News Types: Op-Eds

Melinda Taylor and Jeremy Brown, “Texas water plans must consider endangered species” (San Antonio Express-News)

Energy Center executive director Melinda Taylor and research fellow Jeremy Brown published an Op-Ed in the July 7th edition of the San Antonio Express News on the recent 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Texas did not violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) through the operation of its surface water program. The opinion also reverses a Corpus Christi court decision holding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) caused the deaths of 23 endangered whooping cranes during the 2008-2009 drought. Taylor and Brown warn that “[e]ven though it won the case, the TCEQ will need to develop strategies that balance the needs of humans and the natural environment if it is to avoid future conflicts with the ESA and the rare species the law is intended to protect.”

David Spence, “Fracking pits state vs. locals,” (Houston Chronicle)

In a May 5 opinion piece, professor David Spence argues that “there are now indisputable rumblings caused by [hydraulic fracturing] in local communities across Texas.” Community protest is increasing, in Spence’s words, “as local residents find themselves at odds with both natural gas developers and state laws, policies, and economic interests.” “Authorizing local governments to tax mineral interests or share in state royalty or tax revenues is one form of compensation. Direct compensation from producers to local communities is another,” Spence recommends. He concludes that “[w]ithout local participation in the financial benefits of fracking, local anti-fracking rumblings may build and continue to spread.”

Tom McGarity, “West blast victims need more than lip service from state” (Houston Chronicle)

The Houston Chronicle published an Op-Ed from professor Tom McGarity on the need for Texas legislators to ensure public safety with new regulations after a massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14, injured 226 and leveled nearby homes in the community of West almost exactly one year ago.

In it, McGarity argues that although the Chemical Safety Board “concluded that both he fire and the resulting explosion were ‘preventable[,]‘ … “Texas has no Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate protective standards and inspect workplaces for occupational hazards.”

“What we need is a thorough investigation into the authority of TCEQ to regulate the storage and use of highly toxic and reactive chemicals, legislation granting the agency sufficient power to force companies to that store and use such chemicals to take proper precautions and to make surrounding communities (and especially fire department personnel) aware of the risks posed by such chemicals and an appropriation of sufficient funds to do the job,” McGarity recommends.

David Spence, “U.S. an oil and gas exporter? Not as crazy as it sounds” (San Antonio Express-News)

Professor David Spence, with assistant director for energy and technology policy at UT Austin Energy Institute Fred Beach, published an Op-Ed in the May 1 San Antonio Express-News on the notion that the U.S. could begin exporting both oil and natural gas given domestic production spikes.

In it, Spence and Beach argue that “[t]he ban on the export of U.S. crude oil, enacted amid the oil crisis of the mid-1970s, might have made political and even economic sense at the time, but 40 years it begs to be re-examined.” “Since U.S. consumers and businesses would only suffer from fuel price volatility, it would seem logical that the U.S. should do all it can to unfetter markets, stabilize prices and live up to its reputation as the global champion of free markets,” they recommend.

Melinda Taylor, “Lesser prairie chicken losing ground in Texas, other states” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Energy Center director Melinda Taylor, with scientist and former Defenders of Wildlife vice president of policy Timothy Male, published an op-ed in the January 29 Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s impending decision on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken (LPC) as endangered.  Taylor and Male warn that a state-led conservation plan alone would not sufficiently protect the LPC.  For the species to survive, it will also need strong federal protection.

Thomas McGarity, “What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Regulation” (New York Times)

In a December 8 opinion piece, professor Thomas McGarity argues that income inequality is an outgrowth of deregulation.  Inequality can be addressed, in McGarity’s words, only if “political forces realign themselves and a new social bargain is struck under which the business community’s economic freedoms are once again constrained by a government that is more willing to impose greater responsibilities on powerful economic actors and a legal system that is capable of holding them accountable for the harm that they cause.”

David Spence, “Should the Federal Government Regulate Fracking?” (Wall Street Journal)

Professor David Spence has published a point-counterpoint editorial in the Wall Street Journal on federalism and fracking with Harvard Law School professor Jody Freeman.

Spence writes: “States are better equipped than the federal government to regulate most of those risks.  Why? Because both the benefits and the costs of fracking fall mostly on states and local communities. States gain the most from added jobs and tax revenue; they face the truck traffic, noise, pollution risks and rapid industrial growth. Consequently, states are in the best position to figure out how best to balance fracking’s costs and benefits.”

Jeff Civins, “Environmental lawyer skeptical of need for new federal fracking legislation” (SNL Financial)

Jeff Civins, a parter in the Austin office of Haynes and Boone and an Energy Center advisory board member, expressed skepticism about proposed federal hydraulic fracturing regulation in an April 12 SNL Financial article.

“You shouldn’t regulate unless there’s a need,” Civins cautioned. “Before we spend a lot of time legislating, we ought to take a look and see if there’s a problem that requires legislation. … That gets to the whole [problem] with fracking, where people are concerned about it without looking at what actually is involved.”

Civins is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law, where he has taught an environmental litigation course since 1992, and a co-editor of the Thomson West Texas Practice 2-volume treatise on Texas Environmental Law.

Melinda Taylor and Jeremy Brown, “It’s time to link funding for water projects to conservation” (Houston Chronicle)

Energy Center executive director Melinda Taylor and research fellow Jeremy Brown have publisehd an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle encouraging the Texas legislature to amend a water infrastructure bill tHB 4 Houston Chronicle Op-Edo connect financing to conservation.

The bill - H.B. 4 - was approved in the Texas House last week by an impressive margin of 146-2 and would establish a fund intended to help the state address its long-term water needs.  While the bill does acknowledge the importance of conservation, it requires relatively limited funding for conservation projects.