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Pollination, Pollinators, Utility Companies, HB 520




Texas Representative, Michelle Beckley, of District 65, introduced a bill, HB 520, in the 86h Legislative Session (2019) that would require utility companies to use native plants instead of sod to fill in disrupted land when they construct or maintain utility equipment on a Texas highway right of way. 

The conflict between a greener Texas highway system and the utility companies is the age old question of cost. The utility companies replant disrupted land with sod which is much less expensive than native plants. HB 520 was filed in 2019 in the Texas Legislature, and refiled this year in the 87th Texas Legislature.


HB 520’s Journey in the House of Representatives

In 2019, HB 520 did not make it to committee. The process of a legislative bill has several steps in which a bill can die. First, the author or authors of a bill file the bill. After a bill has been introduced, a short description of the bill, called a caption, is read aloud while the chamber is in session. At this point, the Texas Speaker of the House of Representatives will or will not assign the bill to a committee. 

The chair of each committee decides when the committee will meet and which bills directed to each committee will be considered. Bills to be considered will be scheduled for a hearing. After the hearing, called a first reading, a committee may choose to take no action or may issue a report on the bill. In the Texas House of Representatives, a copy of the committee report is sent to either the Committee on Calendars or the Committee on Local and Consent Calendars for placement on a calendar for consideration by the full house.

If the house considers the bill, it goes to the floor of the house, and this is called the second reading. The members then vote on whether or not to pass the bill. The bill is then considered by the full house again on the third reading and final passage. During the house of representatives floor action, amendments to bills are also considered and voted upon. 

HB 520 did not make it to committee in the 2019 legislative session. This year, HB 520 made it to the Texas Transportation Committee. HB 520 is actually an amendment to the Transportation Code, Subchapter C, Chapter 202. This literally means that HB 520 is an amendment to a chapter of the Transportation Code entitled: Texas highway system, including all roads, bridges, and ferries constituting a part of the system.

Michelle Beckley, the author of HB 520, represents a large part of Denton County, Texas, and a small slice of Dallas County. Michele owns a pet store and is interested in developing butterfly gardens. Michelle visited the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, last year. HB 520 asks utility companies to supply the native plants at their own cost. 

I spoke with Representative Beckley’s aide, Cesar Obregon. I asked about the opposition to this bill from the utility companies. Cesar simply answered, “They don’t want to pay for it. “ The main question if HB 520 passes is, “Will utility companies pass on this extra cost for native plants when they are disrupting land on a Texas highway to the consumer?”


HB 520 

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED

AN ACT

  relating to the regulation by the Texas Department of

  Transportation of right-of-way landscaping installed by utilities.

        BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

        SECTION 1.  Subchapter C, Chapter 202, Transportation Code,

  is amended by adding Section 202.062 to read as follows:

        Sec. 202.062.  LANDSCAPING IN RIGHT-OF-WAY BY UTILITIES.

  (a) In this section, "utility" means a person who owns or operates

  a utility facility in the right-of-way of a state highway,

  including a line, pipeline, conduit, or cable used to provide

  water, saltwater, steam, electricity, gas, oil, communications, or

  waste services.

        (b)  The department by rule shall require a utility that

  disturbs the right-of-way of a state highway while constructing or

  maintaining a utility facility in the right-of-way to install, at

  the utility's expense, in the right-of-way after the construction

  or maintenance is complete plants that:

              (1)  are native, regionally appropriate, and

  pollinator-friendly; and

              (2)  generally grow roots less than four feet below the

  surface.

        (c)  The department may consult with the Department of

  Agriculture as needed for the purposes of this section.

        SECTION 2.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2021.

Cesar and I had a lively conversation. He reported that HB 520 has 50/50 support in the Texas House. Authors of bills check on who is likely to vote a bill into a law throughout the bill’s journey before action on the house floor, which influences committee decisions, along with representatives and lobbyists from the utility companies. Thirteen Texas representatives form the Transportation Committee. 

Texas has ten natural ecoregions. A native plant in El Paso, Texas, is not a native plant in Sherman, Texas. The ecoregions of Texas are:

  • Piney Woods  
  • Gulf Prairies and marshes  
  • Post Oak Savannah  
  • Blackland Prairies  
  • Cross Timbers  
  • South Texas Plains  
  • Edwards Plateau  
  • Rolling Plains  
  • High Plains   
  • Trans-Pecos

Consumers never want to pay higher prices due to government regulations. The one element that I identified in this bill that could make it viable and give it a higher possibility of passage is about utility companies paying for the plants. I found many resources offering free seeds for butterfly gardens. 

The main problem with my solution is that extra bureaucracy will certainly happen. The main problems with utility companies paying for native plants are forwarding the cost to the consumer and unnecessary government regulations. The proposed native plants in HB 520 cannot have roots that grow over 4 feet into the soil so that they will not hinder any buried pipelines or other equipment. Moving forward, I looked into the importance of pollinating animals. 


Pollinators are Vital to our Earth

From Growing a Greener World:

“Pollination occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by pollinating animals and insects.

“Pollinators are vital to creating and maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter. Worldwide, over half the diet of fats and oils comes from crops pollinated by animals. They facilitate the reproduction in 90% of the world’s flowering plants.

“And it’s not just bees that are doing all the work. Butterflies, birds, beetles, bats, wasps, and even flies are important in the pollination process. Worldwide, there is a decline in pollinator populations. Excessive use of pesticides and the conversion of landscapes to human use are the most important issues.’ (1)


How Do These Pollinators Advance?

In the case of African honeybees and fire ants, they are both an invasive species to the North American Continent. These two species of insects will proliferate exponentially wherever they can take a strong hold. Case in point, Africanized honeybees and fire ants came from the South American Continent. From The American Association for the Advancement of Science:

“Africanized honeybees are a hybrid between European and African bee subspecies which were inadvertently released in Brazil in the 1950s. They have spread to the south as far as northern Argentina and to the north into the United States, as well as throughout much of South and Central America.

“In the southern United States, fire ants have been a menace since they snuck into North America in the 1930s from Argentina, most likely as cargo stowaways. They spread rapidly in Florida, Louisiana, and other southern states, driving out other ants and disrupting the landscape with prolific and aggressive colonies.” (1)


Native Plant Takeover

Our American Indian Tribes could speak well on the issue of the nativity of natural plants and natural habitation. If HB 520 passes, that would entail human intervention within this process. If a region of land is left to its own devices, native plants will dominate the germination process and induce pollination progression without government interference making sod a bureaucracy-free zone.


You Tell Us?

We all wish that our energy resources would do what is best for our environment, but the cost of preventing damage to our environment will be passed on to the consumer in this case. 

Which is more important? That utility companies support native plant production at their expense? Or that nature takes its place?

Please comment with your opinion of HB 520 on the 87th Texas Legislative session below. 

Sources

  1. https://www.growingagreenerworld.com/the-importance-of-pollinators/#:~:text=Pollinators%20are%20vital%20to%20creating,of%20the%20world's%20flowering%20plants.
  2. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/02/fire-ants-using-us-staging-ground-global-invasion#:~:text=In%20the%20southern%20United%20States,landscape%20with%20prolific%2C%20aggressive%20colonies.

 




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