Friday, March 8, 2013

Fight HB 1496

There is some confusion about whether to support HB 2277. But there is no doubt about HB 1496. We need to defeat it, because it strips us of our basic right of local self-determination.
Those who must bear the costs of drilling and fracking should be empowered to shape decisions about when, where, and how those industrial activities occur. Municipal government is the only feasible political entity capable of granting and ensuring this power. Local government is most knowledgeable about community needs and most directly accountable to the people whose interests are at stake.

It is clear that state and federal governments conceive of fracking abstractly in terms of energy and economic growth. But fracking is more fundamentally – for those who live with it – a land use issue. It is about the air our children breathe, the water we drink, and the character of our communities.

Home rule municipalities have long been granted the authority to adjudicate conflicts with regard to land use issues. Zoning powers, in particular, are important tools for ensuring that the interests of a powerful few do not undermine the common good. There are also plenty of existing checks on any potential abuses of local authority, including regulatory takings laws and the general doctrine of pre-emption. Corporations are treated as persons with constitutional rights, whereas cities are treated largely as mere “creatures of the state.”
Cities are relatively powerless political entities to begin with. To further erode their power is to deal a fatal blow to a long-standing ideal that local governments are vital to democracy. As Alexis de Tocqueville argued: 
Municipal institutions constitute the strength of free nations. Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a free government, but without municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.

Indeed, it is this sense of public liberty that is put in jeopardy with this bill. I mean by that a basic right to participate in and exercise some meaningful control over the decisions that impact our lives. In a democracy that has sold its soul to capitalism and is, thus, awash with corporate money, municipal government is the last bastion of genuine public liberty.
Decisions about fracking should be made through accountable democratic institutions that provide a fair forum of deliberation for those who are most directly impacted by it and stand to gain or lose the most from it. Yet HB 1496 would hand all power to the state, including the Rail Road Commission, which has as its top priority the task of getting minerals out of the ground. The balance of governance at the state level is overwhelmingly tipped in favor of those who will profit from mineral extraction. That’s why corporations want the state to set the rules for fracking. Only government at the municipal scale provides a level playing field for all interested parties. That is, only municipal government can reign-in the avarice of corporations that get the loot but don’t have to pay for the externalities.
So, HB 1496 represents a big government takeover of small government control. Why would Texans ever favor that? Of course, they would not, unless of course they are being bankrolled by the oil and gas industry. And as it turns out the bill’s author, Van Taylor (who comes from Plano where there is no fracking activity) had his campaign financed in large measure by Denbury Resources, an oil and gas company.
This bill represents corporate corruption of genuine local democracy. It must not live.
Earthworks has this informative post set up about this proposed piece of state legislation. You can also look at this short history HB 1496. It is now being deliberated by the Land and Resource Management Committee. Here is the committee phone number: (512)463-1623. Here are the committee member e-mails, along with those of Van Taylor (the bill’s author) and Myra Crownover (Denton’s state representative).

Please write or call to express your opposition to this bill.

No comments:

Post a Comment