Legislative Pulse: Texas State Rep. Phil King Fights for Fracking and Against Federal Overreach

Published March 24, 2016

Editor’s Note: Nine-term Texas state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) chairs the Texas State and Federal Power and Responsibility Committee and serves on the Texas Energy Resources, Environmental Regulation, and Federal Environmental Regulation Committees.

Burnett: In 2015, you co-authored a bill preventing municipalities from banning fracking. Why did you feel this bill was needed? 

King: Oil and gas deposits don’t stop at city limits. One of our largest natural-gas-producing counties has by itself over 30 municipalities. A patchwork of inconsistent municipal regulations would undermine Texas’ preeminent role in regulating oil and gas development. Furthermore, few cities, if any, have the in-house expertise [needed] to regulate drilling and production. That is not to say cities don’t have a role. Our legislation affirmed a municipality’s authority to regulate aboveground activity, including fire and emergency response, traffic, lights, noise, and reasonable setbacks. Bottom line: Texas must have consistent statewide regulations so natural resources can be developed safely, while protecting the environment, and also in a way that balances legitimate municipal interests with a property owner’s right to develop his or her estate.

Burnett: Texas is one of 27 states challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan in court. Do you support Texas’ suit, and, if you do, why do you support it? 

King: I support Texas’ lawsuit challenging the so-called Clean Power Plan. [This Environmental Protection Agency] regulation is an unprecedented expansion of federal executive power far exceeding the EPA’s authority under Section 111(d) or any other provision of the Clean Air Act. If implemented, the result will be substantially higher priced electricity for homeowners and businesses, along with reduced reliability. The financial impact on low-income families alone is untenable. EPA’s plan also treads heavily on state sovereignty, particularly in Texas, where the majority of our electric grid is independent from the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s] jurisdiction.

In light of the recent stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court on the CPP, legislatures and governors should unite across the country to suspend state planning activities until such time as the next president is elected and the new administration’s intent with regard to the CPP is known.

Burnett: Many federal regulations seem to have an especially disparate impact on Texas. What can the legislature do to limit the impact federal rules have on Texas businesses and residents?

King: To say federal rules have a disparate impact on Texas is an understatement. No one ever thought, for example, the Clean Air Act [of 1970], the Endangered Species Act [of 1973], or the Clean Water Act [of 1972] could be so brazenly expanded by federal agencies. Our legislature must adequately fund litigation challenging such abuse, and we have to work closely with our congressional counterparts to rein in the federal agencies. Although we look for opportunities beyond this, options are frustratingly limited.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.