The fight over home rule moves to Texas House
Municipal control over activities involved in hydraulic fracturing has become a hot topic nationwide, with the small town of Denton, Texas, being one of the focal points of the conversation about local control of oil and gas regulations.
In Denton, the city passed legislation banning hydraulic fracturing, causing uproar in the industry and calling into question who has final say in regulating oil and gas activities. Denton enacted a frac ban under its authority as a home-rule city, but the Texas oil and gas industry responded saying that it is up to the state to regulate oil and gas.
“While home-rule cities like Denton may certainly regulate some aspects of exploration and drilling, The Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) does not believe that they may enact ordinances that outlaw conduct, like hydraulic fracturing, that has been approved and regulated by state agencies,” said Tom Phillips, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and one of TXOGA’s legal representatives.
New House bill looks to limit municipalities’ ability to accept petitions
It is against this backdrop that the Texas House of Representatives introduced House Bill 2595 earlier this month.
According to the bill’s text, “A municipality may not: accept for verification, certification, or other approval a petition requesting the enactment or repeal of an ordinance or charter provision, if the proposed enactment or repeal would restrict the right of any person to use or access the person’s private property for economic gain.”
In a committee report, State Rep. Jim Keffer said, “Referendum procedures can create a tyranny of the majority and undermine minority interests while also allowing outside interests to influence policies without respect for Texas election laws. H.B. 2595 seeks to address this issue by ensuring that private property rights cannot be trumped via an initiative and referendum process at the municipal level.”
Proponents of the bill hope that it will protect the rights of property owners who wish to use their land for economic gain. “There are property rights that have to be protected, and that’s what Texas is all about,” Keffer told The Texas Tribune.
Opponents of the bill worry that it will strip control away from municipalities, making it difficult for them to address concerns. Those who supported the Denton ban said it was a last-ditch effort to deal with noise and toxic fumes from wells near their homes.
H.B. 2595 passed the House with no debate during a voice vote. It has no companion in the Senate, so it will need a sponsor and committee assignment to advance further.
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