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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

TLCV: Voters Should Reject “Toxic” Bill Keffer… Again

In 2006, voters in Dallas County stated unambiguously that they were pro-clean air, and pro-conservation by electing Democrat Allen Vaught over the incumbent polluter protector, Republican Bill Keffer. It appears as though former Representative Keffer is going to once again attempt to impose his anti-environment ideology on Dallas County and the state of Texas. The recent press and blog attention highlighting alarming amounts of radioactive pollution from increased gas drilling over the Barnett Shale (more on this below) gives voters the opportunity to once again remember why, in 2006, they un-elected Bill Keffer, and elected his opponent, Allen Vaught.

In 2006, The Texas League of Conservation Voters strongly backed Allen Vaught in his bid to unseat Bill Keffer, and we intend to do the same in 2008. Texans who care about their health and safety and our natural resources can’t afford to have a guy like Bill Keffer back in Austin.

Few House members, in such a short time, have compiled worse environmental records than former Rep. Keffer did from 2003-2005.

Consider former Rep. Keffer’s radical, anti-environment agenda and record:

  • Former Rep. Keffer supported the fast-tracking of TXU’s 16 new coal-fired plants that would further pollute Dallas air. (Dallas Morning News Oct. 5, 2006)
  • Former Rep. Keffer voted Against Gov. Perry-backed legislation to increase renewable energy in Texas and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. (SB 743, RV# 753, 2005)
  • Former Rep. Keffer voted for legislation that ties the hands of local district attorneys trying to prosecute environmental crimes, and instead gives bureaucrats in Austin this power. This bill was strongly opposed by District Attorney’s across the state, including the Dallas County District Attorney. (SB 1265 RV#501 – 2003 Session)
  • Former Rep. Keffer voted for legislation that gutted funding for our state parks and redirected dedicated money for our parks to general revenue. (House Bill 1, 2003, 2005)
  • Former Rep. Keffer was consistently one of the absolute lowest rated representatives, earning a Texas League of Conservation Voters Score of 0 in 2003, and 15% in 2005.

You really have to put a lot of effort into getting a “0”.

Keffer would make radioactive waste problem worse

In 2005, when former Rep. Keffer was in the Texas House, he filed HB 2881 (2005 Session) that would have given gas drilling companies “de-facto” immunity from NORM contamination. The seemingly innocuous acronym of NORM stands for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material. These are natural yet harmful by-products of oil and gas drilling. Two recent stories in the Denton Record Chronicle highlight growing concerns over the explosion of new gas wells being drilled over the Barnett Shale that are bringing these radioactive elements to the surface. As the press clips point out, cleaning up these harmful by-products at drilling sites where they are heavily concentrated can be a difficult and costly expense – one that many drillers would rather avoid.

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is charged with “regulating” all oil and gas drilling, but it is up to a drilling company to self-report if there are high levels of NORM at any given site. Clearly, self-regulation and reporting is not the answer. So, what’s the best way to make a bad situation worse? HB 2881 by former Rep. Keffer.

This bill would have required landowners whose property had been contaminated by NORM to first file a complaint with the Texas Railroad Commission. The RRC can then investigate the complaint itself or hire an outside private “entity”. If the RRC, or private “entity”, finds that damages have indeed occurred, they are then tasked with proposing a solution. In other words, under the proposed Keffer bill, the RRC, or its designated “independent entity”, would have the power to act as the police, the investigator, the judge, and the jury.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because former Rep. Keffer’s bill is modeled after the Texas Residential Construction Commission which was set up to stop homeowners, who found their slab was cracked or the plumbing didn’t work, from seeking restitution from the courts. The TRCC has widely been viewed as a lopsided disaster – an agency that works for the homebuilders rather than unfortunate and aggrieved homeowners. If former Rep. Keffer had passed his bill, he would have made a bad situation worse by giving drilling companies a blank check to poison us with radioactive material. Adding insult to injury, they would have never been held accountable for doing such a horrible thing.

It should come as no surprise that former Rep. Bill Keffer makes his living as a lawyer defending oil and gas companies from environmental lawsuits. His first big fundraiser this year was hosted by oil company executives, and the honorary host and emcee was Elizabeth Ames Jones, who just happens to be, wait for it … a Texas Railroad Commissioner.

But, as his radical agenda and indefensible record indicates, former Rep. Keffer’s disdain for protecting our natural resources, energy independence, and a common-sense approach to protecting the health and safety of Texans doesn’t stop or start with protecting oil and gas companies from accountability.

In direct contrast to former Rep. Keffer’s disdain for our environment, State Rep. Allen Vaught has proven his commitment to our state’s natural resources and the health and safety of his constituents. In his first legislative session, he scored a 96% on our legislative scorecard. He also sponsored an amendment on the House floor which would have lowered smog-producing pollutants for any future coal fired power plants. Allen Vaught is the kind of leadership we need in Austin. I hope all of you who support a cleaner environment will join us in helping to re-elect State Rep. Allen Vaught.

The Texas League of Conservation Voters is a coalition of Texans committed to clean air, clean water, and access to public lands, water, fish and wildlife. TLCV works to preserve and enhance the quality of life of Texans by making conservation a top priority with Texas elected officials, political candidates, and voters.

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