June 16, 2011
We’ve sadly come to expect reports from the Legislature to be the same old story: fights, finger-pointing and details of who won and who lost. In frustration, we often ask, “Are there any issues that actually bring people together?”
You bet there are. People respond to protecting our state’s natural resources and preserving them for future Texans.
There’s a reason to care. Texas’ population is exploding and expected to double in 50 years. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the country. That growth puts pressure on natural resources, especially fresh water. It also pressures us to get our collective future right.
On a number of important issues, legislators worked together to do just that.
Water: SB 449 and SJR 16 establish one of the first programs in the nation that incentivizes the protection of freshwater on private land. Ensuring that there will be clean, plentiful water for our population and economy while keeping our rivers, lakes and streams healthy may prove to be the defining challenge of our time.
Texas land is 95 percent privately owned, so encouraging landowners to be good water stewards is an effective way to protect water while costing taxpayers nothing.
SB 181 creates a standard water use measurement across Texas. Our state’s water plan calls for nearly one-quarter of our future water supply to come from conservation, and we must have a tool to measure progress. This bill creates that tool.
And although legislation to create a dedicated fund for the state’s $30 billion water plan died, a bill that passed, SJR 4, could help bridge the gap by increasing bonding authority to fund state water plan projects.
Protecting water for the future will require more innovation and hard work, but still, progress was made.
Energy: Our state is in the midst of another energy boom, and fracking, the process of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth has become the harbinger of that boom This method is being used in areas across South Texas. Ensuring the process is safe and clean is crucial. HB 3328, which mandates that companies disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process, is an important step in that direction. Energy efficiency was also a big-ticket item, with numerous bills passing that improve efficiency and energy-reduction goals.
Energy supplies have to be safe and sustainable, and we have to stretch those supplies by reducing demand through conservation.
Support for Parks and Wildlife: Bills supporting Texas Parks and Wildlife get kudos for being creative in the face of lean budgets, including SB 932, which creates a program to reclaim used oyster shells for oyster reef restoration and HB 1301, which allows for voluntary contributions to TPWD through vehicle registration.
Nearly 80 percent of the issues The Nature Conservancy supported passed in some form this session by overwhelming majorities. Protecting the water we drink, the air we breathe and the iconic landscapes we love cuts through party lines and rural/urban differences. That makes conservation a come-together issue for Texas.
This year, we are extending our Texas Legislative Leadership Award to Sens. Kirk Watson, Florence Shapiro, Craig Estes and Rep. Allan Ritter. Speaker Joe Straus has been and continues to be an important asset and guiding hand in moving this legislation.
We’re not done, but we’ve moved the needle. That counts.
Laura Huffman is the executive director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas. Lhuffman@tnc.org