March 11, 2007
During my first few months in the Senate, the Legislature was caught in the middle of a fierce and expensive public relations battle. Texas’ largest utility, TXU, had been trying to get the state to rush to permit 11 new coal plant permits and threatened that the state would run out of power if it didn’t. Environmentalists, city mayors, and a number of us in the Legislature asked TXU to hold off, because we’re concerned about the impact these plants will have on air quality and global climate change.
TXU responded to the questions about their plans by making lots of promises, including a promise to reduce emissions statewide by 20 percent. As with most things though, the devil can be in the details – and that was before we learned during the session that TXU was being sold to a group of investors.
The potential buyers of TXU also made lots of promises – pledging to build three plants, rather than 11. They’ve promised to invest in studying energy efficiency and conservation. And they promised to build a couple of integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants in Texas. SB 1800 would have given the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the authority to hold companies, including TXU or their purchasers, accountable for the promises they make.
The bill would have allow TCEQ to turn representations made to the Legislature, the Commission, or the public into a legally binding agreement. Further, any failure to live up to the promises would have been a violation of the terms of the permit agreement. With respect to the promise to achieve overall emissions reductions by 20 percent statewide, the bill would have prohibited those emissions reductions from becoming eligible for credits that the company can turn around and sell for a profit to another polluter. The bill required that the 20 percent reductions to actually be achieved for the benefit of people of Texas, and for the quality of Texas’ air.
At a hearing before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee in 2007, I asked a company representative whether the promises we were hearing could be put into law. I wasn’t satisfied with the answers. It just seems right to me that if you say you’re going to do it, and you’re using it to justify getting the permit, then you ought to be willing to live up to it.