News

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.

Jeff Civins, “Texas Rulings Could Ease Permit Battles At TCEQ” (Law360)

In a May 2 article, Law360 quoted professor Jeff Civins on recent Texas appellate rulings that give broad discretion to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in determining whether opponents of proposed air- and water-quality permits are entitled to a formal administrative hearing, potentially allowing applicants to avoid lengthy court battles and years of delay. “[T]he contested case hearing process, which Texas adopted in the mid-1970s, gives people opposed to a project ‘a significant gun to hold to the head of a project developer,’” says Civins. “[T]he recent rulings are ‘more process than substance … [f]rom an applicant’s perspective, you’ve got to be a little discouraged.’”

Tom McGarity, “Texas Family’s Nuissance Complaint Seen As a Win Against Fracking” (Capital Public Radio)

Capital Public Radio quoted professor Tom McGarity on a May 4 story on what’s been called the first anti-fracking verdict in the U.S. after a Dallas jury awarded nearly $3 million to a family who said they were poisoned by a natural gas drilling operation near their North Texas ranch. The verdict is unique, according to McGarity. “It is rare for any case to go to the jury in a civil case, just simply because most settle,” he says. “[Aruba Petroleum] apparently decided to draw the line, which as it turns out was not necessarily a very good decision.”

David Spence, “Supreme Court’s Air Pollution Ruling Goes Against Texas” (Texas Tribune)

In an April 29 article, the Texas Tribune quoted professor David Spence on the Supreme Court’s air pollution ruling, by 6-2 vote, to reinstate the Cross-State Pollution Rule, a regulation that aims to limit the effects of air pollution across state boundaries. “This is a big decision,” said Spence. “It’s one of the things that is putting pressure on coal-fired power.”

Texas Recycling Data Initiative Internship

Title: TRDI Intern

Wage: Unpaid (?)

Job requirements: Strong written and verbal communication skills; detail-oriented, self-starter who is organized and able to meet deadlines; strong research skills; proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel.

Must have a college degree or be currently enrolled in a university and working toward a degree; must be a US citizen; must be located in the Austin area and have reliable transportation; must be able to work a minimum of 10 hours per week.

Applications instructions: Please submit resumes or further questions to info@recyclingstar.org with the subject line “STAR Internship”.

Contact person: Sara Nichols

Texas Recycling Data Initiative (TRDI): A consortium of industry representatives, led by STAR, is seeking to better understand and quantify the amount of recycling occurring in Texas in order to examine the economic, environmental, and policy issues of interest to businesses, citizens, and governmental entities in Texas. This statewide survey is a game changer for recycling in Texas and should be completed by late 2014. Information on state recycling activities and material recovery volumes are limited in stature throughout the State of Texas even though there is some information collected at the regional level. The information collected is not uniform or consistent across the state. The Municipal Solid Waste Management and Resource Recovery Advisory Council passed a resolution on July 22, 2011 to allow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to facilitate a set of stakeholder meetings to define what recycling data can be obtained, determine the best method for its collection, and recommend how this data could be used to study best practices and promote recycling in Texas. As a result, a Steering Committee was formed with broad based representation from trade and professional organizations, Councils of Governments (COG’s), industry, TCEQ, EPA Region 6, local governments, consulting firms and other interested parties to assist in conducting research and making recommendations for how the state should pursue capturing recycling recovery volume data.  One of the results of this Steering Committee was the development of the Texas Recycling Data Initiative (TRDI) and the solicitation for the completion of a voluntary survey for data collection, data analysis, and reporting of recycling activity in the State of Texas. As a part of the survey, data will be collected for two calendar years with a report available for the 2015 Texas Legislative Session.

Intern will be researching ordinances, compiling data, and other duties as assigned. Credit can be offered if desired. Please provide paperwork.

UTROG Petitions EPA to Adopt Conflicts Disclosure Rule

The University of Texas Regulatory Oversight Group (UTROG) today petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a policy requiring that parties who submit research and data disclose sponsor influence and related conflicts of interest.

The petition argues that the EPA relies heavily on privately produced research in its decision-making but that the agency can only give this research proper weight if it understands the degree to which it may have been subject to biasing effects.

Conflicts disclosure is a common practice within the scientific community and is already required by other federal agencies. In its petition, UTROG recommends as a template the disclosure form that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors uses.

UTROG is an unofficial organization at the University of Texas comprised of law and other graduate students who work with law professors to identify opportunities to ensure optimal public engagement and participation in federal and state regulatory programs. UTROG’s goal is to provide an independent, balanced, and rigorous analysis of important regulatory issues. Its positions are not necessarily the positions of the administration of the University of Texas.

TCEQ Fall Internship for UT Law Grads Awaiting Bar Results

This fall, the TCEQ Office of Public Interest Counsel is once again participating in the Long Career Launch Program for UT law graduates who have taken the bar exam and are awaiting results.  The 400 hour internship must be completed between August 4th and November 21st, 2014.

The internship opportunity is posting #14971.  The posting closes June 6th.

David Spence, “What a Ban on Fracking in Denton Could Mean For the Rest of Texas” (State Impact)

State Impact Texas quoted professor David Spence in an April 8 story on a potential hydraulic fracturing ban in the Dallas suburb of Denton. In it, Spence explained that courts have tended to side with local governments in legal challenges to land use restrictions on fracking but that there is no Texas precedent squarely on point. “This issue may be enough of a hot-button issue that courts are going to really work hard to try to find a way to be able to uphold local ordinances, and at least we’ve seen a little bit of that in the northeast.”