Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation that could make it tougher for local governments to sue big-time polluters – an effort that largely targets Harris County prosecutors.
House Bill 1794, set to become law on Sept. 1, will set a five-year statute of limitations and cap payouts at about $2 million when counties sue companies that have fouled their water or air. It’s another win for a wide range of business groups in a rough legislative session for environmental advocates.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, pushed the bill through both the House and Senate, drawing little debate.
Proponents say that curbing the civil penalties assessed on top of those state regulators issue would bolster economic certainty for companies and allow them to focus resources on cleaning up their messes.
“If someone is remediating the violations they have, I don’t believe they should be assessed these additional penalties,” Geren said in an interview last month. “I don’t believe it’s a setback for environmentalists at all because we didn’t take away any authority from the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality].”
Environmentalists beg to differ. With other critics, they say state environmental regulators don’t do enough to hold polluters accountable, and that limiting local suits would encourage more pollution that jeopardizes public health.
“It is a terrible bill, and it is designed to protect polluters,” Terry O’Rourke, special counsel with the Harris County attorney’s office, told The Texas Tribune last month. “That’s all it is: It is a polluter protection bill.”
The more things change, y’all…