Money vs Local Laws – Texas Style

On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would override local efforts to regulate a wide variety of oil and gas activities. House Bill 40 – widely known as the “Denton fracking bill” – preempts regulation of oil and gas operations by municipalities. The bill is widely seen as a response to the vote in Denton last year to ban fracking inside the city limits.

Texas State Capitol. Photo by Daniel Mayer (Own work) [GFDL), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Texas State Capitol. Photo by Daniel Mayer (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0  or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The bill gives the Texas Railroad Commission authority to preempt city laws when it comes to subsurface oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracking. Cities would still have authority over surface activities such as noise, lights, traffic and setbacks, although the distance from wells to homes, schools and churches would have to be “commercially reasonable.”

Several amendments to the bill were proposed, such as special setback exceptions for daycares, schools and churches, as well as a provision allowing the Texas Railroad Commission to deputize local oil and gas well inspectors. These were all shot down by the majority of the House as well as the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Drew Darby.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said “This is a dangerous power grab by Big Oil to stomp out the rights of communities to protect themselves from the worst impacts of dirty drilling. They won’t settle for just overturning the Denton ban but are taking aim at ordinances across the state that limit drilling near homes, schools and parks as well as many other health and safety standards.”

Now. you’re probably thinking “What’s going on here? Aren’t the Texas politicians with national audiences or aspirations such as Ted Cruz and Rick Perry always talking about overreaching big government? How we should be returning power to the local governments?”

Unfortunately, money wins over principle in Texas, as it does in many other places. The oil and gas industry donated more than $5 million to legislators during 2013 and 2014, according to a Texans for Public Justice report. The average legislator received over $25,000. And, of course, there’s Texas’s aversion to any form of regulation that could lead to corporations making less profit. One only has to look at what happened in the town of West a couple years ago to see that mindset in action. Or, Azle. Or…

If the TPP and/or TPIP are approved, laws like this that favor corporate interests over the people will become more and more the norm, and not the exception. If this is to be our future, it doesn’t look very rosy.

 

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