The Texas House overwhelmingly approved a bill on Friday that would gut the power of municipalities to pass anti-fracking rules, angering environmentalists and cities across the state.
Conservative state lawmakers have been working hard to halt a growing anti-fracking movement since lastNovember, when voters in the town of Denton shocked Big Oil by voting to outlaw fracking. The ordinance prohibiting fracking within the city limits passed 58.64% to 41.36%. Denton is the birthplace of the fracking industry.
"This is a dangerous power grab by Big Oil to stomp out the rights of communities to protect themselves from the worst impacts of dirty drilling," said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. "They won't settle for just overturning the Denton ban but are taking aim at ordinances across the state that limit drilling near homes, schools and parks as well as many other health and safety standards."
Metzger noted the House approved the bill on the second anniversary of the explosion of the West fertilizer plant which claimed 15 lives. "The tragedy in West clearly showed the need for stronger safety protections on hazardous facilities, but instead the House is moving in the opposite direction. Fracking operations, involving large amounts of flammable, volatile and toxic materials, are inherently dangerous and cities need the authority to protect public health and safety. Today's vote is an outrage."
The Texas Oil and Gas Association, in a YouTube video released last month, argued against municipal control, saying "the state is in the best position to ensure public safety." But according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the three elected commissioners of the Texas Railroad Commission (the state's primary oil and gas regulator) accepted more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 election cycle. The industry donated more than $5 million to Texas legislators during 2013 and 2014, according to a Texans for Public Justice report. The average House member pocketed more than $25,000.
The bill, HB 40, passed on a 122-18 bipartisan vote. Thirty of the 52 Democrats in the House voted with Big Oil, 1 Republican voted no. The bill will also need to be passed by the state's Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law.