Environment
2:58 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Texas Budget Big Enough To Tax Coal?

A budget deficit of $27 million has some people envisioning blackjack tables and penny slots in the parts of South and East Texas. Casino lobbyists are working overtime right now. But is the shortfall enough to put a tax on things like coal or making people pay a fee for driving cars that don't pass fuel efficiency standards?

The Texas League of Conservation Voters hopes so. The environmental policy lobby group calls this "green revenue."  They laid out some suggestions today at a press  conference held at the State Capitol.

“We feel that the state of Texas can really kill two birds with one stone in passing some of these green revenue measures this session," said TLCV Executive Director David Weinberg.

Here is what the group is proposing:

  1. Tax coal.
  2. Creating a bottle recycling program that would give people 5 to 10 cents back for recycling it. Unclaimed bottles would go to the state and could be cashed in.
  3. Charging people $100 for vehicles that do not pass federal fuel efficiency standards.
  4. Increasing fines for industry air polluters.

Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) is sponsoring most of these "green revenue" bills. One of them, which is probably the toughest to pass, is HB 355 that would impose a $3.18 fee per short ton of coal loaded into a railcar in Texas.  40 percent of our energy in Texas is produced by burning coal. The profits could be high. But the bill has only been referred to the House Ways and Means committee with no hearing set.

The fourth suggestion, increasing fines for industry air polluters, was actually a recommendation that came from a review of the Sunset Advisory Commission staff report on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It suggested that the TCEQ raises its penalty cap fees from $10,000 to $25,000.  The report states the recommendation would add a small revenue.

"While the recommendation to increase administrative penalty caps could increase penalties assessed and deposited in General Revenue, the amount would depend on specific violations and actual enforcement order, which fluctuate from year to year and could not be estimated. Based on 2009 data, this amount would have been $1.4 million."

Some of these suggestions have been pitched in previous legislative sessions, but no action was taken. It's a question of whether the budget hole is big enough, whether lawmakers are desperate enough, to raise "dirty taxes."