AUSTIN, Texas — The 85th Legislature gave all Texans a surprising bit of good news when they extended the programs for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), which was set to expire in 2019.
TERP is the second largest air pollution reduction program in Texas, and since its inception in 2001 it has become the most cost-effective way to reduce air pollution in the state.
Only hours before the final deadline to pass a “Conference Committee Report,” the Texas Legislature approved SB 1731, which included an amendment to reform and expand TERP. In response, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Environmental Defense Fund — who have supported and worked with legislators and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2001 on TERP implementation — praised lawmakers for their efforts, but issued a warning: the Legislature must actually appropriate the money now.
“We salute the Texas Legislature for extending and expanding TERP programs so that Texas actually complies with EPA’s health-based standards for ozone pollution in our major cities,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “However, the Legislature failed to extend the fees that pay for the program, and the budget bill actually cut appropriations for TERP by some $80 million over two years, subject to a possible adjustment by the Legislative Budget Board. This will need to be fixed for the program to work as it should.”
Recent polling has found that TERP has strong support in Houston, where air pollution is a constant problem. “We’re glad that the Legislature responded to the concerns of Houstonians,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Public Citizen Texas office. “One of the major improvements for TERP under SB 1731 is the provision to allow more money to be spent in rail yards and port yards, where we have the greatest air pollution concentrations,” he added.
“We’re pleased that TERP has been extended and now includes modifications that will allow more cost-effective projects at ports,” said Christina Wolfe, Manager, Air Quality, Port and Freight Facilities at the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund. “There is plenty of work ahead of us to ensure that all Texans breathe healthy air, so we appreciate the Texas Legislature taking this first step in recognizing the importance of TERP. Now we need them to ensure the programs are funded.”
The bill to extend and expand the program had a somewhat tortured history. After passing the Senate early in the session, SB 26 by Craig Estes (R- Wichita Falls) was then referred to the House Committee on Environmental Regulation. There, clean air advocates — which included environmental groups like EDF, Sierra Club and Public Citizen, and industry groups like the Texas Chemical Council, the Texas Association of Business and electric utilities — worked with Chairman Joe Pickett (D – El Paso), Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston) and Rep. Tony Dale (R- Round Rock) to craft a revised version of SB 26, which put more emphasis on the most cost-effective programs, including the revised Seaport and Rail Yards program to clean up pollution from equipment at our ports and rail yards.
However, the House version of SB 26 was put late on the calendar and the House of Representatives did not get to the bill when the deadline of midnight occurred on May 23rd. Then, versions of SB 26 were added to three other bills as amendments, though two of them were not taken up. Finally, on May 29th, at approximately 9:30 PM, both houses passed the TERP bill as part of SB 1731 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).
While the groups behind the TERP legislation were happy with the passage SB 1731, some last-minute confusion on the budget made it unclear how much TERP is actually funded for the next two years. During last-minute budget negotiations, TERP funding was cut from approximately $118 million per year to $78 million per year, and a contingency rider that was supposed to restore funding if a TERP bill passed was not in the final version of the budget.
In addition, separate legislation to extend the six fees that actually fund TERP did not pass, meaning the Legislature will need to come back in 2019 to extend them if the programs are to continue.
“We call on Governor Abbot to not only sign SB 1731 into law, but call back the Legislative Budget Board to adjust the budget to reflect its passage and return the nearly $40 million a year that was cut to fund these new programs,” added Reed. “Ultimately, the Legislature is going to have to decide how important it is to get the dirty air in our cities cleaned up and extend the fees — and spend the revenues — to help our children, the elderly and those with asthma to be able to breathe clean air.”