Pressing Texas leaders to act on climate change, a state lawmaker on Monday appealed to his colleagues' long-held disdain for federal intervention.
“The question is, are we going to do it, or are we going to cede that authority to the federal government?” Rep. Rafael Anchia asked at a hearing of the House Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs.
The Dallas Democrat chairs the committee and is using that post to force a discussion on climate change in a state where many leaders do not buy into the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet with destructive effects.
The committee took up three climate-related bills on Monday. Anchia’s proposal directing Texas to comply with the proposed “Clean Power Plan” – the most recent set of federal regulations proposed to limit carbon emissions from power plants – generated the most discussion.
Texas Republicans have loudly panned the proposal, which would require the state to cut close to 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next two decades however it sees fit. They say it would increase prices and threaten reliability on the electric grid. But Anchia – who called industry juggernaut Texas “an important piece of the puzzle” in addressing climate change – said that Texas could face harsher regulations from Washington if it refuses to develop a plan to cut carbon emissions.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency suggests that Texas could meet its goal through a combination of actions called “building blocks”: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Under the proposal, Texas could also adopt a "cap and trade" program – a scheme in which companies bid on the right to pollute.
The federal proposal is scheduled to become final in June and Texas would have one year to submit its plan. But some experts expect the EPA to push back the deadline amid pressure from states and other critics.
If Texas ignores the rules, the EPA will construct its own plan for Texas, though the agency has not said what that might look like.
“It will put on Texas a plan, if we choose not to act,” Anchia said. “Who do we want to write the plan?”
The last time Texas refused to follow climate rules, the regulations involved "greenhouse gas permits" needed to build facilities. Without those permits, companies couldn't build large industrial plants, prompting an outcry.
Fossil fuel interests and 15 U.S. states – not including Texas – have sued the EPA over the proposed rules in a case heard last week in federal court. Judges appeared skeptical of a challenge to rules that haven’t been finalized. Texas is expected to sue after the agency finalizes the rules.
Critics of that approach cite the state’s string of recent defeats in challenges to EPA rules. They say Texas can’t bank on a court victory in this case.
Anchia said his legislation would give Texas a backup plan should it sue and lose.
But Mike Nasi, an attorney representing the industry group Balanced Energy for Texas, which opposes the federal policy, said a challenge to the Clean Power Plan would be fundamentally different than the state’s past challenges to EPA authority.
That’s partly because the proposal reaches further than others have, dealing with the makeup of state electric fleets rather than just the equipment power plants run on, Nasi said. He added that the carbon-cutting targets are uneven – hitting Texas harder than many other states. Under that argument, the judges could find the rule “arbitrary and capricious.”
“This rule vastly exceeds their statutory authority,” Nasi testified. “They will never be able to enforce” the proposal as written.
Still, Nasi said that a “do nothing” approach would be unwise. He suggested that Texas prepare a backup plan that solely addresses the agency’s first “building block” – making power plants more efficient. That, he said, would be more likely than others to survive legal scrutiny.
The committee discussed two other bills on Monday: Anchia’s proposal to create a global task force to study climate change, and a proposal by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, that would require certain state agencies to incorporate climate science in their long-term planning processes.
“All these issues are just a matter of good public policy and good planning,” Johnson said. "It doesn’t matter if you have a certain belief system about what’s causing these types of things."
Republican committee members asked a few questions at the hearing, but were relatively quiet.
The committee left the bills pending.