Senate Bill 875 by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horsehoe Bay) would take away a Texan’s right to sue a company for “nuisance” or “trespass” resulting from greenhouse gas emissions if that company is compliant with air emissions permits issued by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or an agency of the federal government.
The bill would roll back Texas nuisance law that predates the Clean Air Act, protecting businesses that emit greenhouse gases from enforcement actions, civil lawsuits or criminal claims.
The Texas Chemical Council, Association of Electric Companies of Texas, Texas Association of Business, Texas Association of Manufacturers and Texas Pipeline Association and other business groups back the bill, but environmental groups oppose the measure.
The bill is designed to put a halt to a trend of public nuisance claims as a way to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Although the EPA has announced plans to issue rules governing greenhouse gas emissions, air quality permits held by Texas businesses do not currently regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Our ownTom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas office, testified against the bill in committee, telling the committee that greenhouse gases are effectively a nuisance because they can cause adverse health effects, change the fertility cycles in plants and animals, and require retrofitting of roads and bridges to withstand greater temperatures. The bill would take away a legal tool citizens have used that predates the Clean Air Act and one that has been used by citizens to sue oil and gas companies.
Smitty further testified that if the standards are unclear, the fallback position you have is nuisance. It interferes with your enjoyment of the environment or causes health effects making the bill far more nefarious than it appears on the surface.
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) argued, “It’s not right, to say you can do whatever you want with greenhouse gases simply because you are in general compliance with some permit that doesn’t cover greenhouse gases.”
Even the TCEQ has reported that the bill could “hamper the agency’s ability to cite a nuisance violation for greenhouse gases” and allow the “nuisance” to persist and result in lower revenues from penalties, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Bill by bill, this legislature seems intent upon whittling away protections for individual Texas citizens in favor of the rights of industry.