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Robbing power from the people!

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Columnist Bob Weir
Columnist Bob Weir

At Monday night’s meeting the Flower Mound Town Council took the first steps toward fighting the dictatorship coming out of Austin, Texas. Our GOP dominated Legislature, once a bastion of conservative principles such as smaller, less intrusive government, local control by residents of cities and towns, ensuring that power would be invested in the  people, has evidently had some sort of bizarre epiphany. Suddenly, they’ve decided that they know how to run our communities better than the people we elect to sit on our Town Councils.

The political party that has severely criticized President Obama for his “one size fits all” healthcare plan, has now decided that they have their own universal gas fracking formula, and they intend to force feed it to us with a prickly legislative spoon.

House Bill 40 and Senate Bill 1165, if passed, will give the state authority to decide what’s “reasonable” when it comes to positioning gas-drilling rigs near homes, schools, stores, etc. In effect, it will preempt the regulations for gas operations put in place by duly elected local representatives. Speaking of local reps, I think most residents are eagerly waiting to hear from State Rep. Tan Parker and State Senator Jane Nelson.

With a large portion of their constituencies in Flower Mound and its environs, they have a duty to support those who have consistently supported them at the polls.

If they are as conservative as I know them to be, they will view this as nothing less than a statewide power grab by a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor anxious to set a tough tone for their administration. If they really want to show how tough they are, they should look into the lobbying efforts by the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TOGA) and the money being funneled into the campaigns of like-minded legislators.

To add insult to local encroachment, TOGA President Todd Staples said his group supports the bills “because they provide cities with authority to reasonably regulate how surface activity…will be conducted in their jurisdiction, while affirming that regulation of oil and gas operations like fracking and production is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state.” In a prime example of verbal legerdemain, the first part of that sentence says we have the authority, but the second part says we don’t. When the government says they’ll tell you what’s “reasonable” hold onto your wallet! As Flower Mound Mayor Tom Hayden said last night about the slippery slope, “…what’s to say the state sets the zoning…sets the tax rate? It’s just another step. Why do we need a municipal government anymore?”

Why indeed! If the state decides that our zoning laws are too stringent they can pass another bill that shoves any size lots they deem “reasonable” into communities that have struggled to keep from becoming urbanized. Suppose the state decides that we’re not paying enough taxes, or that we have too many parks that could be turned into housing developments? Make no mistake about it; this is the beginning of the end of the time-honored Texas tradition of home rule. Our town leaders have worked assiduously for years to enact drilling ordinances that protect us from the perils associated with the highly pressurized water and hundreds of chemicals used in deep-injection hydraulic fracking.

Residents are rightly concerned about the risks of contaminating ground water, depleting fresh water, degrading air quality, and the potential for triggering earthquakes. Nevertheless, when the powerful oil and gas industry speaks; the recipients of their largess listen carefully and respond like marionettes, with strings briskly tugging. Does anyone think this authoritarian maneuver would have occurred before last November’s election? If Governor Abbott or Lt. Governor Patrick had been asked their opinion on whether the state should take away the rights of local voters, what do you think they’d have said? Keep in mind, during the gubernatorial campaign last year, Greg Abbot proudly boasted of how many times he sued the Obama Administration for their oppressive tactics.

Well, unless he’s running for the title of hypocrite of the decade, he should be feeling similarly about this proposed legislation that essentially allows Texas to oppress the rights of local residents to protect the health and safety of their families. The “frack anywhere” bill was introduced by State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Chairman of the Texas House Energy Resources Committee. The resolution passed by the FM Town Council last night opposes this usurpation of our freedom to govern ourselves. Let’s hope it’s merely the opening salvo to a battle that will save us from the heavy-handed tactics coming out of Austin.

Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.

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