A few good bills in Texas to fight oil and gas air pollution

The Texas state legislature doesn’t always give me a lot of hope. From outlawing local control to the two new ALEC bills restricting our freedom to protest, there is a lot not to like in Austin. But this legislative session there are several  bills that could help protect our families and the climate.

S.B. 1156/H.B. 500 Protecting Children from Oil and Gas Pollution

State Senator Judith Zaffirini and Representative Chris Turner introduced bills that will finally give parents a voice in their child’s learning environment, health and safety when it comes to heavy industry operating within feet of their children’s classrooms.

The bills would require industry to notify the community and hold a public meeting in the county where the permit would be issued for applications to drill within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare center.

Currently, the Railroad Commission is NOT required to give notice to communities when drilling permits are submitted.

The bill would also require the Railroad Commission to consider public comments collected at these meetings. Listening to residents is a critical first step toward protecting our communities.

Right now, more than 763,671 Texas schoolchildren learn and play within 1,500 feet of an oil and gas facility. This rule could prevent that number from growing, and ultimately keep more kids safe from hazardous oil and gas related air pollution.

Science shows that air pollutants associated with oil and gas are harmful to human health, and that those problems are exacerbated in high-risk populations like children.

H.B. 225 Studying Solutions for Oil and Gas Leak Detection and Repair

Texans need to know what’s in the air we breathe everyday. That’s why H.B. 225 is so important. The bill amends the Texas Health and Safety Code by requiring the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to study maintenance and inspection programs for leak detection and repair (LDAR) of air emissions from certain oil and gas facilities.

I know first hand that this type of inspection requirement can expose climate and health-harming pollution. For the past five years I’ve travelled from one end of Texas to the other, across the country and internationally using LDAR technology to find and expose normally invisible air pollution from oil and gas facilities.

What I’ve found is nauseating, and Texas in my opinion, is the worst offender. From the Permian Basin in West Texas, to the Barnett Shale north of Dallas and the Eagle Ford in Karnes County, I’ve seen it all. The facilities are recklessly polluting our air, and Texas regulators are dangerously ill equipped to monitor, let alone prevent, pollution events.

Using optical gas imaging to detect leaks and other releases of air pollution could help reduce pollution and waste. Industry knows that in addition to harming our health and climate, when they release methane and other gases they are also harming their own bottom line. Fixing faulty equipment helps everyone.

S.B. 2064 & S.B. 2065 Reducing Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Facilities

As part of state Senator José Menéndez’s 10 bill plan to protect the environment, there are two bills that stand out.

  • S.B. 2064 Would require leaseholders to develop plans to reduce methane and direct the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology to study the best practices for reducing methane pollution and provide recommendations to the Legislature.  
  • S.B. 2065 Would require TCEQ to close a loophole which allows polluters who violate their air permits to escape penalties for air emissions events.

In the past, Texas has actively avoided regulating greenhouse gases, but S.B. 2064 could reverse that trend. Other oil and gas producing states like Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania are taking action to reduce emissions of the potent climate pollutant methane, filling the void left by the Trump administration’s repeal of national safeguards. Texans deserve equal protections.

Both bills are critical to our health and climate. Methane is 86 times worse for climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and we can’t wait that long to take significant climate action. When operators violate their air pollution permits, putting our health and climate at risk, we must hold them accountable.

Senator Menéndez gets it. “As stewards of our state, we must all play a part in keeping our land, water, and air safe and healthy,” Sen. Menéndez said. “This requires clear coordination across state agencies, stakeholders, and the public.”

Are you with me?

These important bills are fighting to make their way through the Texas legislature. We need to let our representatives know that harmful pollution from the oil and gas industry is a priority for Texans. Join me in asking our representatives to support S.B. 1156/H.B. 500, H.B. 225 and S.B. 2064 & S.B. 2065.