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10 Texas Climate Bills to Watch on Earth Day

Texas, as the saying goes, has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard, and twister. This old quip has hit a bit too close to home for Texans this year. We are less than two months removed from a devastating polar vortex that could yet prove to be the costliest disaster in state history. Weeks after enduring some of the coldest temperatures on record, Texans were greeted by an unusually early spring with temperatures creeping close to 100 degrees Farenheit across the state. Meanwhile, despite recent heavy rain almost all of Texas remains in a state of abnormal dryness or drought. And lest we forget, the weather whiplash of early 2021 comes straight on the heels of the most active hurricane season on record.

It’s in the context of these growing weather extremes that the occasion of Earth Day—celebrated worldwide today, April 22—takes on special significance. This year’s theme, Restore our Earth, focuses specifically on climate change, calling on us to protect and restore our ecosystems in the face of a warming planet. 

JannerDrought2
A changing climate means Texas could be facing a century of megadroughts according to a new study from the University of Texas and Texas A&M. Photo by Jay Janner.

For Texas, the past year of extremes provide a snapshot of what climate change means for the state—on a week-to-week, snowstorm-to-hurricane basis. Increasing climate variability will bring more droughts, wildfires, coastal erosion, and hurricanes.

Faced with these realities, addressing climate change requires strong and concerted policy solutions. Several bills in the the ongoing 2021 Texas Legislative Session show promise in leading the way on climate action. Here we showcase 10 notable climate-related bills filed in the current session (running from January 12 to May 31). Regardless of their fate, the emerging ideas in these bills provide an avenue to jumpstart conversations amongst our elected leaders and identify solutions to tackle climate change in our state.

Note: this is not intended as a comprehensive list of every bill touching on climate, water, greenhouse gas emissions, or energy efficiency during the current session. It is a sampling of a few legislative highlights that give a glimpse of some climate-related policy initiatives currently in process in Texas.

This bill proposes a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission with 25 members from state agencies, public sector representatives, academia, business, local individuals, and other key stakeholders. This committee would play an important role in identifying vulnerable groups, guiding planning, and implementing strategies using the best available science and tools.

If passed, this bill would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to create a Climate Change Action Plan by December 2022. Texas is one of the 17 states that currently does not have a statewide climate action plan.

The bill proposes adopting the Texas Climate Action Act that would implement rules and regulations for reporting and verification of statewide greenhouse gas emissions and the source and categories of emissions. The bill also highlights that compliance with the regulations should not disproportionately impact rural, low-income, low- to moderate-income, or minority communities.

This bill would require state agencies to include climate change-related projections in their strategic planning with the help of the Texas state climatologist. Some of these agencies include the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas General Land Office, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Texas Water Development Board.

The resolution acknowledges the impacts of climate change on economic stability, national security, and public health for future generations of Texans. The resolution would require the State of Texas to urge Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis regarding the risks of climate change and measures to address those risks. The official copies of this resolution would be forwarded to the White House and the leadership of both houses of the United States Congress, as well as, the Texas congressional delegation.

This bill would require creating the water infrastructure resiliency fund at the Texas Water Development Board to finance entities for weatherizing and hardening water and wastewater systems. The bill also proposes a critical infrastructure resiliency fund at the Texas Division of Emergency Management. This fund with three accounts can support projects that include localized improvements to the electric grid, hardening lines of emergency communication, and purchasing reservoir power supply. Both funds would emphasize the equitable distribution of grants and the potential benefit of the project to low-income communities.

The bill would administer financial assistance through the water resource restoration program at Texas Water Development Board for nature-based infrastructure projects and nature-based water treatment technologies to protect and improve water quality. It includes projects such as preservation or restoration of natural landscape features, including floodplains and wetlands, urban forestry program, riparian buffers that also provide climate-related co-benefits. According to this bill, the board would be prioritizing projects in disadvantaged communities based on the income level, poverty, and per capita debt.

The bill encourages clean transportation by awarding grants to the qualifying natural gas vehicles projected to result in a reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides of at least 25 percent as compared to the motor vehicle or engine being replaced.

The bill would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to impose greenhouse gas emissions fees of $5 per ton of carbon dioxide by weight emitted from electric generating facilities. The funds can be directed to establish energy efficiency funding through which electric utilities, municipally-owned utilities, and electric cooperatives may receive money from the emissions fee account. The bill also proposes amendments in the Utilities Code to include a low-income energy efficiency program in the transmission and distribution utility’s energy efficiency plan.

The bill proposes allocating funds to clean fleet program, clean school bus program, electricity storage projects related to renewable energy, Texas natural gas vehicle grant program, and diesel emissions reduction incentive program, among others.

Two-thirds of Texas registered voters believe climate change is happening, so it tracks that there are proposed bills pushing bold policy developments (HB 1044, HB 1821, HB 2206), mainstreaming climate planning (HB 1949/SB 306), strengthening funding mechanisms (HB 2275, HB 963/SB 645, HB 1534), and supporting nature-based solutions (HB 2350) and other innovative green technologies (HB 2140) to address climate change. Importantly, several of these bills are doing this with strong equity considerations (HB 1534, HB 2206, HB 2275, HB 2350). 

While these bills may not ultimately become the law of the land in Texas, the climate policy ideas introduced in the session are steps in the right direction and offer hope for a resilient future. For these reasons alone, there’s certainly cause to celebrate Earth Day in the Lone Star State!

Arsum Pathak
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