When you talk about energy and environmental issues this session, one thing seems pretty clear: oil and gas companies scored a lot of victories. Lawmakers who lead the charge generally summed it up like this:
“They want regulatory certainty and this bill attempts to address the efficiency and the system and regulatory certainly,” Troy Fraser said on the floor of the Texas Senate.
Fraser chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee. He didn’t respond to our requests for an interview, but throughout the session he talked about regulatory certainty a lot and for good measure he also liked throwing this one in there:
“This is very clearly economic development,” he says.
A bill Fraser authored makes it easier for companies to get environmental permits and makes it harder for opponents to challenge them. He also co-sponsored House Bill 40 which says the state, not cities, is charge of regulating drilling. This bill was in response to Denton’s city wide fracking ban.
“Texas is a business friendly state,” House representative Charlie Geren says.
Rep. Geren represents parts of Tarrant County near Fort Worth. He wrote a bill that caps how much money local governments can win when they sue big time polluters
“We’re fast growing. We’re fast growing because we can provide jobs and you can’t provide jobs without industry,” Geren says.
But not everyone thinks these bills were all good for Texas.
“The legislature has been as hostile to clean water and clean air as I’ve ever seen in 27 years of working on environmental issues at the Capital,” says Jim Marston, director of Texas’ Environmental Defense Fund.
He says while these bills get rid of some hurdles for business, they curb participation – and might even help big polluters escape consequences.
“Certainly the oil and gas industry is going to rue the day. In the end this will be bad for industry. There will be a backlash and they will have people now being a lot more hostile to them because they’ve been hostile to recent regulation,” Marston says.
But industry looters aren’t all that worried.
“You have some that aren’t happy with results, but that’s just part of the process,” Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, says.
Industry advocates like Stapes say the bills pass this legislative session aren’t just good for Texas oil and gas or other industries: “I think this is a great session for all of Texans, because we’re losing jobs that should come to Texas so this session was about jobs,” Staples says.
Whatever these bills means for Texas, environmental groups say this fight isn’t over. And when things don’t go your way through legislation the next step is almost always litigation.
Indeed, there’s already talk of lawsuits.