What do you anticipate will be two or three of the most important environmental issues to you if elected, and what actions do you propose to take to address them?
Climate Change is the number one environmental issue we face. First, everyone needs to admit that human-caused climate change is real because we no longer have time to argue or debate; it’s time to act. Texas needs to prepare for weather extremes caused by climate change. One extreme is drought causing failed crops and decline in ranching activities, an increase in wildfires, and reduced water supplies. At the other extreme, we’ll likely face more flood events, so developments in flood-prone areas should expect a future that includes more flooding and take appropriate action now before there’s a crisis.
Drought and low water resources are significant concerns. Continued water waste along with our increasing population will contribute to the depletion of our aquifers. We have a low-yield well on our property, and the continued sell-off and drawdown of the aquifer will cause us to lose our well (along with many others in the area), so I also have a personal interest in groundwater conservation and management.
Texas needs a better system for managing our groundwater, and we need to work with scientists and experts to craft a statewide plan.
Do you believe climate change is occurring and is exacerbated by human activities? If so, what should Texas be doing to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to lower our contributions to the pollution that can lead to climate change?
Yes, without a doubt human-caused climate change is real.
We already lead in wind power, and we should be expanding our wind power production in addition to incentivizing more solar power production.
Texas needs to consider changing our transportation options, and I would support the development of high-speed rail service between major cities and commuter rail from outlying areas into cities. Our cities need more public transportation options that will reduce cars on our highways, and we should look for ways to encourage job creation in our outlying areas to keep more residents in their communities and not commuting long distances to employment centers. One of my priorities is expanding broadband internet into our rural areas which would allow for more telecommuting, and this would be one more way to reduce auto traffic.
We have to do better with water conservation and management. We should all be living as though we’re in a constant drought and conserving our water resources every day. I’d also like to see more use of greywater systems for landscape irrigation.
Texas should encourage research into innovative technologies that will keep the state competitive with other nations who are making great strides in reducing their environmental impact.
Too many areas in our state do not have recycling services available so I support a statewide push for local recycling centers or, better, curbside recycling pickup.
Everyone needs to pitch in. Something as simple as not using plastic straws will make a significant impact.
Since the passage of HB 40 in the 84th Texas legislative session, which stripped cities’ ability to protect their residents from fracking (see here and here for more info), the Texas Legislature has attempted to limit the ability of local cities and counties to develop local safeguards, stripping more local ordinances off the books, from plastic bag bans to protection of heritage trees. What is the proper approach the Texas Legislature should take when it comes to local jurisdictions adopting policies that fit the needs and have the support of the communities that elected them?
Local authorities have been elected by the local voters to represent their interests, and they know best the challenges and issues impacting their community. Even more directly, we’ve seen voters approve measures that affect them and their community only to have the state overrule and overturn and disregard the will of the voters. Taking authority away from local entities and consolidating that control at the state level is the wrong approach most of the time.
The ability to intervene via a contested case hearing in an air quality permit application is one of the only ways individuals in Texas can fight to protect themselves from new sources of pollution. However, any effort to include the public can slow down the permitting process. Should permitting decisions be left solely to the TCEQ, or should Texas continue to allow local citizens and governments to seek administrative hearings and judicial review of draft permits?
Residents must have their concerns heard, and we must have a mechanism for reviewing TCEQ decisions. When residents, local authorities, and elected officials disagree with a TCEQ decision, they have a right to have that decision reviewed. We cannot have state agencies running roughshod over local issues with no recourse for residents.
I would like for it to be far easier for residents to go through that review process because with complex requirements, public hearing times during work hours, and hearings not held in the resident’s area, it’s difficult for people to take part in the process.
Last legislative session, the Railroad Commission (RRC) underwent Sunset Review yet again and a very weak Sunset bill was passed (HB 1818) that allowed the RRC, which regulates oil and gas (as well as coal mining, uranium, and intrastate pipelines), to continue virtually unreformed. Recognizing the oil and gas lobby’s tight grip on many legislators and the agency that is supposed to regulate them, what would you do to improve oversight of the oil and gas industry?
How do we stop special interests from influencing our elected officials? We need to have significant Campaign Finance Reform. We should consider proposals for reform, such as publically funded campaigns, limiting campaign contributions, and banning so-called ‘dark money’. I support overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision and, while this requires action at the federal level, changing campaign laws at the state level will move us toward reform, and we will ultimately see a change at the national level.
The voters can change this and help regulate industries by electing representatives who aren’t beholden to special interests and who don’t have conflicts of interest with the industries those representatives should be overseeing.
Fuel exports in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and oil are driving more fracking activity and pipeline construction in Texas. While permitting for export infrastructure is primarily a federal jurisdiction, the state of Texas can influence how, where, and whether much of this is built. What is your position on LNG and how would you ensure communities and sensitive environments are protected from proposed oil and gas export-oriented infrastructure?
I have a particular concern with fracking chemicals contaminating groundwater. The enormous amount of groundwater used for fracking is permanently contaminated once it is utilized, and there is also a risk of the gas well failing and contaminating water aquifers. Texas should have significant input and authority when it comes to protecting our groundwater.
The state needs to require in-depth analysis of the environmental impact of oil and gas infrastructure before approval and have substantial penalties in place for any damage done by the oil and gas infrastructure. Public health and safety should be a priority.
Solar and wind power installations are growing all across Texas. Our state is already the #1 producer of wind energy in the country, and solar is an increasingly attractive investment for utilities and homes and businesses alike. Yet some utilities have begun to consider new demand charges and higher monthly fees on Texans who put solar on their roofs. Is there a role for the Texas Legislature in setting basic policy for customers with solar power? Are there any other rules or policies you would consider to help get solar power used more widely in Texas?
We should be encouraging more solar power production not penalizing customers, and I think the Texas Legislature certainly can play a role in incentivizing solar power production.
In 1999, Texas became the first state to establish an energy efficiency resource standard (EERS), requiring electric utilities to offset 10% of load growth through end-use energy efficiency (SB 7). In 2011, SB 1125 amended that policy by requiring utilities to eventually achieve savings of 0.4% of each utility’s peak demand. Our energy efficiency goals have not been updated since then. Do you think it’s time to update and/or increase those goals? Should the Public Utilities Commission require utilities to meet an overall energy savings goal, such as one percent of total sales, or are there are other changes that could help Texans save energy and money, while reducing pollution from power plants?
Yes, I would support increasing energy efficiency goals. I would also consider establishing automatic review for energy efficiency standards at specified intervals with the expectation that each review would result in increasing those efficiency goals.
Water conservation rate structures ensure that people understand the value of water by sending a pricing signal to water customers (the more you use, the higher your rate). They also address a fairness issue because costly new water infrastructure is often built to meet peak water demand, which correlates with high-volume water use (such as lawn irrigation during hot summer months), and all water customers will bear the cost of that additional infrastructure. Would you support policies that require water suppliers to adopt effective water conservation rate structures?
Yes. Water conservation and management are some of the most important environmental policy considerations for the future of Texas.
Legislation was introduced last session to initiate a study of the use of “green infrastructure” to help address water quality and quantity challenges facing Texas communities, but the legislation did not make it all the way to enactment. Green infrastructure refers to measures such as low-impact development, water-conserving or drought-resistant landscaping, rainwater collection for landscape irrigation, and other such measures. Would you support passage of legislation to require the appropriate state agency (or agencies) to evaluate the contribution that policies to promote green infrastructure might make to ensuring clean and dependable water supplies for Texans?
Absolutely. We can do so much better with our conservation measures, but we need to know which efforts have the most impact combined with ease of implementation and cost-effectiveness. Local municipalities and HOAs need to encourage conservation efforts through their own ordinances and policies and implement any recommended green infrastructure.
Texas is a drought-prone state with a growing population. Responsible water planning and management are essential, and water conservation is critical to ensuring all Texans and the environment have an adequate water supply today and into the future. In 2017, the Texas Legislature considered a bill that would have diverted water in our rivers into aquifers for later use. However, the bill could have allowed removal of enough water to negatively impact environmental flows– the in-stream flows needed for fish and wildlife in our rivers and freshwater inflows necessary to maintain healthy bays and estuaries. What priority do you place on protecting environmental flows when considering the suite of water supply options to meet municipal, industrial, and agricultural demands?
First, we must start with conservation efforts and reduce our need for water. While, yes, we need to be thinking of innovative and creative ways to manage our water resources, we have to also be aware of how those efforts impact other areas of the environment. We can’t destroy one vital piece of the environment in order to try and protect another.
Also, just as some Texas residents rely on groundwater from aquifers, others rely on rivers, streams, and wetlands.
Texas has made significant investments in recent years in the electrification of transportation, reauthorizing a $2,500 rebate for hybrid and electric cars through the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), and continuing other TERP incentive programs for larger vehicles, like school, port equipment, and metro buses. In addition, Texas is set to receive approximately $210 million from the Volkswagen settlement, and TCEQ is putting together a plan on how to spend the money (see here). Should Texas continue to offer incentives for alternative fuel vehicles? Should some of the VW Settlement money be used for electrification of transportation? What other steps could Texas take to help transition vehicles off oil?
Yes, we need to continue to incentivize alternative fuels, but I would also like to have Texas incentivize alternative forms of transportation. I support constructing high-speed rail across the state, commuter rail options and developing public transportation within our cities. While alternative fuel vehicles are an important aspect, getting more cars off the roadways should also be a priority.
Given the perpetual budget crunch, parks and wildlife funding often takes a back seat to more pressing and immediate needs. However, there are clear societal benefits to ensuring that our parks system is maintained and wildlife is protected. What is your philosophy on the value of parks and wildlife in the context of budget/appropriation battles when agencies and programs critical to the well being of Texans are forced to compete for limited funds?
Our green space is vitally important and, yes, budget constraints are always a concern, but we should be looking for new sources of revenue to help protect our parks.
PARKS & WILDLIFE
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission permits oil and gas drilling, in addition to granting easements for pipelines, through our state parks and wildlife management areas. What is your position on continuing this practice?
I support ending new leases in our park and wildlife areas. Our parks and nature areas should be protected, and allowing oil and gas development in these areas is risking damage to places that should be undisturbed wildlife areas.
We certainly shouldn’t have an oil industry CEO as one of TPW commissioners making decisions about oil leases in our parks.