Texas Lawmakers Are Holding a Billion Dollars of Clean Air Funds Hostage

Houston skyline

What do you think that healthy communities, opportunities for businesses to expand, and diesel engines have in common?

The answer: in Texas, they’re tied together through a successful voluntary program called the Texas Emissions Reductions Plan (TERP).

TERP helps our state by:

  1. Working toward making sure all Texans breathe clean air
  2. Supporting business growth by ensuring that both Clean Air Act requirements are met and that businesses can attract talent to Texas
  3. Modernizing heavy-duty vehicle and equipment fleets through incentives for replacing the oldest, most polluting vehicles and equipment with clean technologies

TERP has been heralded by many diverse cheerleaders. We have talked about TERP’s success (and areas for improvement) in the past on Texas Clean Air Matters, but we aren’t alone in our support for the program. In fact, the program’s achievements were recently mentioned by Secretary of Energy and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who talked about TERP during his confirmation hearing opening statement. The program is also supported by both the Texas Association of Business as a 2017 Legislative Priority, and the Texas Clean Air Working Group (comprised of many local government officials, including air quality planners and others) which advocates for full funding of the program.

Unfortunately, despite strong support for the program from diverse stakeholders, the Texas Legislature is holding hostage $1.2 billion in TERP funding that has been collected by Texas taxpayers and businesses.

Revenues In, Revenues Out?

TERP is funded through a variety of mechanisms, as detailed below in the left-hand column on the table (“TERP Inflows”). TERP programs receive appropriations from the Texas Legislature each biennium, as is shown below in the right-hand column (“TERP Outflows”). To date, more than $2.4 billion has been collected since the program’s inception in 2001, but only $1.2 billion has been spent on clean air projects.

The unspent $1.2 billion is not being used for its intended purpose, but instead has remained on account to balance the state budget. Over the years, this amount grew because the Texas Legislature failed to fully appropriate all revenues that were collected for TERP and instead held funds back, growing the state’s coffers instead.

Moreover, the 2017 Texas Legislature appears to be considering holding back even more funds from TERP (see Senate Finance Committee Decision Document) as recently as last week. This means that the balance in the TERP account will continue to exceed the amount that has been spent on clean air projects. This is not only dishonest to Texas taxpayers and businesses who are paying for TERP, but the Texas Legislature is literally choking Texans by halting potential emissions reduction projects that could be helping improve air quality.

Several of Texas’ metropolitan regions are experiencing more days of moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy air quality than they do good days. For example, in 2016, the number of “good” air quality days in key Texas cities was only:

  • Houston-Woodlands-Sugarland – 164 good days (202 days that were classified as moderate or unhealthy)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington – 218 good days (148 days that were classified as moderate or unhealthy)
  • El Paso – 201 good days (164 days that were classified as moderate or unhealthy)
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels – 268 good days (98 days that were classified as moderate or unhealthy)
  • Austin-Round Rock – 280 good days (86 days that were classified as moderate or unhealthy)

It’s time that Texas lawmakers do the right thing by Texans – spend this money that has been collected from Texans for clean air rather than keeping it in state coffers. It’s time to restore this clean air funding so that all Texans can breathe easier.

By Christina Wolfe

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