Fraser’s Energy Plan a Good First Start On Cleaning the Air in Texas But Environmental and Community Stakeholders Must Be Part of the Process
Sierra Club commends the recent filing of the proposed Texas Energy Policy Act by Senator Fraser in the state Senate but calls on the Texas legislature to ensure that environmental and community stakeholders are included in this plan. The bill, entitled Energy Policy Act, SB15, proposes a robust planning process where an appointed Texas Energy Policy Council examines Texas’s electricity needs. A key provision in the proposed plan asks the Council to reduce air pollution in the state to help major metropolitan areas like Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston meet the minimum health safety guidelines of the Clean Air Act. Currently, close to 20 counties are in non-attainment, meaning that the air is so polluted, it does not meet minimun standards of safety.
“This proposed bill is an important first step at addressing Texas’s air pollution within our borders, as well as our role in regional pollution.” said Jen Powis Senior Regional Representative for Sierra Club. “But while a year long planning process is an important first step, all of the key stakeholders, including the environmental community, must be at the table.”
The bill as drafted amends Texas’s electricity industry deregulation bill (Texas Utilities Code, Chapter 39) and calls for the plan to retire the dirtiest 4000 MWs of power plants. In 2002, when the deregulation bill was originally filed and adopted, the legislature created a strong renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to encourage new jobs and new growth in emerging industries like wind generation. Texas currently leads the nation in wind generation and has met that aggressive RPS over a decade earlier than anticipated. Sierra Club points to the need for doing the same for energy efficiency programs and solar power with a non-wind RPS.
“Texas needs a stronger goal for efficiency and policies that allow solar industries to set up shop here.” said Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club’s Conservation Director for the Lonestar Chapter. “If this bill only retires coal in order to ramp up existing natural gas, it misses a huge opportunity to bring new jobs and clean energy industries to Texas. By many accounts, Texas could lead in job creation in these sectors if the Legislature were to adopt policies promoting clean energy.”
The bill’s plan aimed at promoting Texas’s home-grown natural gas industries ignores the major threats to air and water pollution that citizens in the Barnett Shale are dealing with first hand. The production of shale gas carries its own set of issues, including protection of water resources, benzene emissions, and ozone impacts. As shale gas production is currently expanding to other areas of the state, those issues must be resolved.
“If the state legislature is going to address energy and environmental issues on a comprehensive basis, it has to provide greater protections for public health from natural gas production as well as improve the state’s overall effort clean up our air,” said Ken Kramer, Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re pleased to see that Senator Fraser recognized the state’s pollution problems in crafting this planning process. But we need to move forward now in strengtherning the state’s pollution control programs while we develop a state energy plan that could further enhance a clean energy future for Texas.”