Opinion Columns & Blogs

Texas won’t pass up another opportunity to fight the EPA

If the Environmental Protection Agency finalizes its proposed Clean Power Plan this summer to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, expect Texas to kick and scream.

Filing lawsuits against the Obama administration, especially the EPA, was one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s main bragging points from his five years as state attorney general before he was elected governor last year. The state has not sued the EPA over the Clean Power Plan yet, but that’s probably just because it’s better legal strategy to wait until the new rules are finalized.

Plenty of kicks and screams are already coming from state lawmakers, whose regular 140-day legislative session ends June 1. Mostly, it’s been happening behind the scenes.

One bill up for routine, no-debate vote on Thursday was House Bill 1736 by state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas.

The bill would make it harder to push for more energy efficiency in Texas homes and businesses. That’s one of the most powerful tools available for meeting anticipated Clean Power Plan goals.

HB 1736 would limit updates to state and local building code energy conservation requirements to once every six years, instead of the current two-year cycle.

Another measure, House Bill 3590 by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, got a formal Environmental Regulations Committee hearing on Tuesday. It would prohibit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Public Utility Commission and other agencies from coming up with a state strategy to comply with the Clean Power Plan.

The Senate earlier this month passed Senate Bill 931 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, ending a program for construction of new power transmission lines that sparked tremendous growth in wind energy production. Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy, and further increases would be another key tool in meeting Clean Power Program goals.

Also this month, State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, pushed the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs, which he chairs, to discuss his House Bill 2080. The bill would require the state to come up with a plan to meet Clean Power Plan requirements in case Texas sues the EPA and loses.

Anchia’s bill, despite his position of power on the committee, was left pending.

All of this fits the Texas pattern of not giving an inch to the EPA.

Texas leads the nation, by far, in carbon emissions from existing power plants, mostly because it has so many coal-fired plants. The Clean Power Plan, if finalized, would require the state to reduce emissions 39 percent by 2030.

Opponents call that draconian. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the power grid that supplies electricity to most of the state, produced a report in November saying the Clean Power Plan would force consumers to pay 20 percent more for electricity by 2020.

But the Environmental Defense Fund, a proponent of the Clean Power Plan, has produced its own report — which it says relies only on ERCOT’s forecasts — showing Texas can meet 74 percent of the plan’s goals by doing nothing but following already planned, market-driven changes in power generation.

The last 26 percent requires the shadow of Clean Power Plan enforcement power, EDF says, but the steps are not difficult.

Retiring inefficient coal plants, leaving the more efficient ones open, would contribute 4 percent. Technical steps to reduce waste in the power transmission and distribution system would add another 4 percent.

Energy conservation incentives already successful in Austin and elsewhere could deliver 6 percent, and more wind energy 9 percent.

The EDF study requires only a 2 percent contribution from building new power plants fired by natural gas, an efficient fuel that Texas has in abundance.

It counts on just 1 percent from “demand response” incentives that coax industries, businesses and residential users to consume less power in periods of peak demand.

Natural gas plants and demand response, especially, could easily deliver much greater savings than what the EDF study suggests.

Texas leaders are stuck in a pattern of preemptive strikes against the Clean Power Plan. It’s more kicking and screaming than necessary.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830

Twitter: @mnorman9