Several pieces of energy-industry legislation are teed up for debate as state legislatures reconvene for their first sessions of 2021. With topics ranging from offshore oil and gas moratoriums to restrictions on natural gas flaring and venting, the following is an overview of notable energy legislation to be heard in state legislatures this year.
The Texas Legislature convened for its 2021 session earlier this month with several issues on the agenda. HB 896 and HB 897, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Reynolds, make up a two-fold strategy to limit natural gas flaring and venting in the state. This pair of bills seeks the development of stricter state standards (HB 896) and an analysis of inspection and maintenance requirements for air quality permits for certain oil and gas facilities including regulatory and/or incentive-based approaches to reduce emissions (HB 897). Additionally, Texas lawmakers will hear legislation that seeks stricter rules regarding the structural integrity of above-ground storage tanks at chemical plants, refineries, electric power plants, and other similar storage facilities. HB 711 and SB 126, from state Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Sen. Nathan Johnson, respectively, directs the state to create tougher standards for tanks in areas prone to flooding, hurricanes, and similar weather events.
New Mexico’s 2021 Legislative Session will consider a bill that would significantly change how the state regulates oil and gas operations. Pre-filed and introduced by State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, SB 86 would add several new clauses and amendments to New Mexico’s Oil and Gas Act. The following are some of the bill’s key provisions: (1) requiring the use of produced, recycled, or treated water (rather than fresh water) in oil and gas drilling and development depths lower than protected freshwater resource zones; (2) expressly making the discharge or release of produced water illegal and establishing stricter penalties; (3) requiring companies to disclose the chemical makeup of produced water and requiring the state to track the water’s movement; (4) strengthening the state’s ability to track oil and gas operations and environmental impacts, (5) establishing that a violation occurs directly when a spill is reported.
In South Carolina, the subject of offshore oil and gas activities is again poised for debate. Senate Bill 119 (S. 119), pre-filed by GOP State Senator Chip Campsen in December of last year, seeks to codify an offshore moratorium against oil drilling and seismic testing. The bill was introduced for the first time this month and subsequently referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Massachusetts lawmakers recently re-filed a historic climate bill (S. 9), which provides for the overhaul of the state’s climate laws, the establishment of net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals, increase of requirements for purchasing offshore wind energy, the creation of renewable energy jobs, and several other climate-related provisions. A previous version of the bill was almost unanimously passed by the legislature on January 4, 2020 (vote of 145-9 in the House, 38-2 in the Senate). However, Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the bill, citing concerns related to the interim emission target and the requirement that utilities procure more offshore wind power, among others. The revised bill was referred to the committee on Temporary Ways and Means on January 19, 2021, and no hearing has been scheduled.
Proposed legislation seeking to prohibit bans on natural gas is expected to be heard and/or voted on this month in Indiana (HB 1191), Kansas (SB 24), Mississippi (SB 2123), Missouri (SB 230), Texas (HB 884), and Utah (HB 17). Similar to legislation passed last year in Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, these bills would bar local authorities from adopting or enforcing ordinances that prohibit or otherwise restrict the use of a natural gas service.
And finally, there are a growing number of proposals in state legislatures relating to the issue of environmental justice, which is the idea that low-income communities and communities of color tend to be disproportionately exposed to pollution and benefit the least from government regulation and investment. Environmental justice legislation in Washington (SB 5141) calls for the implementation of recommendations of a previously-created environmental justice task force to reduce health inequities in Washington. And in Oregon (HB 2488), the proposed legislation would require the state to make changes to land use planning goals to ensure environmental justice for disadvantaged communities.
This post provided a condensed overview, but there are several energy-industry issues to be debated in upcoming legislative sessions such as hydraulic fracturing and associated wastewater (Florida, Maryland, California, Massachusetts), updated regulations regarding abandoned oil and gas wells (Kansas), and renewable energy development and initiatives (Indiana, Maine, Virginia). For a comprehensive list of energy legislation to be heard in upcoming state legislative sessions, see: https://www.ncsl.org/research/energy/energy-legislation-tracking-database.aspx.
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