By Stephanie Moreno
Executive Director, South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable
For those of us who thought the global anomalies of 2020 were behind us, 2021 quickly reminded us that strange is the new norm. While families were attempting to get their lives back to COVID-normal, a historic winter storm devastated our great state and overwhelmed our communities. In the midst of an unprecedented start to 2021, let’s not forget that we are also in the middle of one of the most important legislative sessions Texas has ever encountered. Here are a few things to look out for and why they are important to you.
Storm bills. Elected officials throughout the state have pledged to do better in preparing for extreme weather events. To “do better” requires an evaluation of what worked, what failed, and what can be improved. Most people don’t realize just how vast and complicated our electricity supply chain is. A new analysis of natural gas performance during the storm indicates that loss of power, which began after outages began at power generation units, was the principal factor for natural gas production and transportation reductions and shutdowns. TXOGA President Todd Staples said, “Texans deserve a thoughtful and factual evaluation of what really went wrong. Moving forward, the most immediate action to ensure natural gas facilities can operate during emergencies will be supply chain mapping to determine which natural gas production, distribution and storage facilities feed into the natural gas electricity generation and local distribution companies.”
Eminent Domain. These two words can create real challenges amongst utilities, pipeline companies, developers and landowners. In reality, most right-of-way acquisition deals are entered into freely and voluntarily. However, when eminent domain does come into play, it is important to have a transparent and reliable process to ensure everyone has the information and resources they need to come to a final resolution. In order to continue our collective economic success, Texans must be able to support infrastructure development while protecting landowner rights. Fair and agreed-to eminent domain legislation allows critical infrastructure to continue to be built and ensures that landowners are informed, treated fairly and compensated fairly during the process.
Prohibition on natural gas bans. The Texas Legislature is moving to pre-emptively prohibit California-style city ordinances that ban natural gas in homes or businesses. If the recent winter freeze taught us anything, it’s that natural gas is reliable and essential to fueling Texas homes and businesses. Without natural gas, millions more Texans would have been without heat and power. Banning a person’s freedom to choose their source of energy for their home or business is bad for consumers, the economy and it is bad for Texas.
Chapter 313 extension. Chapter 313 is an economic development tool that school districts can use to incentivize businesses to locate in their district. The program is set to expire in December 2022 if the state takes no action this session. For small communities with limited resources to attract jobs and businesses to their areas, this means that they will no longer have this valuable tool to provide an edge over their competition in economic development. This session, lawmakers are reviewing the benefits of Chapter 313 and considering its extension.
We share these issues with you because they will have an effect on the economic engine of Texas. As the Legislature studies these issues over countless hours of testimony and research by experts and staff, we are confident that in the Lone Star State, the health and prosperity of our residents will be the overriding consideration when the last vote is counted. However, the most important takeaway we can benefit from post-2020 is that accurate and timely communication is key to bridging any debate and finding compromise. The oil and natural gas industry must continue to showcase our efforts and support for the communities and the environment we live and work in while also maintaining our position as a global energy leader.