The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit conservation organization that uses a science-based approach to protect Texas’ vast array of natural resources. As such, we have a vested interest in advancing sound conservation policies. Below is an update on the issues in which we are actively engaged this session.
There has been a lot of focus this session about surface and groundwater management. Lawmakers have discussed bills related to regulatory frameworks for aquifer storage and recovery, brackish and seawater desalination, and inter-basin transfers, as well as legislation addressing the authority of groundwater conservation districts and the appeals process for desired future conditions. The Conservancy has taken positions on bills that relate to the creation or extension of specific local groundwater conservation districts in Val Verde and Hays counties, and we are working with the author of the Val Verde County district bill to reach compromise language. While there is not one keystone piece of water legislation this session, these discussions about water management are an important step in ensuring a sustainable future for Texas’ freshwater supplies.
We are supporting bills that transfer the Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program from the General Land Office to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We have opposed a bill that would hamper aquifer protection programs, like those we have in San Antonio and Austin, by requiring municipalities purchasing property in other jurisdictions to receive approval and waive property tax exemptions.
Gulf of Mexico
Two pieces of legislation related to the sustainable management of oysters have been filed; the one the Conservancy supports would create a commercial license buyback program. We are also working with stakeholders to craft legislation to create an oyster mariculture program.
There have been several bills filed related to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, but there has been no movement on any of them. We are monitoring two other bills, too: one related to changes to the Texas Emissions Reduction Program and another that repeals Texas’ Renewable Portfolio Standard goals. As of April 2015, the latter bill has been voted out of the Senate.
We continue to promote initiatives that utilize natural solutions like green space, reforestation, reef restoration and coastal protection to help address our cities’ water scarcity, air quality, and coastal resiliency challenges.
We are monitoring House Bill 1 (the state budget), which is headed to conference committee for debate and discussion. Things look good for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at this stage, relative to appropriation levels and the full allocation of the sporting good sales tax. The House version of the budget includes a rider that could potentially appropriate $30 million to the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program. There are also contingency riders in both versions of the budget that could affect Texas Water Development Board science and conservation funding. A rider related to expenditure approval of Deepwater Horizon oil spill funds is still in the bill; that is an issue we will continue to work on as the process moves forward.