May 2015 has been agonizing for Denton County, Texas. They have been pounded by consistent severe weather, UNT star forward Eboniey Jeter committed suicide, residents in the Greenbelt Corridor of Lake Ray Roberts were forced to evacuate their homes due to flooding, and a gas well off Interstate 35 caught fire.
Now, thanks to paranoid?rookie Gov. Greg Abbott and a state legislature apparently composed of J.R. Ewing clones, the city of Denton’s ban on hydraulic fracturing ? or ?fracking? ? is null and void.
House Bill 40, which cripples the ability of cities and other local governments to regulate the oil and gas industry, passed both houses of the Texas legislature with over two-thirds majority and was quickly christened with Abbott’s signature of approval.
Gov. Abbott has championed the legislation. From Abbott’s news release on H.B. 40:
“HB 40 does a profound job of helping to protect private property rights here in the State of Texas, ensuring those who own their own property will not have the heavy hand of local regulation deprive them of their rights. This law ensures that Texas avoids a patchwork quilt of regulations that differ from region to region, differ from county to county or city to city. HB 40 strikes a meaningful and correct balance between local control and preserving the state’s authority to ensure that regulations are even-handed and do not hamper job creation.”
As of two days ago, the 58% of Dentonites who voted to ban the ?fracking? process from their city last November no longer have a voice. “Fracking” still lives in Denton.?What a sad day for democracy when the will of the people is tossed aside by business interests, despite their votes.
I guess the idea of ?small government? doesn’t apply when a heavy-handed state legislature regularly and submissively bends over desks at the Texas Oil and Gas Association.
Not only does H.B. 40 prohibit the enforcement of ?fracking? bans, but it also challenges other local regulations the oil and gas industry view as antagonistic to their goals and practices. From the Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas?in the Texas Observer:
?This is a dangerous power grab by Big Oil to stomp out the rights of communities to protect themselves from the worst impacts of dirty drilling. They won’t settle for just overturning the Denton ban but are taking aim at ordinances across the state that limit drilling near homes, schools and parks as well as many other health and safety standards.?
The buck doesn’t stop with H.B. 40. Another piece of legislation, which also appears to have been written in response to Denton’s ?fracking? ban, is quickly moving through the legislature. House Bill 2595 would prohibit local voters from initiative or referendum to restrict property rights. From the Denton Record-Chronicle:
“The legislation ostensibly protects a property owner’s right to make money with their property. How such a law could work is unclear, according to Denton Mayor Chris Watts, because cities have the authority to restrict property uses through zoning laws.”
“The authors of HB 2595, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, make an exception for cities in the bill. In other words, a city’s voters would not be allowed to initiate a local rule that a city council itself could write.”
“Should HB 40 be found unconstitutional, HB 2595 could prevent another Texas city’s voters from using initiative to ban fracking.”
Right now, Gov. Abbott bears little difference from Mr. Burns blocking out the sun.