During the campaign for the fracking ban, we made one point very clear: this is a Denton thing. It’s not just that the ban applies only in the city limits of Denton. It’s also that the citizens of Denton were uniquely vulnerable to the harms and nuisances of fracking. Past municipal policies combined with state laws to create conditions where frack sites could be located in extreme proximity to homes despite our best efforts to adopt reasonable protections.
Indeed, we tried for years to find workable solutions. In the end, we were left with the regrettable choice of either the ban or sacrificing our health and safety.
The ban, however, is not just a Denton thing for our state legislators. Rep. Phil King, for example, is still spouting crazed lies about the involvement of “out-of-state liberal political groups.” Rather than a local, non-partisan movement for commonsense land use reform (bakeries are not allowed in neighborhoods, but frack sites are!?), he spins the Denton ban as part of a vast anti-fossil fuel, anti-American conspiracy.
This is the same rhetoric that was used (oh so successfully!) during the campaign. And now it is painfully clear why state leaders want things framed in such an apocryphal light. It gives them cover for adopting draconian, scorched-earth policies (like HB 40 by Darby R, San-Angelo) to annihilate local regulation of oil and gas. They are even going so far as to propose the elimination of home rule (SB 343 by Huffines R, Dallas), which would effectively centralize all political power in Austin.
The fracking ban couldn’t be just a Denton thing for the plutocrats in Austin, because then they’d have to actually do their homework about the conditions that led to the problem. And they’d have to actually propose meaningful fixes in an attempt to prevent a similar situation from arising again. This would entail revising state laws about vested rights and the mineral estate that they are too cowardly to touch, because it would offend their corporate patrons.
Rather than propose policy fixes grounded in the gritty realities of urban fracking, they’ve invented a bogeyman of collectivist “California nightmares” to justify their legislative extremism. In a surreal political circus, they’ve transformed a local land use and safety issue into a state war on cities. In so doing, they’ve completely put the lie to their supposed commitments to small government and local control. They’ve packed all of their perverse ideological clowns into the little car that is Denton.
Their arrogance and ignorance is shocking. I can understand not liking the fracking ban. But why did our so-called representatives never take the time to learn exactly what happened in Denton to force us to this point? Why did they not visit or set up conferences with the people? There has been not one sincere effort to listen and dialogue or one gesture that the ban was a result of state policies that fail to protect people. They only put us in one of their ready-made boxes reserved for lunatics and used their misinformed anger to write bills to please the special interests they really work for.
Representative Darby’s HB 40 is the latest act in the circus. It seeks to expressly preempt municipal control of oil and gas development.
HB 40 claims that Texas has successfully balanced the goals of maximizing mineral production while protecting the environment and public health and safety. Insofar as this balance has been accomplished, it’s only because of the crucial role that has long been played by cities in regulating oil and gas development. Without cities, for example, there are no setback requirements greater than100 feet. There are no nuisance mitigation measures. So, by the bill’s own logic, cities have been essential to oil and gas development in Texas.
But Darby (who is only the piper playing the tune called by the Texas Oil and Gas Association) then turns around and undermines a key piece of the very success story that he extols by gutting city authority. Yet, one provision in the bill actually seems to allow cities to do what they’ve done all along. So, what’s going on here?
Again, if this was about crafting rational policies, there would be no way to explain it. We have to see it as a political stunt, a kind of chest-thumping Morse code to the powers that be. I’ve come to think of Austin as a kind of jungle where lawmakers engage in a great deal of symbolic, turf-defining posturing, peeing, and preening without any indication they actually care about writing sensible laws that could do some good in the world.
Now, I don’t mean to impugn all of our state lawmakers. I’m sure many are quite civic-spirited. I can’t say the same, however, about those who have turned a Denton thing into an excuse to further entrench industry power and further eviscerate protections for health, safety, property rights, and quality of life. Or perhaps just an excuse to grab the spotlight to showcase their own zaniness.
Fresh off our empowering experience at the local level, we are now getting a different flavor of ‘democracy’ at the state level. There it is reduced to frantically calling and visiting offices located hours away in an effort to kill devastating bills…bills that are so obnoxious we can never be sure that anyone seriously intended them to go anywhere in the first place.
Say what you will about City Hall. At least there you don’t have to deal with these bizarre ritualistic dances of industry and ideologues.