the programs began — to prevent four 350 MW peaking gas plants from having to be built, while saving money and producing jobs. Currently, PUC is raising the required goals on investor-owned utilities from 20 percent of growth in demand today to 30 percent of growth in demand by 2013. Rep. Anchia said he and Corona are considering legislation to increase the goals in a few years and grow the energy efficiency programs, based on a 2009 PUC study.

HEB’s Bob Manning pointed out that with 300 stores spending some $130 million in utility bills each year, energy efficiency has become over the last five years a huge investment and priority of the food retail giants. He pointed out that while the company has saved $22 million in utility bills over the last five years through these efforts, regular paying customers at HEB are also suffering from high electricity bills, and sometimes it is a choice between food, gas and electric bills. Therefore, it is good for his business and the state to promote energy efficiency for commercial and residential folks.

Jeff Moe, with the company Ingersoll Rand, pointed out that while his manufacturing facilities in Tyler and Waco had cut their own energy use, his company actually sells the energy efficiency products like HVAC systems and insulation that help make people more efficient with their energy use. He called on the legislature to adopt policies that helped drive technology and innovation.

Finally, Paul Westbrook said that at Texas Instruments not only were they making their chips using a fraction of the energy they used to through green building features at their manufacturing facilities, they were participating in the development of chips and other technology that used less energy. He said while wind and solar were sexy and needed to be part of Texas’s energy mix, energy efficiency was the nerdy stuff which actually makes good business sense right away. He noted that for every 100 units of fuel input into a power plant, only 9.5 units actually makes it to the end user as electricity because of the extraction of fossil fuel, inefficiencies in the plant, and losses on the transmission and distribution system.

Ringdale shows off their energy efficient LED lighting manufactured in Georgetown.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Sierra Club

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A Radioactive Texas?

OK — here is the vision brought to you by Waste Control Specialists, the private company trying to locate a radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews Texas, just next to the border with New Mexico: a one-stop shop for virtually all of the radioactive waste in the country, with the facility opening in November of 2011. Open for business for radioactive waste from anywhere. And it is a vision that is becoming much closer to reality following the 5-2 vote yesterday by the Texas Low Level Waste Disposal Compact Commission to approve rules that would allow, on a case-by-case basis, Texas to import radioactive waste from anywhere in the country to be buried in the West Texas ground, even if that generator or place had no legal agreement with Texas, as does the State of Vermont under the Texas Compact.

Not surprisingly, there are multiple viewpoints on the issue. Sierra Club is opposed to the present license even for the Texas and Vermont waste because there are significant problems with the proposed location and proposed license. In fact, we have appealed the license to State District Court and are awaiting a trial. But we are particularly opposed — as are a couple of the Texas Compact Commission Commissioners, several key legislators like Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Lon Burnam and Rafael Anchia, and even Dennis Bonnen, to the notion that it was the right time to open up the “compact” with Vermont to waste from other states, even before the Compact Commission has an operating budget to hire staff, the Legislature has met to consider what it thinks about opening up the compact, and before the site itself has been given the green light to even begin major construction.

Here is a statement we put out this week on it.

“The decision by the Commission to approve rules that would allow a private company — Waste Control Specialists — to import dangerous radioactive wastes into a site that was by its license only designed for Texas and Vermont waste is irresponsible and alarming,” noted Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club Conservation Director Cyrus Reed.

“Thousands of members of the public as well as several members of the  Texas Legislature asked the Commission to either vote ‘no’ on the rules or at least delay voting on the proposed rules until the Legislature had met, the site had actually been constructed, opened, proved to be safe and the Commission had an actual budget with which to operate. Instead, the Commission has rushed into a grave decision based upon false information from the license holder that waste from other states was needed to make the site economical. Fortunately, the Commission’s vote is likely to be challenged in court because not all comments on the rules were even considered.  Sierra Club awaits a decision by a State District Court that would allow us to participate in a hearing to determine the safety of the site,” said Reed.

Keep in mind that even before the vote there was a legal attempt by Public Citizen to prevent the vote based on some poor notice and failure to get the Commission’s email right to receive comment. Unfortunately, the Federal Judge ruled he didn’t have the jurisdiction to act but noted folks like Public Citizen were welcome to question the process of the vote after the vote was taken. So stay tuned.

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Action Alert! Water Council in Danger!

Senator Glen Hegar has proposed the possibility of abolishing the Water Conservation Advisory Council. As your Lone Star Chapter Director, I implore you to please take action to ensure this doesn’t happen.

The possibility of abolishing the Water Conservation Advisory Council is a real travesty.

The Council, on which I serve as the Environmental Representative, is the one state body with the express mission of promoting and facilitating water conservation and measuring progress on achieving water conservation. The money expended for the work of the Council is a drop in the bucket compared to what the state spends to pursue water development projects, despite the fact that the state water plan anticipates that roughly one-fourth of the state’s water demands over the next 50 years need to be met through water conservation (and that figure is likely to rise in the next state water plan).

The Sunset Commission will decide on the proposal to abolish the Water Conservation Advisory Council as part of its decisions on recommendations for the Texas Water Development Board, and those decisions will come at TOMORROW’s (Thursday’s) meeting of the Sunset Commission, perhaps as early as tomorrow MORNING. Please act this afternoon or evening if you want to weigh in on this very important decision.

Proposed Script:

Hello, my name is ____ and I would like to leave a message for [elected official’s name]. I am calling because I support the continuation of the good work by the Water Conservation Advisory Council. It is a critical group that promotes water conservation. Thank you very much.

Sunset Commission Members and Email Addresses:

Senator Glenn Hegar, Jr. (Chair) – district18.hegar@senate.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0118
Senator Juan Hinojosa – juan.hinojosa@senate.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0120
Senator Joan Huffman – joan.huffman@senate.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0117
Senator Robert Nichols – robert.nichols@senate.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0103

Rep. Dennis Bonnen (Vice-chair) – dennis.bonnen@house.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0564
Rep. Rafael Anchia – rafael.anchia@house.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0746
Rep. Byron Cook – byron.cook@house.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0730
Rep. Linda Harper-Brown – linda.harper_brown@house.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0641
Rep. Larry Taylor – larry.taylor@house.state.tx.us – 1-512-463-0729

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