July Symposium Notes

Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network presented Amanda Robinson, Tuesday, July 5th, 2011, as part of a monthly series helping people of faith connect to resources and inspiration for better environmental stewardship. Read more about the series here. Read a related blog here. 

Amanda Robinson is coordinator for Texas Interfaith Power and Light, the environmental outreach program of Texas Impact, 

Amanda’s presentation, New Opportunities for Texas Congregations focused on relaying “what went right with the Texas Legislature 2011” for people of faith looking to become better stewards of people and the planet. Amanda began her presentation by telling us the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature took place Jan. 11 thru May 30, 2011. Her organization feels that considering current budgetary and political situations, the following items are a “really big success.” Below are brief highlights from each of the pertinent bills. 

HB = House Bill
SB = Senate Bill

New Funding for Congregations (statewide)

(total bills = 1)

HB #2077 – “Energy Efficiency Loans to Congregations”

  • Directs SECO to establish a pilot energy efficiency program for faith and community based organizations. SECO will work thru its LoanSTAR program to administer the pilot
  • For more info & details contact Amanda (contact info bottom this page)

New Funding for Congregations (not statewide)

(total bills = 1)

HB #931 – “Solar Panel Funding for Houses of Worship”

  • Applies only to church buildings in de-regulated electricity markets (such as Dallas or Houston)
  • Church buildings within “regulated” electric utility markets, such as Austin and San Antonio, are not eligible to participate 
  • Allows qualifying congregations to install solar panels as 3rd party project (Congregations would be lease its roof space to an electricity reseller, receive dividend from electricity reseller)
  • For more info & details contact Amanda (contact info bottom this page)

New Programs for Texas Congregations (statewide)

(total bills = 1)

SB #329 – “TV Recycling”

  • Read details via Texas Campaign for the Environment

New Bills for Better Stewardship (statewide)

(total bills = 7)

HB #2694 – “TCEQ Sunset”

  • TCEQ = Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (link), the state’s environmental protection agency. Texas Impact has a blog on this bill’s importance. In short, good things about the bill: 
  • Improves enforcement & compliance of environmental quality regulation
  • Strengthens public participation on environmental concerns
  • Increases noncompliance fines against polluters

HB #3328 – “Fracking Disclosures”

  • Requires well by well disclosure of all chemicals companies are pumping into ground as part of their natural gas fracking 
  • Disclosure info will be made publicly available via the web
  • There is no list of prohibited chemicals; only the most toxic
  • Un-fun Fact: In the last 12 months 13.5Billion gallons of water have been used in TX for fracking; typically the water forced into a drill to “frack” locks up (doesn’t come back), when it does the water is often toxic, sometimes radioactive

HB #2994 – “Expand Urban Agriculture Opportunities”

  • Convert under-utilized urban space into food production
  • Houses of Worship can partner with community organizations to grow food
  • No state money: program sets up a bucket for Federal dollars. 
  • More details as program rolls out, contact Amanda (bottom this page)

SB #1434 – “Low Income Weatherization”

  • All utilities must offer weatherization programs, 10% of these programs must go to low income Texans
  • More details as available, contact Amanda (contact info bottom this page)

SB #89 – “Expands Summer Food Service Programs in Schools”

  • Requires school districts whose population has 50% of summer kids eligible for lunch assistance to require food program for summertime programs; unfortunately this covers MOST of the state
  • Focus is on fresher & healthier; potential for serving more children with healthier foods
  • “there are ways churches can partner” to help schools feed more healthy summer food to disadvantaged kids
  • Contact Amanda for more info (contact info bottom this page)

SB #82 – “Cottage Food Industry Bill”

  • Allows certain foods prepared at home to be sold commercially
  • Could potentially benefit low income entrepreneurs 

Also, a bill to prevent or limit local governments from having the right to ban or limit the use of plastic bags in their communities (primarily at grocery and retail stores) was defeated (blog on topic)

  • South Padre Island, Brownsville, Ft. Stockton have already banned plastic bags in their communities
  • An Austin initiative is in the works, via the Central Texas Zero Waste Alliance

Learn more about these bills via Texas Impact’s very helpful legislative wrap-up. Direct questions to Amanda Robinson.

Written by Chris Searles, edited & approved by Amanda Robinson

© 2013 Interfaith Environmental Network