Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Testimony in the 2013 Legislature Before The Energy Resources Committee in Opposition to House Bill 2828

Notes for HB2828 Pipeline Preemption

My name is Calvin Tillman and I live in Aubrey, TX.  However, for the purpose of HB 2828, I am here on behalf of the small community of DISH, TX, where I serve as an unpaid municipal consultant and citizen's advocate.  The town of DISH has some of the greatest and earliest impacts from the natural gas boom in the Barnett Shale, more specifically the natural gas pipeline industry.  I served three terms in the local government of DISH and we are adamantly opposed to this bill.  

This bill has been characterized as a bill to prevent municipalities from implementing different safety regulations on pipeline companies.  The pipeline industry does not want to be faced with different safety rules in each municipality that they do business in.  Different than what state and federal regulations currently require.  This is understandable.

However, currently municipalities are preempted by state and federal law, and have been for many decades from implementing ANY safety standards on pipeline companies.  It short municipalities, are and have been for many years restricted from the ability to regulate safety on pipelines in any manner. This has been held up in numerous court cases, most recently in the case of The City of Grand Prairie vs Texas Midstream Gas, which was the pipeline branch of Chesapeake Energy.  Therefore, this bill has nothing to do with municipalities implementing different safety standards.  

This bill could and likely will be interpreted to preempt all municipal ordinances including noise abatement for compressors engines, nuisance ordinances, and aesthetic requirements for above ground appurtenances.  These simple requirements are   meant to prevent property devaluation and preserve quality of life.   

Imagine spending your life savings on a piece of property and building your dream home.  Now imagine an industry moving a facility in next door that emits loud noises and horrible odors.  Noises and odors so bad that you are unable to enjoy  going outside and enjoying the property which you have spent your life savings on.   How would you like that?  If you pass this bill, you will be taking away a municipality's ability to prevent it.
I am the first to say that the proper place for this kind of a discussion is inside of the working group that was put together a few years ago to develop the best practices, not inside of a hearing room at the Texas Legislature.  This group worked very hard to prevent the need for further regulations.  

If this bill were to pass and the ability of a municipality to have any input on pipelines would be taken away completely, you will essentially take away a municipality's ability to plan for the future.  This will destroy the municipality's ability to implement a comprehensive plan, or zoning for that matter.  For example, a small community may  have a plan in place to develop a certain area as a business district, and a pipeline company decides that they need a compressor station or pipeline in that area, they are able to condemn the property against the will of the property owner, and without municipal input they can essentially destroy the municipality's ability to grow.  Completely destroying the possiblity for a future business district.  

Although the substitute does allow for the municipality to charge a fee for the crossing of a municipal right of way, it is unclear if a municipality will have any input on where the pipeline crosses, or how the municipality's property will be used.  

The substitute bill does allow for the mapping and inventorying which is critical to the day to day operations of a municipality and currently one of the few things that municipalities can currently require.  

Municipalities and pipeline companies need to be forced to negotiate matters such as this, however, this bill would give an unreasonable amount of authority to an industry that has a history of not using it's authority well.  This bill is also is an encroachment on a municipality's ability to control it's own future.  

For communities like DISH, TX the ability to grow will be taken out of of the municipality's hand and given to the hands of a bureaucrat at the Railroad Commission, and could essentially turn many small communities into heavy industrial areas.  Which will destroy property values and prevent residents from peacefully enjoying the property which they likely spent their life savings to buy.

Having served as a small town mayor and town commissioner, it is clear that a small local government is the purest form of a democracy.  My citizens were not a vote or a number, they were my friend and neighbors.  I met them at the grocery store and at our kids tee-ball games.  They helped me build my barn, and their children played or in some cases babysit my children.  They were friends, neighbors and extended family.  I urge you to  leave local officials some authority to protect their citizens, don't take it all away.

In closing I will read a comment from the current mayor of DISH, TX, Bill Sciscoe that I just received via text message - 

We R on the short lisr of the filthist places on earth because of the N. Gas industry. We R almost defenseless now because of legislation just like this.  

Our citizens deserve better than this from our legislators. 

I want to thank the chairman and committee for allowing me to speak on behalf of the great small, resilient community of DISH, TX.   

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