When Democrat Texas State Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood filed a measure to place the state of Texas under a mandatory climate action plan, many across the aisle cried foul. “That’ll never happen in Texas. We’re an oil and gas state.”
But the radical policies that come along with a Green New Deal-style climate action plan are being quietly chopped up and parsed out to various other lawmakers who aren’t viewed as far left as Zwiener, and they are sailing through the House Transportation Committee with barely a whimper of opposition from Republicans.
Though Republicans hold a majority in the Texas House of 86-64, Democrats still chair significant committees, including House Transportation, which is chaired by Terry Canales (D–Edinburg). While Austin’s Climate Action Plan includes intentional slowing of speeds for cars and traffic-calming measures designed to restrict the free flow of auto lanes, such climate equity plans can also include increasing penalties on speeding and other aspects of driving (for example, prohibiting cars from passing pedestrians and cyclists without a specific distance as a buffer, or anything to put barriers in the way of free-flowing traffic). Houston’s Climate Action Plan also calls for slower speeds and other anti-car measures, with the express intent of getting people out of their cars and into buses or on bikes.
A steady flow of such bills, also dubbed Vision Zero, has passed out of committee, which also has a Republican majority—but just barely, by one seat. If one Republican doesn’t show up to vote, which is common, Democrats have the majority vote. HB 2224 was one of the first bills backed by environmental groups to pass out of committee, and it eventually passed the entire House with the help of Republicans (the Senate passed a similar version, SB 1663, early on). The House version is authored by Rep. Ana Hernandez (D–Houston) and would give cities unilateral power to lower speed limits on highways down to 20 m.p.h., without a traffic or engineering investigation to justify it.
The stated goal of Net Zero and Vision Zero-style climate plans adopted by city officials in most Texas big cities admits that they’re implementing policies to deliberately slow cars to force drivers out of them, under the guise of “safety” to attain the impossible—albeit noble—goal of zero fatalities on Texas roads. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner admits, “When the buses and the trains are going faster than the cars and the trucks, people will exit the cars and the trucks and use the buses and the trains.”
Austin’s CAP states: “We created the plan through the lens of racial equity.” This statement confirms climate plans are a vehicle to impose social justice policies, which Republicans claim to be against.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines the objective of traffic-calming as lowering speeds: “These objectives are typically achieved by reducing vehicle speeds.”
The Biden administration declares on its website that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in November of 2021 will “tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.’
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced his down payment on their plans to transform the way Americans travel with his Reconnecting Communities plan, making headlines by effectively declaring that “roads are racist.”
Under Austin’s CAP strategy #4, it reveals the goal is to encourage car-free transport: “Support locally initiated community events that are car-free and expand ‘Slow Streets’ programs…”
In its bicycle policy, it advocates traffic-calming, which is code for barriers to driving. “These local, neighborhood streets … can be further improved for people through measures such as traffic-calming.”
Yet, despite testimony revealing the connection to these Vision Zero goals in the bill, HB 2224 passed out of committee unanimously.
HB 3418 by Canales is a study on the best ways to impose a state mileage tax. The original filed bill requires TxDOT to “vary pricing based on the time of driving, type of public highway, proximity to transit, vehicle fuel efficiency, participation in car-sharing or pooling, or the income of the operator.”
That’s straight out of the Biden playbook. In a Government Accountability Office report on the expanded use of a mileage tax published just after the infrastructure bill passed, it lays it out, “Another type of equity is the ability-to-pay principle, where users who are more capable of bearing the burden of fees should pay more for the service than those with less ability to pay.”
The version that passed out of committee removed income (for now). However, it still requires TxDOT to “evaluate the enforceability of the vehicle mileage user fee and opportunities for operators to evade or manipulate the fee; and the impact of the vehicle mileage user fee on equity.”
It also requires TxDOT to “submit to the legislature a report including: the feasibility of permanently assessing a vehicle mileage user fee; an evaluation of the impacts of a vehicle mileage user fee on the economy, the environment, and traffic congestion; and the department’s recommendations together with suggested legislation necessary to implement the recommendations.”
Plank #63 in the 2022 GOP platform opposes a mileage tax, but a Democrat committee chair likely isn’t phased by what’s in the GOP platform (especially given so many Republican lawmakers don’t care either). Ultimately, a mileage tax is the open door to becoming a carbon tax, because the government would be able to track and penalize drivers for driving “too much,” at the “wrong” time of day, or for actions they deem environmentally unacceptable like choosing to drive when you live close to transit.
HB 3418 passed out of committee with only one Republican voting no (John Lujan).
House Bill 1855 by Vikki Goodwin (D–Austin) would double traffic tickets in any corridor TxDOT designates as a “highway safety corridor.” Remember, “safety” is the code word to enact draconian penalties on drivers and devise ways to intentionally slow down cars. This type of designation could easily be abused to become punitive speed traps. It passed the committee with only three Republicans voting against: Trent Ashby, Caroline Harris, and Jared Patterson.
Another bill would divert road funds to environmentally friendly projects. HB 1379 by Lina Ortega (D–El Paso) would potentially divert toll revenues from roads to green spaces and recreational areas that promote biking and walking. It passed committee with only Harris and Patterson voting against.
Another bill by Canales, HB 1885, allows TxDOT to “temporarily” reduce the speed limit 10 m.p.h. below the posted speed for virtually any purpose, and it fails to define “temporary”—so, it could last indefinitely. Ever enter inactive work zones for months and even years with lower posted speeds? Imagine that spread like a virus.
HB 421 by Ray Lopez is one of the worst for drivers to comply with. It wasn’t hard to make the connection to climate agenda when Vision Zero Texas directly testified in favor of it. It requires a 3-foot passing buffer in order to pass cyclists or pedestrians on a highway or street, and a 6-foot buffer for anything over a light truck. When most city streets are 10 feet wide (and highways are generally 12 feet), most cars and no trucks would be able to pass cyclists or pedestrians without moving over. Depending on the traffic in the lane next to you, it could take awhile, and when all cars would be forced to move over for miles and miles, it would effectively reduce auto lane capacity by an entire lane until the cyclist or pedestrian is no longer in the roadway. If you have the misfortune of driving on a one lane road, you’d be stuck traveling the speed of a bicyclist or pedestrian until the cyclist or pedestrian is no longer on the road. The bill passed committee with only one Republican, Trent Ashby, voting against.
Another bill, this time authored by a Republican, Lynn Stucky, HB 898 would mandate new criminal penalties and more than double the fine (up to $1,250) for drivers who fail to move over when passing police, fire, tow trucks, TxDOT and other road workers on the shoulder. On a second offense, a conviction will land you in jail and your license suspended for six months. There’s no room in this bill for the fact it could have been due to an untenable or unavoidable situation by the driver trying to comply, yet facing other perilous hazards if they slow down too quickly (like causing a pile-up behind them or crash into other vehicles if the driver forces his/her way over in crowded conditions). HB 898 passed committee unanimously and passed the House 139-9.
Where is the Republican pushback to these radical environmental policies aimed at punishing drivers? The punishment sure doesn’t seem to fit the “crime,” yet the same Texas House just voted to lower penalties for marijuana possession and allow records to be expunged for past convictions. Texas drivers need to wake up and speak up now if they want to retain their freedom of movement and travel liberties. While the Senate Transportation Committee has heard only one of these bills so far, other committees have heard and passed radical climate policies taking aim at fossil fuels, including your gas stoves, like SB 258 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt that would permit home energy audits that allow the climate “police” to come after your old appliances and force our public utilities into some of their green energy mandates by 2030, including a new fee added to your energy bill. It passed the Republican-dominated Senate Business and Commerce Committee 9-2. Voters deserve better.
This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to email@example.com