Clean Air, Water and Energy

   

      "Protecting our clean air and water protects the health of our children and our future" 

            -  State Representative Mike Villarreal
 
Rapid growth combined with limited environmental protections has been a formula for serious environmental degradation and threats to public health in our state. Consider these statistics: Texas produces
more global warming greenhouse gases than any other state. It ranks number one in the nation in the amount of toxic emissions from manufacturing facilities and total emissions of recognized carcinogens into the air and water. And over 1,000 Texans die every years because of power plant air pollution.
 
Texas is at a crossroads. We can chose the status quo of ignoring the thickening blanket of carbon around our planet, hazy skies and murky waters or we can set a new, responsible path that reduces global warming, replaces 20th Century dirty coal plants and other sources of deadly air pollution with 21st Century technology, and protects our drinking water. 
  
                                                                  Leading by Example
 
By embracing green technology in its own operations, government can serve as a responsible steward of our tax dollars, demonstrate the impact of new innovations, and begin to directly reduce pollution. Taxpayers want to see the smart use of their taxes, and I believe we have exciting opportunities to do so.
 
To prove the economic payoffs of green building, reduce utility bills for schools, and slow the demand for new dirty power plants, I wrote legislation in 2007,
HB 1824, to provide economic incentives for using green innovations in new school construction. Although I’m still working to build support for the proposal, the House of Representatives did pass an amendment I authored to strengthen energy conservation policies in schools. I also am pleased that the Legislature passed HB 3693, which improves energy efficiency in Texas, particularly in state government offices. We now need to push for state agencies to purchase vehicles that get more out of a gallon of gas and put less pollution into our skies and lungs. 
  
                                                      Unleashing Texas Business Savvy
 
The silver lining is this polluted cloud is that our environmental and public health challenge is also an economic opportunity. Today, Texas is a leader in oil and gas. Tomorrow, we should be the leader in green jobs, leading the world into a new energy economy based on clean renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and conservation, and other innovations.
 
Texas is already a national leader in wind energy, an industry that has rebuilt local economies while powering our homes and businesses.  To jump-start solar energy in our state, in 2007 I co-authored
HB 2226, which would have created the TexSUN solar energy system rebate program. By setting aggressive goals in our Renewable Portfolio Standard, and targeting economic incentives to new energy innovations, we can create a win-win-win solution for our economy, health and environment. 
  
                                                         Reducing Vehicle Pollution
 
We Texans love our cars and trucks. But this love affair is literally making us sick, and it’s contributing to dangerous changes in our climate.
 
In order to keep our vehicles and take responsibility for our health, we need to join more than a dozen other states in adopting lower-emission standards for vehicles. That was the goal when I co-authored
HB 344 in 2007, legislation to require “clean cars” in Texas. We need to keep fighting for this legislation, and jump-start the effort by pushing for cleaner cars at state government agencies. If we can combine cleaner cars with more transportation alternatives – light rail between our cities, new bike paths, stronger public transit – we will really the turn the corner! 
  
                                                      Protecting our Children’s Lungs
 
Most people have now heard about the harm air pollution is doing to our global climate, but many don’t know the air pollution just from power plants also kills over
1,000 young, elderly and sick Texans every year, or that asthma annually accounts for 14 million lost school days for children nationwide. The government is failing in one of its most basic duties – protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
 
It turns out that
school buses not only take our kids to school, but sometimes keep them home by spilling toxins that trigger asthma attacks.  In 2007 I attempted to increase state funding to clean up our school buses, and I will keep working to get the job done. I also joined many colleagues in endorsing legislation to place a moratorium on dirty coal-fired power plants, which combine with polluting cars, trucks and buses to foul the air we and our children rely on. 
  
                                                      Holding Water Polluters Accountable
 
Texas is a “law and order” state, where if you do the crime, you do the time. But the state auditor has reported that we make a strange exception for polluters. That’s not fair, and it has serious consequences: In 2007
I joined with environmental researchers in releasing data showing that there were over 1300 clean water violations in our state in 2005.  
 
I am working with my colleagues to develop legislation that will rein in the lawlessness, requiring our state agencies to enforce water protection standards and levy real penalties on the polluters who threaten our drinking water and the safety of swimming and fishing in our local waterways. 
  
                                                               Smart Development
 
Property owners have a right to develop their land, but that right must be balanced by the need to protect the environmental interests, property and health of others. Unfortunately, local governments have been losing the ability to control sprawl and protect their drinking water.
 
To develop a better balance, in 2007 I filed
HB 1529, legislation that would return to our cities the power to prevent imminent destruction of property or injury to persons by land developers who argue that they can avoid all current rules -- such as our tree protection or impervious cover ordinances -- if they previously informed the local government that they planned to develop something on their land someday. I also co-sponsored  SB 542, which would grant counties additional land-use development authority with the goal of slowing down the mindless sprawl that is destroying the natural beauty of Texas
  
                                                               Investing in our Parks
 
In Texas we love the great outdoors, and I embraced that tradition by living at a state park during the last legislative session.  But whether you have a favorite outdoor hobby, just like to get away and relax for a little while, or want to ensure that your children and grandchildren have outdoor spaces to enjoy, it is disturbing to know that we rank
49th in the nation in per capita park space.
 
Fortunately, in 2007 the State Legislature took a big step forward, providing increased funding to our state parks through HB 6.  We must make sure that the funding is used to rebuild our parks system, and that we continue to invest in preserving and maintaining the state’s natural beauty.

Click here to watch local news coverage of my adventure living in a state park during the last legislative session.