Experience helps during boom, not bust, worker says

A pump jack at sunrise chugs along near Refugio.

An environmental advocacy group recently praised Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s effort to fully fund state parks but said she and her counterpart in the Texas House could still be doing more to keep their constituents’ air and water clean.

Like the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter did in 2017, a group called Environment Texas recently gave all legislators a grade based on whether they voted the way it wanted them to on 10 occasions.

Kolkhorst received a 50%, while state Rep. Geanie Morrison received a 60%.

What grade would you give the state of Texas on care for the environment?

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“Most of the time, they are voting against the environmental position,” Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger said, “but, that being said, there are some members out there who almost never vote with the environmental position, so they (Kolkhorst and Morrison) are kind of middle of the pack.”

Kolkhorst and Morrison lost points in part because they both voted for House Bill 2771, which transferred the responsibility of issuing wastewater permits to oil and gas companies from the Texas Railroad Commission to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Metzger said for the legislator who filed this bill, it made sense because the Environmental Protection Agency has delegated the management of the Clean Water Act in Texas to the TCEQ, not the Texas Railroad Commission.

“Right now, most oil and gas companies’ wastewater is either injected or stored in pits. This basically sets the stage for oil and gas companies to discharge into our rivers and aquifers,” he said. “We think that’s problematic because there’s something like 1,600 chemicals in fracking wastewater, and we only have detection methods for several hundreds of those and only have toxicity information for less than that.”

Kolkhorst and Morrison were also dinged by Environment Texas for voting for HB 2826, which requires local governments to get permission from the Texas Attorney General before hiring attorneys on a contingency fee.

Metzger said while this may not seem like a bill related to the environment, it could potentially constrain local governments’ ability to step up and enforce environmental law when the EPA and TCEQ fail to do so.

“They (local governments) often don’t have the resources or in-house expertise and need to bring in outside folks and in a way that does not require a lot of taxpayer money,” he said.

On the other hand, Kolkhorst and Morrison got credit for supporting HB 907, which increases the fine for operating an unregistered concrete plant from between $5,000 and $10,000 to between $10,000 and $20,000.

Neither legislator answered the Victoria Advocate’s questions about their voting records. Shane Saum, Morrison’s chief of staff, said Morrison was not available for an interview and could not provide a statement by deadline. Kolkhorst responded to emailed questions with a statement.

Kolkhorst wrote in part that she was proud to have worked on reforming landfill and hazardous waste disposal permitting. Specifically, she co-authored Senate Bill 551 that would have enabled TCEQ to deny an incomplete or inaccurate landfill permit application and authored SB 950. SB 950 sought to amend the definition of a commercial hazardous waste facility to prevent commercial operators from applying for permits as non-commercial operators. She wrote that when they applied as non-commercial operators, they didn’t have to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Demonstration of emergency response capabilities
  • Traffic studies
  • Floodplain analysis
  • Setback requirements
  • Operational experience
  • Worst-case e
  • mergency analysis
  • Certain financial assurance
  • Air monitoring
  • Independent inspection

But neither SB 551 nor SB 950 made it out of their respective committees for a vote.

In the end, Kolkhorst wrote that while Environment Texas may not agree with her votes, she has “continuously filed pro-environment legislation in response to real issues that directly affect my district while balancing the need for economic development.”

And Environment Texas called this session a “net positive.”

The average score of legislators in the House increased from 34% to 64% and in the Senate from 43% to 65%.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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