As if our governor wasn’t already having a bad hair day last week, just as the Weekly was putting to bed its latest story on the Trans-Texas Corridor (“Brake Lights,” March 7, 2007), rookie State Sen. Robert Nichols, a former state transportation commissioner, was introducing two bills that should have made that famous coif turn white.
The first would prohibit any non-toll road or bridge from being converted to a toll facility and stipulates that if toll lanes are added to a non-toll road, the number of free lanes cannot be reduced. The second would put a two-year moratorium on all toll roads not already under contract, during which time their potential impact would be studied. Can you say “kill the TTC”?
Oh, and by the way, Nichols is a Republican, just like State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who introduced an identical bill in the House earlier. And Nichols’ bill was co-signed by 24 of the Senate’s 31 members. Don’t look now, governor, but your troops are dropping like doves on the opening day of hunting season.
None of the three bills, nor any of the other dozen or so anti-TTC measures introduced in the last month, are guaranteed to pass, of course, and Perry would no doubt veto any that did. But they are a pretty good indication that this Republican-dominated legislature is in open revolt.
How reassuring that locally active energy companies have formed a committee to discuss water conservation in North Texas’ Barnett Shale natural gas field. And by “how reassuring” we really mean “how ludicrously hypocritical.” Companies that have used millions upon millions of gallons of water during recent drought conditions to blast through the underground rock and capture natural gas are suddenly concerned? Companies that tap into aquifers – and then shun nearby homeowners who experience subsequent water well problems – are now interested in being neighborly? An industry that has bullied and lobbied and schmoozed politicians for the past 100 years to ensure flimsy laws and relaxed government oversight is now environmentally alarmed? Well, so glad that problem is solved.
Static, ever hopeful, wants to believe committee spokeswoman Deborah West when she says drilling companies are truly and proactively interested in conserving and recycling water and in sharing best practices with each other. The Barnett Shale Water Conservation and Management Committee is “not something we had to form, we just thought it was the right approach and the thing to do,” she said.
The cynic in Static sees a more likely scenario. In the past couple of years, independent publications such as Fort Worth Weekly and the Denton Record-Chronicle have revealed the energy industry’s extensive use of water and its lack of accountability when problems occur. A grassroots swelling of protest in Parker, Wise, and other rural counties that rely on groundwater is showing signs of strength. Residents in Fort Worth, Haslet, and many other cities are raising hell about the industry’s impact on their quality of life. A few legislators are beginning to listen. Energy companies are scrambling to improve their public relations by trotting out this dog-and-pony committee to protect their interests while they continue making a bundle of money. Meanwhile, the companies increasingly invade people’s privacy; create industrial worksites next to people’s homes, parks, and schools; run heavy trucks up and down little roads that can’t help but crumble under the weight; and use hundreds of millions of gallons of our most valuable natural resource in order to get at natural gas. Bottom line: Oil and gas drilling is profitable but it isn’t clean or quiet or environmentally sensitive, and it’s a pain in the ass when it occurs near your home.