Three Legislature Bills Would Loosen Texas' Extraordinarily Loose Pollution Guidelines (Yay?)

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Texas law has always been a little loose -- and yes, in this phraseology "loose" is code for kind of slutty -- about environmental regulation, but now the state legislature has a few bills bouncing around during the 83rd legislative session that may make it looser than Lindsey Lohan after some booze and a Xanax.

StateImpact Texas reported that these bills are part of a move toward making Texas more business friendly -- the assumption being that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the misnamed Railroad Commission (they're over oil and gas, not railroads), and legislators in general aren't besties with business yet. (None of the bills' sponsors would talk to us, by the way.)

If that's the case, then Gov. Rick Perry needs to rethink his whole advertising thing. He's been hitting up the people of Illinois and California in recent weeks, encouraging them to head to Texas, according to Time.

Right now, if, say a company wants to mine uranium from the water or put in an injection well, they have to go through a permitting process with the TCEQ, the state regulatory agency for all things environmental.

This process requires a technical review by the TCEQ and two rounds of public hearings -- the part where people who will be living near the proposed project can actually, you know, tell the state what they think about it. Then, if someone decides to oppose the theoretical uranium mining or the injection well, it's time for a contested case hearing. An administrative law judge hears from both sides and must issue a decision before the TCEQ can sign off on a final version of the permit they drafted. This is pretty much the only chance a regular Joe gets to oppose big industry.

State Sen. Troy Fraser has proposed changing that process with Senate Bill 957. Right now, when someone contests the actions of a company and the issue goes before an administrative judge, both sides walk into the room having to prove their case.

If SB 957 passes -- and it just moved out of committee -- then the burden of proof will be shifted onto regular Joe, the person making the complaint.

The bill will also restrict the public hearings part of the process and narrow the rules for what can be submitted to the contested hearings, according to the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

Then there's House Bill 2823 which will speed up the whole process for issuing pollution permits when the permits will benefit the state and local economy. The bill isn't very far along yet -- it was just filed by State Rep. Jason Villalba -- but if it gets some traction and gets passed it will "streamline" the pollution permit process for some companies, StateImpact reports.

Villalba's camp said the bill is designed to allow companies to apply to expedite the permitting process - kind of like how you can pay to get in the faster lines at Six Flags - but without impacting the quality of the TCEQ pollution permit reviews.

Basically, for the companies who qualify, the permits could move through TCEQ like greased lightning. This could be fun if part of the deal required the entire legislature to actually sing "Greased Lightning" on the steps of the capitol building in Austin. Just a thought.

If Texas environmental regulations aren't as close to being legally naked as they can get, that's where House Bill 569 comes in. The bill advocates a study to make sure that Texas environmental regulations meet only the minimum federal requirements.

Filed by State Rep. James White in January, it hasn't even moved out of committee yet -- according to Schoolhouse Rock, that's pretty key to a bill actually becoming a law -- but it's an interesting thought. Could lawmakers have missed something? Is it possible that Texas is actually over-regulated? Is Lohan really a lady who can totally hold her booze and pills?

We called Villalba, Fraser and White to chat with them about their respective bills, but, alas, we haven't heard back yet.

This seems like as good a time as any to point out that Texas was named one of the top polluting states of 2012 by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that keeps track of these things. But the state is still too regulated? Okay, Lindsey. Go on and chase that pill with a shot. Get crazy.

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