May 30, 2007
With the legislative session over, environmental groups gamely tried to point to successes on water conservation, parks money, energy efficiency standards and electronic waste recycling for what was essentially a disappointing period for them.”It’s very difficult to pass any legislation that has any regulatory context or impact on the bottom line for business or industry,” said Ken Kramer, head of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s the exception rather than the rule to pass major environmental legislation.”Running into Friday, environmental groups thought this Capitol stint might turn out surprisingly green.Proposals that would address global warming or cut power plant emissions had snaked their way onto a host of measures.But by weekend’s end, most of those proposals had gone the way of most bills, environmental or otherwise: crumpled in the Legislative dustbin.Proposals for putting a moratorium on coal-fired power plant construction, giving rebates to homeowners who want to install solar panels and limiting cancer-causing air pollutants failed to get out of committee or pass.The session seemed to leave some environmentalists a little bitter.”You spend years preparing for the Legislature, and then some lobbyist who has power of checkbook over future campaign contributions gets to some politically ambitious lawmaker, and he stands with the polluters instead of the people,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, head of the Austin office of the government watchdog and environmental group Public Citizen. “It’s not because our concerns were not just, but because of the political process.”Smith said the deals happened in “the dark hallways and back rooms of the Capitol.”The main piece of environmental legislation to go to Perry’s desk was a far-reaching water bill that appeared to be full of compromises.The first half of the bill pleased the environmental community; it called for a statewide water conservation campaign and scientific studies of how much water needs to be kept in Texas’ rivers to satisfy wildlife.But it was the second half of the bill that concerned environmentalists, because it would set the stage for reservoirs, potentially endangering wildlife, and it would raise caps on how much water users could pump out of the Edwards Aquifer, which could threaten the endangered species that rely on it.”It’s not exactly the bill I would have written,” said Myron Hess, director of Texas water programs for the National Wildlife Federation. Hess added that the bill is a first step in preserving the amount of water flowing in Texas rivers. The river flow “is what drives the economy in the bays. It’s about keeping enough fresh water flowing into them to keep them productive, which is economically critically important.”Environmental groups and lawmakers said the political climate in the Capitol and the makeup of key committees had stymied some green legislation.”Trying to move environmental legislation through the Capitol has many moments of frustration but some moments of pretty good happiness,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who was successful with an electronic waste bill but saw his global warming study bill fizzle in the House.The session had started out with momentum, especially on measures designed to slow the construction of coal-fired power plants proposed by utilities and backed by Gov. Rick Perry. But any political appetite for the bills seemed to fail after TXU Corp., which had proposed the lion’s share of the plants, said it would scale back its plans after a buyout proposal that got the blessing of a pair of environmental groups.”Unfortunately, that lifted the pressure from the Legislature to do anything about these plants,” said Smith, of Public Citizen.