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Dallas Environmental Groups Worry as Texas Lawmakers Target Local Control

Rita Beving of the environmental group Public Citizen said there has been an "assault on cities" in the last three legislative sessions.
Rita Beving of the environmental group Public Citizen said there has been an "assault on cities" in the last three legislative sessions.
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The Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan is one of the crown jewels of Dallas’ environmental efforts. The plan lays out 97 actions the city can take to help reach eight climate-related goals, including making buildings more efficient and ensuring communities breathe clean air.

If everything goes according to plan, Dallas will be carbon neutral by 2050, meeting a goal set out by the Paris Climate Accord. But a spate of bills in the state Legislature could thwart local control on environmental issues.

Senate Bill 1261, introduced by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, aims to give the state exclusive jurisdiction over regulating greenhouse gas emissions in Texas. The bill would disrupt the implementation of climate plans that cities like Dallas have adopted.

Rita Beving, an organizer with the environmental group Public Citizen, called SB 1261 “the climate plan killer bill.” Public Citizen has been involved in several climate plans in Texas, including in Dallas. She’s also the vice chair of the city’s Environmental Task Force.

She feels SB 1261 is a direct attack on city climate plans. If passed, it would have nullified the climate action plans approved by Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Although the language has since changed, the initial text of the bill prevented cities from doing anything “directly or indirectly” related to emissions. This, Beving said, “would’ve opened the door for lots of lawsuits.”

David Griggs, with the Lone Star and Dallas chapters of the Sierra Club, testified against the bill in Austin last month.

“You don’t want any legislation like that that tries to affect local control because, frankly, in Texas the only way we’re going to improve our environment is to do it through local control until we can make some changes in our state Legislature," Griggs said. “We would rather not have the Legislature tie the hands of cities implementing their climate plans."

Luckily for cities with such plans and environmental advocacy groups, the bill was changed to remove the word “indirectly," which makes narrows the effects of the bill. Beving said it shouldn’t really affect the implementation of Dallas’ climate plan, but they are still hoping it gets voted down.

However, Lone Star environmentalists aren’t out of the woods yet. Plenty of other bills take aim at city efforts to reduce their footprint on the environment. “There’s been an ongoing assault on cities the last three sessions on a variety of topics,” Beving said.

House Bill 17 and its companions SB 1262 and HB 1282 would restrict cities from regulating what kinds of energy sources they want to be used or delivered.

For example, the bills would prevent a city from requiring builders to have electric hookups as opposed to natural gas ones. This could keep city climate plans from being able to reduce natural gas usage. HB 884 also keeps local governments from prohibiting gas hookups in buildings. The Dallas plan calls for 50% of residents and businesses to be on renewable energy-based electric plans by 2050 and an all-electric fleet for DART by the same date.

HB 233 aims to take away a city's ability to adopt certain building products, materials or methods to be used. This only applies to cities with a population of 25,000 people or more.

But it’s not all doom, gloom and smoke plumes at the capital this legislative session.

Environment Texas put out a list of the top environmental and "anti-environmental" bills being taken up in the Legislature. Among the bills they oppose is Birdwell's SB 1261. They also oppose two other Birdwell bills that seek to clamp down on wind and solar energy.

But some bills that look promising to them, like HB 1820, which would increase penalties for illegal pollution, as well as others that would further regulate industrial facilities like concrete batch plants.

Communities in different parts of Dallas often wind up fighting off industrial developments like batch plants. In the small South Dallas neighborhood Floral Farms, residents had to organize to oppose a rock-crushing plant the same month Shingle Mountain was finally removed from their community.

Several bills target such developments near residential areas. HB 65 would provide statewide requirements that prohibit building concrete batch plants and other aggregate production facilities within 880 yards of certain residential and community facilities unless certain conditions are met. The current standard is 440 yards.

“Concrete batch plants, concrete crushing facilities, whether it’s Dallas, Houston, Austin, wherever, there has to be a lot more regulation,” Beving said.

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