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Texas could soon have a new law that aims to make the state a sort of safe haven for the oil and gas industry by shielding it from federal climate and environmental regulation. But experts say the measure — which would do little to change environmental enforcement in Texas — would be more symbolic than anything.
Texas Republicans in both chambers have supported House Bill 33, authored by state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, as a way to ward off federal climate rules under President Joe Biden, who pledged that the U.S. would cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, among other goals to slow climate change. The president’s climate agenda has been viewed by many Texas Republicans as disastrous for the nation’s biggest oil and gas state.
“I view this administration as hostile to Texas,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. “I don’t think anybody has any doubt about that.”
HB 33, which was approved by the House before being altered by a Senate committee, seeks to shelter the industry from what Republicans have called “federal overreach” by barring state agencies from enforcing federal regulations on oil and gas operations if those regulations do not exist under Texas law. Texas lawmakers used a similar approach in 2021 when they passed a law to make Texas a “Second Amendment sanctuary state.”
The language is similar to a bill proposed in Louisiana two years ago that would have made it a “fossil fuel sanctuary state.”
When the Environmental Protection Agency creates a new rule, states can decide whether they’ll enforce it or leave that to the EPA. Typically, Texas agencies have opted to enforce federal rules themselves — for example, the EPA delegates its authority to enforce many rules under the Clean Air Act to Texas. The state Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil industry in Texas, is currently seeking authority from the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide wells for geological storage, known as carbon sequestration.
HB 33 was initially characterized by Landgraf as a way to “stall” the implementation of federal regulations on the oil and gas industry in Texas, according to a November press release. He filed a nearly identical bill two years ago that didn’t become law.
Landgraf said during a committee hearing on the bill that it mirrors Gov. Greg Abbott’s 2021 executive order directing state agencies to challenge any federal action that threatens the state’s energy industry.
Early versions of the bill might have put at risk the ability for agencies such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Railroad Commission to manage federal rules and issue environmental permits themselves rather than the EPA, said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law professor and scholar of administrative and environmental law.
But after the bill was approved by the House in a 99-44 vote and sent to the Senate, its sponsor in that chamber, Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, offered a substitute version that he said would protect the energy sector from federal rules but wouldn’t stop state agencies from being able to enforce federal rules.
The new language would not prohibit Texas agencies from enforcing federal laws as long as they are “executing authority delegated” to them by federal agencies.
That version, which the Senate approved Monday in a 19-12 vote, would simply assert that Texas has the “right” to protect itself from burdensome regulations, Springer said.
In other words, it appears to not affect how most federal environmental regulation is carried out in Texas, environmental law experts said.
“The bill seems to be reflecting more of a philosophy than having any practical implications,” said Ilan Levin, an associate director for the Environmental Integrity Project in Texas.
Laura Lopez, a TCEQ spokesperson said in a statement that the agency does not feel that the Senate version of the bill would substantially change the agency’s air permitting processes.
The bill now goes back to the House, which can either accept the Senate changes or send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences.
Levin, of the Environmental Integrity Project, isn’t concerned about the bill.
“There’s no way in hell the state will give up control of the environmental programs,” Levin said. “This is a feel-good bill.”
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