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May 21, 2015

SPEER: Texas power costs could have been slashed $200 million in just 5 days

Consumer-friendly demand response bills still languishing in committees

Texas electric consumers could have saved more than $200 million if a modest number of them had reduced their demand on just five days in 2012 and 2013, according to a new energy efficiency study by SPEER.

The new study arrives as the legislative session nears an end with two demand response bills that would have allowed those savings – HB 3343 by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and SB 1284 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – remain stuck in committees. Only Turner’s bill got a hearing from the House State Affairs Committee before it was left pending.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 21, 2015

Webber: Why this oil price collapse could be different

Unlike the 1980s, electricity prices should hold firm, but we should not be complacent.

The recent oil price collapse seems like a replay of a bad 1980s movie that we’ve seen before. If we are not careful, we’ll be doomed to make the same mistakes we made last time, allowing our domestic oil and gas producers to wither, watching energy imports soar, prematurely stunting the growth of alternative fuel sources, and tossing conservation and efficiency by the wayside. If we are smart, we’ll seize this opportunity to double-down on good energy policies and support all of our domestic energy producers so that we’re prepared for the next time oil prices spike.

After the energy crises of the 1970s, there was a brief resurgence of domestic energy production through the mid-1980s. Production grew, wages increased, profits soared, and the Rolls Royce dealership in Midland, Texas enjoyed a brisk business. But eventually, with OPEC in disarray, Saudi Arabia made the decision to keep its production high to reclaim lost market share, causing global oil prices to plummet in the span of just a few weeks. Sound familiar?

The scars from the 1970s and 1980s run deep. Competing in a vibrant global market, domestic U.S. oil companies were gutted by cheaper producers around the world. Our production shrank while consumption increased. Imported oil—much of it from countries whose foreign policy goals do not align with ours—filled in the gap. Our domestic oil and gas operators were in the doldrums for over a decade, with a shrinking, ageing workforce and declining production.

The rest of today's Michael Webber column can be found in the Opinion section.

By Michael E. Webber

May 20, 2015

RRC’s Ryan Sitton hosting June seismic discussion

Topics include regulatory changes ensure minimal economic impact

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, who holds a mechanical engineering degree, said Wednesday he plans to host a technical discussion among regulators and scientists on recent seismic research in North Texas.

The discussion, planned for 9 a.m., June 5, on the 12th floor of the William B. Travis State Office Building, is open to the public and will focus on Southern Methodist University’s recent study, “Casual factors for seismicity near Azle, Texas,” as well as similar research.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 20, 2015

EDF’s Marston: Abbott watches out for Kentucky, not Texas

Environmentalist says ‘just say no’ to Clean Power Plan make no sense for Texas

Jim Marston from the Environmental Defense Fund compares Gov. Greg Abbott in a new blog to an irrational dog that can’t help itself, even if chasing a cat runs the dog straight into a sticker bush.

He says the current course Abbott has announced for dealing with the EPA’s upcoming Clean Power Plan is likely to get him and the State of Texas all scratched up like dogs chasing cats.

Abbott said after a recent meeting in Washington, D.C. that he’s aligning with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in a “just say no” approach when it comes to devising a state CPP implementation plan.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 19, 2015

Effort fails to protect to Texas gas utility customers in rate cases

Issue looks dead in House, but the fight continues, vows Rep. Jim Keffer

A last-ditch attempt to prevent the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) from giving monopoly gas utilities more advantage over consumers in contested rate cases died in the Texas House Tuesday.

“You win some, you lose some,” Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, told Texas Energy Report shortly after withdrawing wording from SB 20 that had attempted to even the playing field in gas rate cases. “I think it’s gone for this session.”

Keffer said he was disappointed to learn that his amendment was not germane to SB 20, which would reform state agency contracting practices. He and other House members had objected last December when the RRC adopted the new rate-case rules, despite objections from cities. The lawmakers and the cities had complained that the rules would give an unfair advantage to monopoly gas utilities.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 18, 2015

Abbott signs HB 40, urban drilling bill, into law

Texas Municipal League never supported the bill, despite compromise

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Monday that reverses the Denton fracking ban and limits local governments’ ability to regulate oil and gas operations within populated, urban settings.

HB 40 by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, goes into immediate effect and marks a major victory for the oil and gas industry that warned of anti-fossil fuel forces behind the Denton fracking ban, passed by the city’s residents at the ballot box in November. The industry also complained of a “patchwork” of local ordinances across Texas.

The bill drew a firestorm of negative reaction when first unveiled, with cities saying it undermined their ability to exercise traditional municipal policing powers needed to protect the health and safety of residents.  

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 18, 2015

Denton’s ‘Frackettes’ at it again on HB 40 signing

Song-and-dance troupe performs ‘Death of Democracy’

By Polly Ross Hughes

May 18, 2015

Richardson: BP Rider offers $1 billion train wreck for Coastal Texas

In op-ed, Quorum Report founding Editor Tim Richardson argues that Texas could do best if Gov. Abbott is allowed to operate with BP funds

A rider to HB 1 intended to grant allocation authority to the Legislative Budget Board, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House over Deepwater Horizon fines received by Texas misconstrues how 80% of the oil fund funds will awarded.

Rider Sec. 6.24 “Deposit and Approval Requirement for Certain Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Funds would create a special account in the Texas Treasury overseen by the State Comptroller and used for intended purposes by state agencies after proposed project expenditures are studied by the LBB (no time limit is set on the study) and approved by the chairs of Senate Appropriations, House Appropriations the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor after review for 30 business days (which is 6 weeks if there are no holidays).

The biggest problem with this scenario is that only about 20% of all BP funds will seem like a “grant to Texas” that can be mulled over and allocated. Eighty percent of the funds will be either competitively awarded among the five states (each voting in real time at RESTORE Council meetings) or overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in the case of the criminal settlement funds.

The RESTORE Council which will be awarding funds for 60% of the civil fines (Buckets 2 and 3) has tightly written guidelines for the awarding of money (see A Reader’s Guide to the RESTORE Act and the RESTORE Act below).

The rest of QRfounder Tim Richardson's column can be found in today's Opinion section.

By Tim Richardson

May 15, 2015

Environmental coalition pleads for Abbott to veto SB 709

Average citizens face uphill battles with industry, they say

Leaders from eight environmental advocacy groups delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott Friday, pleading for him to veto a bill they say will harm the health of Texans and could prompt direct environmental permitting by the EPA.

“We are very disappointed about the recent Senate Bill (SB) 709 by Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) because it would put Texans’ health at risk for the sake of industry, all to solve a problem that does not exist,” the letter, dated May 15, states.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 15, 2015

Developers can’t stop residential solar under SB 1626

Bill passes both chambers, heads to governor’s office

Texas homeowners living in neighborhoods still under development can install solar energy devices on their homes – without a developer’s permission – under a bill sent to the governor Friday.

SB 1626 by Sen. José  Rodriguez, D-El Paso, says developers can no longer prevent homeowners from installing solar technology in developments with 51 or more residential units. The bill defines residential units as stand-alone homes or separate living units in a duplex, triplex or quadplex.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 14, 2015

Reining in Texas oil and gas bandits

Senator Z’s permitting solution advances to full Senate

Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, lifted his two-day delay Thursday on a bill that oil and gas companies think holds promise in bringing oil and gas thieves to justice.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, crafted a new approach for HB 3291, which originally tried to combat oilfield crime by increasing penalties for stolen oil and gas from a third degree felony to a second degree felony. Fraser and the committee voted in favor of the bill, advancing it to the full Senate.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 14, 2015

The just-say-no crowd says no to Clean Power Plan

Conservative TPPF urges Texas not to submit a state implementation plan

Mario Loyola, a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, issued a paper this week urging Texas to refuse to submit a plan for how the state would implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The EPA is expected to issue its final proposal this summer for goals states must meet to reduce climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions. Once it releases its final plan, states would have one year to come up with their own implementation plan. States that combined with one or other states on a plan, unlikely for Texas, would have two years.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 13, 2015

Industry-friendly environmental permitting bill heads to governor

Backers say state can better compete for good jobs; opponents say Texans face uphill battle in contested cases

Legislation that would fundamentally change the rules for contested case environmental hearings in Texas – a top priority of the energy industry this session – is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott.

SB 709 by Senate Natural Resources & Environmental Development Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, would help Texas remain competitive with other Gulf Coast states in attracting major manufacturers like refineries and petrochemical plants, its backers say.

Environmental advocates complained, however, that it would tilt the balance too far in favor of industry at the expense of Texans most likely to be impacted by associated air and water pollution.

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By Polly Ross Hughes

May 13, 2015

Christi Craddick discusses 4.0 earthquake with Time Warner Cable

RRC Chairman takes a look at industry economic outlook as well

Time Warner's Capital Tonight interviews Texas Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick here.

By Polly Ross Hughes

May 12, 2015

Sen. Troy Fraser delays oil-and-gas bandit bill

Effort to crack down on oil field thieves must wait till Thursday

Along with cattle rustlers and horse thieves, Texas lore includes its share of oil bandits who steal away from oil and gas fields with barrels and barrels of black gold.

It’s not exactly a new problem, with roots going all the way back to the early 1900s, but the author of a bill proposing a new and surprisingly simple solution has been told she’ll have to wait two more days.

"We’ll leave this. We’ll have a public hearing Thursday. We’ll let it percolate a little bit and maybe do it Thursday,” Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, told Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, when she rolled out a new way to address an old problem at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Those are words that both lobbyists and lawmakers dread when trying to push legislation to the finish line this late in the session, but Fraser said he was having trouble getting his mind around the idea of a committee substitute for HB 3291.

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By Polly Ross Hughes