It’s unclear whether any Texas cities have banned natural gas hookups in buildings. But now they won’t be able to — if a bill approved by the state Senate on Tuesday becomes law.
House Bill 17 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, was initially written in response to California cities banning natural gas use in new buildings to fight climate change. With the support of the natural gas industry, Oklahoma and Louisiana have already preemptively passed laws to ban local natural gas bans.
But Deshotel's legislation got a rebranding in Texas when it was included on the list of bills prioritized in response to the February blackout. In explaining the bill to fellow lawmakers, Deshotel said “gas played an important part in helping a lot of people" during the blackout.
"I know in my own home, I was able to keep things going because we had a generator that kicked on and ran on natural gas," he said in a hearing of the House's State Affairs Committee this spring.
HB 17 went on to gain approval by the state House. Now that it has also cleared the Senate, it’s expected Gov. Greg Abbott will sign it into law.
In Texas the plan is opposed by environmental groups who worry it is written so broadly it could end local incentives for going green. But it's also under scrutiny for another reason.
Some say it would actually increase the likelihood of another large-scale blackout by pushing more natural gas to new homes and less to power plants that need it during cold spells.
"This bill absolutely, unequivocally, would make the problem worse," Doug Lewin, an energy efficiency advocate and president of the consulting firm Stoic Energy, told KUT in March.
HB 17 is not the only gas-friendly bill that's been pitched as a blackout fix. Another, already approved by the state Senate and up for a hearing in the House on Thursday, would raise the cost of renewable energy.
Adding extra cost to wind and solar power has been a long-term goal of the fossil fuel industry and its allies at the state legislature. But opponents, including a group of companies like Amazon, General Electric and Goldman Sachs, say it could slam the brakes on Texas' booming wind and renewable sector.
As far as the ban on the gas ban is concerned: It's hard to find a city in Texas that has tried to implement such a policy. The City of Austin may have come closest when it considered phasing out new gas hookups in 2030 as part of its long-term climate plan.
But that proposal never made it out of draft form. The city softened its approach to natural gas after intense lobbying by the industry.
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