Driftwood, TX — Monday, Representative Zwiener (D-Driftwood) laid out House Bill 1820 in the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.
“House Bill 1820 would be an essential tool to help the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rein in bad actors and protect clean air and clean water,” said Rep. Zwiener. “Unauthorized pollution, both the headline-grabbing accidents and everyday incidents, endanger the health and safety of Texans. Raising the maximum statutory penalties and tying them to inflation ensures that TCEQ, in concert with their new penalty policy and more funding for inspectors and air monitors, can develop a proactive culture of compliance in industry, restore public faith in the agency, and better serve Texans.”
HB 1820 would enhance the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s enforcement capabilities. HB 1820 would tie TCEQ maximum statutory penalties to inflation, allow the commission to impose surcharges that go up to 50% beyond the maximum statutory charges when permittees have a history of non-compliance, improve reporting on emissions events, increase maximum penalties, and increase penalties when first responders are injured. Finally, this bill would allow the commission to study base mandatory minimum fines for unauthorized air emission events or emissions that exceed unauthorized amounts.
This legislation comes in response to a series of major explosions and fires at facilities regulated by the commission, including the Arkema fire in 2017, and the ITC, KMCO, and TPC fires and explosions in 2019. These headline-grabbing accidents combined with other smaller cases, are not only harmful to human health and the environment but also harmful to the public’s trust in a safe and effective industry.
HB 3539 would require underground natural storage facilities to maintain on-site generation necessary to pump gas from the facility for a minimum of 12 hours. During Winter Storm Uri, the ERCOT grid lost 40% of expected generation ability, and at the highest point, 185 power plants were unable to generate energy.
Difficulties with flow of natural gas to electric generators were one contributing factor, and Chair Christi Craddick testified that while many natural gas storage facilities were able to help supply gas to the market, at least one facility was unable to flow gas because of the loss of electricity.
Rep. Zwiener also laid out three other pieces of legislation to encourage the development of regional non-motorized trail systems, to generate revenue for tourism promotion in Blanco County, and to encourage protection of our night skies.
HB 4499 would provide additional opportunities for Texans to enjoy the outdoors by increasing and connecting trails. When the pandemic began last year, Texans rushed to the outdoors because it was one of the only, if not only, spaces we could enjoy without fear.
This demonstrated the need for the state to create more opportunities for outdoor engagement. House Bill 4499 would direct Texas Parks and Wildlife to study the feasibility of a regional connected trails program.
TPWD would work with the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Historical Commission, federal land management agencies, and counties and municipalities that maintain parks with relevant trails.
HB 2345 would allow Blanco County to impose up to a 7% hotel occupancy tax to be used for the promotion of tourism. Currently in Blanco County, the two largest municipalities, Johnson City and the City of Blanco, have the authority to issue up to a 7% hotel occupancy tax on hotels located within their city limits.
However, hotels located outside those city limits are not subject to the same taxation, creating uneven taxation throughout the county. The use of the hotel occupancy tax is vital to the cities that impose it, and the creation of this additional revenue stream for Blanco County would be valuable in the promotion of tourism.
HB 2433 would expand the use of the hotel occupancy tax for dark skies promotional activities to additional municipalities located in central Texas. During the last session, we passed HB 4158, which granted small municipalities in Hays and Blanco the ability to use hotel occupancy tax funds for light fixture changeout programs.
This bill expands this ability to additional municipalities so that they can better protect their night skies and encourage more dark sky tourism.