Legislative Advocacy

Every two years, the Texas Legislature convenes for a 140-day regular legislative session. During each legislative session, we 

  1. advocate for policies that reduce air pollution and their related health inequities, and 

  2. defend against bills that threaten to roll back the progress achieved to date.

In the interim period, Senate and House committees are assigned to study and hold public hearings on specific topics, referred to as interim charges. During this time, we continue to work with elected officials, allies and community members to inform the upcoming legislative agenda.

Our Priorities

Building Healthy Communities

Concrete Batch Plant Buffer Zones and Permitting

Harris County houses over 150 concrete batch plants (CBPs), more than any county in Texas. Air pollution, including particulate matter, from CBPs pose health risks to people residing in nearby neighborhoods. These plants also create significant noise pollution and are currently permitted to work 24-hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. A number of Houston neighborhoods have multiple facilities in close proximity to residents. With the number of CBPs projected to increase as Houston grows, we must work to protect our communities from the health threats, especially vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

Unfortunately, none of the legislation that sought to address the numerous air quality issues CBPs present passed this legislative session. However, this issue is becoming an increasingly bipartisan effort; several bills were filed and received support from legislators on both sides of the aisle. State Representatives Walle and Dutton (D-Houston) and State Senator Campbell (R-New Braunfels) were the issue’s strongest proponents to strengthen requirements for CBPs that would better protect public health. Many organizations and interest groups are advocating for the Legislature to study the issue during the interim and prepare strong legislation that will be a priority next session.

  • Legislation that creates stronger buffer requirements between CBPs and communities.
  • Legislation that limits the number of facilities allowed to be within a specified distance of another facility.
  • Legislation that limits the hours of operation of CBPs.
  • Legislation that allows for greater enforcement power for municipalities and counties over CBPs that pose health risks.

Sustainable and Equitable Transportation

Texas Emissions Reduction Plan

Since its inception, the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) has funded thousands of projects that have significantly improved air quality across the state. TERP provides funding for individuals, businesses, and local governments to reduce emissions and pollution by upgrading vehicles and equipment. In addition, TERP supports programs to encourage the use of alternative fuels. Since 2001, TERP programs have replaced, repowered, or retrofitted more than 10,000 heavy-duty on-road vehicles, and more than 10,000 heavy-duty pieces of non-road equipment in Texas nonattainment and affected areas. TERP programs are accepted by the EPA as emissions reductions actions, which is key as the TCEQ estimates 50 to 80% of NOX emissions are due to mobile sources in nonattainment zones.

This session, several bills were filed to alter and extend the TERP program to varying degrees. However, legislators, advocates, and stakeholders came together to support one bill: House Bill 3745 by State Representative Cecil Bell. HB 3745 extends the TERP fee revenue collections until all of Texas reaches air quality attainment under U.S. National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQS) standards. In addition, the bill establishes the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan Fund (TERP Fund) as a trust fund to be held by the Comptroller outside of the treasury and administered by the TCEQ as a trustee. This fund would consist of revenues from fees and surcharges currently deposited to the credit of General Revenue-Dedicated Texas Emissions Reduction Plan Account No. 5071.

Air Alliance Houston fully supports the changes made by HB 3745. In addition to extending the fees collected to support this important program, the bill moves much of the funds outside of Legislature’s allocative authority, thus allowing for more money to be spent towards air quality improvement projects. The passage of HB 3745 is a major accomplishment for advocates and stakeholders alike at the state level.

  • Increasing allocations to TERP programs such that more programs can be funded and more efficiently managed.

Sustainable and Equitable Transportation

Health in All Policies

Public health is given too little consideration in the planning of major highway construction projects. Proximity to busy roadways is associated with many health issues. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful impacts of air pollution. Eighty thousand Houston-area children attend schools in traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) zones and are at increased risk of asthma and heart and lung problems as adults. Transportation planning organizations often overlook the effects increased traffic capacity will have on communities bordering new or expanded highways.

This session, Air Alliance Houston worked with Houston-area State Representative Jon Rosenthal (HD 135) to draft House Bill 2306. This bill, had it been signed into law, would have required the Legislature to form a committee to study how the Texas Department of Transportation integrates public health impacts into transportation planning. In addition, the committee would have studied the feasibility of requiring Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) to be conducted for major transportation projects.

HB 2306 received a hearing in the House Administration Committee on April 1; Air Alliance Houston, along with partner organizations, traveled to Austin to testify on the legislation. Unfortunately, the bill was not passed out of the Committee onto the full House for debate. However, our organization anticipates working with state legislators to continue this discussion so that we may return next session with more robust legislation ready to be filed.

  • Legislation that will require transportation planning organizations to incorporate HIAs into future project planning.

Chemical Safety

Above-ground Chemical Storage Tanks

The design and operation of above-ground storage tanks used for housing petroleum products are currently poorly regulated. Recent disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, have revealed the vulnerability of above-ground tanks to failure during storms and flooding, leading to large spills and emissions events. More recently, the Houston-area ITC and KMCO fires highlighted yet again the lack of adequate performance standards.

As the ITC and KMCO fires garnered national attention, State Senator Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) authored Senate Bill 1446. The bill would have required TCEQ to develop additional regulations on the design and maintenance of above-ground chemical storage tanks. Air Alliance Houston testified in support of the bill when it was heard at the Senate’s Water and Rural Affairs Committee on April 29. Unfortunately, the bill was blocked from passing on to the full Senate for debate by the Committee Chair. Despite this, the amount of public support the bill garnered was encouraging; AAH will support continuing efforts during the interim to advance regulations on chemical storage tanks like the ones involved in the ITC disaster.

  • Legislation that requires chemical storage tanks be more resilient in the event of natural disaster.
  • Legislation that improves inspection processes for chemical storage tanks.
  • Legislation and funding for an expanded air monitoring infrastructure that will help entities respond to disasters like the ITC fire.
  • Legislation that allows for greater enforcement power for municipalities and counties over above-ground storage tanks.

Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice is, according to the EPA, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” A 1994 Presidential Executive Order directs federal agencies to take steps to identify and address disproportionate environmental or health impacts on minority and low-income populations. However, at the federal, state, and local level there is no clear definition of what an environmental justice community is, which weakens potential implementation of the executive order. Meanwhile, a large body of literature and data show that race is the best predictor of how close you live to air pollution, including research based in Houston by Dr. Robert Bullard.

Three environmental justice bills were introduced this session. The Legislature, however, failed environmental justice communities by not advancing HB 4078 and SB 180 aimed at strengthening public engagement requirements for new or expanding facilities in these neighborhoods. It also failed to move forward with HB 1491 which would have established a State Advisory Committee on how to better protect communities disproportionately burdened with hazardous sites.

  • Defining environmental justice communities in Texas’ legal code. We recommend developing this definition using not only demographic factors, but by also doing a spatial analysis of environmental risk.
  • Creating protections to prevent continued disproportionate impacts on these communities by industrial facilities.
  • Strengthening requirements for public notification and engagement of environmental justice communities in the air permitting process.