Friday, June 19, 2009

CASE STUDY - An Environmental View of the Current Texas Legislative Session

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An Environmental View of the Current Texas Legislative Session by Barret Hudson

The 2009 Texas legislative session has been a busy one from the standpoint of energy and environmental regulations. There have been several important victories won by environmentalists and conservationists but not everything has gone in their direction.

Amongst the failed items from the 2009 Texas legislative agenda are measures that would have created higher energy efficiency standards for public, residential and commercial buildings. These measures, had they been passed, would have helped Texas significantly reduce its demand for energy.

Limiting the wasteful use of energy in large government and commercial buildings and requiring new homes to be built to higher energy efficiency standards could have prevented the creation of millions of tons of Co2 from unnecessary power production in upcoming years.

A recent energy audit by Austin Energy found that one million pounds of Co2 was created annually by the power being wasted in the 310 homes audited. If we assume a similar lack of energy efficiency for large government and commercial buildings, a measure requiring them to become more efficient in their power use would have had a dramatic impact on our emissions statewide.

Also amongst the failed proposals were plans to subsidize and incentivize new renewable energy projects, particularly solar projects and a plan to expand the energy efficiency programs offered by electric companies.

On the other hand environmental victories include a plan to allocate federal stimulus money towards energy efficiency and home weatherization. It is unclear exactly how this will work, but hopefully it will make it easier for Texas residents to take steps to increase the energy efficiency of their homes through weatherization. This should include incentives for improvements like adding radiant barrier to roofs, increasing attic insulation, sealing ducts, and improving the seals around windows and doors.

Victories were also won to allow city financing for home weatherization improvements and solar installments and provide tax breaks for clean coal plants. While clean coal is not as good as truly green power sources, providing an incentive for coal plants to reduce their emissions will certainly help bridge the gap until we can transfer to green energy sources.

The overall story of the 2009 Texas legislative session from an energy efficiency standpoint seems to be that the Texas legislature wants to make it easier for people to increase their energy efficiency, but are not ready to require anyone to do so. Providing incentives is a great way to start improving Texas' energy efficiency and decreasing our environmental impact as a state.

However, these incentive programs are largely focused on residential improvements. This leaves out commercial, school and government buildings which account for a large part of the energy wasted in Texas. Hopefully the study commissioned by this legislative session that is supposed to find ways to increase energy efficiency and decrease statewide emissions will show the importance of including commercial and government buildings in energy efficiency improvement programs to upcoming Texas legislative sessions.

The Texas legislature also seems unsure about alternative energy development at this time. They struck down two measures directly targeted at the development of more renewable energy production and one plan to develop new nuclear power plants in Texas. At the same time they approved a tax break program for new clean coal plants and a measure that will make it easier to build natural gas pipelines which will aid in future natural gas power plant development.

The Texas legislature seems to be moving slowly in the right direction on energy and environmental legislation and hopefully future Texas legislative sessions will increase the pace of improvement and start significantly reducing Texas's environmental impact.

About the Author: Barret Hudson is a representative of Green Collar Operations, a home weatherization company in Austin, TX specializing in performing energy efficiency improvements. More information at

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