We are grateful to the incumbent, Mr. Biedermann, for his attentive ear and his efforts over the past few years to help protect HD 73 citizens and our state’s natural resources from out-of-control (and often out-of-state) companies in the aggregate production operations (APO) industry.
2020 General Election candidates for Texas State Representative, District 73: Stephanie Phillips and Kyle Biedermann. (Courtesy candidate Facebook pages)
Biedermann Bills & Voting Record
Mr. Biedermann worked closely with us prior to and during the last legislative session to author significant, meaningful legislation that would have required quarries to obtain mining permits, required reclamation and restoration of mined land, increased the setback distance for rock crushers, allowed for unannounced inspections of APOs, and required the TCEQ to conduct additional assessments before issuing air quality permits.
During the past legislative session, nearly one hundred other bills related to quarries, concrete batch plants, other APOs, TCEQ permitting, and water issues were introduced. Unfortunately, most of this legislation met a similar fate and never made it out of committee. However, there were three bills that did make it to the floor for a vote: HB 798, HB 907, and HB 2726. On each of these, Mr. Biedermann voted favorably (with our position), sometimes parting ways with his caucus when necessary to protect citizens’ rights and hold the industry accountable.
In recent years, most Republicans haven’t earned reputations as defenders of the environment. But the Sierra Club assigned Mr. Biedermann a 49 percent rating during the 2019 session—the second best rating among Republicans, and a higher rating than a number of Democrats.
Looking Toward 2021
Furthermore, Mr. Biedermann, with the environmental experts on his team, has met with TCEQ, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, and other state agencies numerous times to learn about their processes, culture, and to share concerns of District 73 citizens. Biedermann and his staff were instrumental in the placement of new TCEQ air quality monitors in northern Bexar and Comal County (the only particulate matter air monitor in Comal).
In anticipation of the upcoming 87th legislative session, Mr. Biedermann has been actively working with other legislators, state agencies, and community groups such as ours, laying the groundwork for his legislative priorities.
Kyle Biedermann and his team have put together an array of specific, actionable legislative priorities for 2021 including common-sense restrictions for APOs over aquifer recharge zones, granting certain counties power to regulate locations of APOs (as they already do with landfills), prohibit use of eminent domain by APOs, and imposing additional restrictions and requirements on proposed pipelines. Mr. Biedermann also supports ongoing efforts to establish statewide best management practices (BMPs) for quarries, concrete batch plants, and other aggregate operators.
Stephanie Phillips’ concern for the environment and passion for clean air, water, and protection of our beautiful Texas Hill Country is abundantly clear. Over the past few years, she has taken the time to meet with us and hear our concerns about quarries, APOs, and TCEQ.
We are confident that her top priorities would include protecting our natural resources and holding polluters accountable—especially those over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. She places a special emphasis on forming coalitions of elected officials, community groups, and state agencies to preserve our natural resources and protect the health of HD 73 citizens. She supports increased local control for counties and would work to reform TCEQ and strengthen their regulatory authority.
Ms. Phillips would be a tireless advocate for promoting issues important to our organization and defending the environment.
It is a pleasure to have two strong candidates who are both supportive of our efforts and ready to step up to the plate for residents of the Texas Hill Country.
When it comes to issues concerning quarries, other APOs, and problems with TCEQ, Kyle Biedermann and his staff have been solidly behind us and supportive of our cause. His hard work on behalf of District 73 citizens, open-door policy, burgeoning relationships with state agencies and other legislators, and specific legislative solutions approaching the 2021 session earn our endorsement and support.
Early voting begins on October 13 and election day is November 3, 2020. Visit the Comal County Elections webpage for polling locations and sample ballots. Candidate responses to our questionnaire are listed below.
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment sent a candidate questionnaire to both candidates in August, then followed up with each candidate. Responses from each candidate are shown below verbatim. As per instructions, responses have not been edited for spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. “No response received” is shown for any candidate who did not reply by the September 23 deadline.
Question 1. During the 2019 legislative session, nearly one hundred bills related to quarries, aggregate production operations (APOs), water resources, and TCEQ permitting were introduced. Unfortunately, very few were passed into law. Leading up to and throughout the next session, describe your planned approach, tactics, and strategies to pass legislation to protect District 73 citizens and our state’s natural resources from the negative impacts of quarries and APOs.
Phillips: As the Representative for HD-73 I will become an active partner with neighboring elected officials, community groups, Hill Country Alliance, and other stakeholders to build relationships with the existing coalition of environmental groups working to protect the Hill Country, Edwards Aquifer and the recharge zone. There is a very effective coalition that is working on the broader issues of protecting the region and it will be crucial to be an active partner in these efforts. I would also join forces with all working groups at the state lege that are studying the issue, researching solutions and developing legislation to regulate the aggregate industry in TX. In the past session HD-73 was not an active part of this coalition. This issue is a key priority for me, and joining the coalition would be one of my first actions upon being elected.
The Texas Hill Country, especially the recharge zone area that would be impacted by the proposed Quarry, is bio-diverse, uniquely fragile and deserving of protection. Damage to the recharge area and the Edwards Aquifer would negatively impact water resources for millions of central Texans and have a negative impact on property values and the local tourist economy. The rugged landscape and pristine waters are a magnet for tourists and for a growing population that values the area’s natural beauty and the many opportunities for outdoor recreation. The means to successfully passing legislation will be to effectively communicate a vision that makes clear the economic benefits of long term protection of the Comal Springs and Aquifer region as well as the catastrophic regional effects of environmental degradation. The task at hand is largely one of networking, effective marketing, coalition building, communication and understanding your constituency. The most important step is to make this a priority, use the platform of the office and to take responsibility for getting bipartisan support and passing the necessary legislation.
Biedermann: For approximately 10 years the Texas Legislature has proposed levels of legislation to change the current environmental regulations governing aggregate production operations (APO). I am continuing to reach out to local and state organizations like the Texans For Responsible Aggregate Management and other parties to seek their insights and obtain specific language for proposed bills on better managing APO’s.
This past legislative session I used a two-pathway approach for APO’s. One was to pursue adding new regulations for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the second way was to pursue transferring the TCEQ APO Program to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). The TRRC presently governs surface mining activities for the uranium and coal mining industries. The agency has far-reaching regulations and rules in place that would significantly impact the permitting, inspection, and enforcing of APO’s. I will be meeting again with TRRC Commissioners on this transfer of authority. Also, a law is in place that allows counties the authority to regulate the location of solid waste landfills. I plan to submit a bill that modifies this existing law that will include APO’s. This will only be applicable for Gillespie, Kendall, and Comal Counties and not for other counties in Texas.
Moreover, the APO Interim Charge Committee, which was established last legislative session, will be critical to the future of how Texas governs APO’s. I am closely involved with the discussions and findings of this group. At this time, there is a movement for the state to establish best management practices (BMP’s) for the APO Industry. I am hopeful that if this committee concludes that this is the best approach to take that BMP’s already developed for other states will be seriously considered, that the public, academia, and scientific and environmental organizations will be members of the groups to develop and approve the best BMP’s, and that meaningful and enforceable actions can be taken by the state regulatory agency against APO’s not complying with the BMP’s.
Question 2. Does the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have major, systemic problems related to regulation and permitting of APOs such as quarries, concrete batch plants, asphalt plants, and similar facilities? If so, what are the biggest issues, what needs to be done to solve them, and how will you help?
Phillips: YES. President Harry Truman was famous for his motto “The buck stops here!” It seems that when it comes to finding the necessary tools for making common sense land use decisions, regulation and permitting of APO’s, and enacting basic environmental protections at the local level the buck stops…nowhere. County Commissioners say their hands are tied and they don’t have the statutory authority to enact local regulations. State legislators pass responsibility back to the local Commissioners or the TCEQ. The TCEQ has become so weakened as a regulatory authority that it is essentially functioning as a permitting agency without much ability to require environmental or water impact studies. What we have to understand is that this lack of any regulatory authority is by design. The Texas Legislature can reinstate the regulatory authority of the TCEQ and create an agency that has the teeth to reign in destructive industries. The Texas Legislature also has the power to grant county authorities more local control over citing decisions and the ability to enact local environmental regulations that protect our air and water. Any indication that the responsibility lies with TCEQ to regulate in ways that it no longer can or that County Commissioners have not expressed extreme frustration with their lack of local authority is disingenuous and irresponsible. Meaningful changes that increase local control or strengthen the TCEQ will be shut down by the powerful oil and gas interests in the Texas House until we elect a larger number of Representatives who are not beholden to Empower Texas and other fossil fuel interests.
Biedermann: The TCEQ currently regulates large APO rock quarries via an air quality permit and a water pollution management plan. There are no current permitting requirements for APO’s that address reclamation of the property, identification of how much water is being used and the impact on the source of the water, transportation studies to determine the structural impact on the roadways and to confirm the public’s safety, performance of air particulate studies to determine the quality of air emissions from the entire single facility and the cumulative impact of all closely located APO’s on the community and the involvement and concurrence of other state agencies before the permit is issued. These are critical areas that need to be addressed by the TCEQ before any APO permit is issued and will take legislation to address.
My staff has been reaching out to other states and state organizations to determine how APO’s are being regulated. We are looking at what is working and how the various requirements have been implemented. Additionally, I am working with the senior managers from the TCEQ. I believe the agency can be performing certain studies and assessments that are not required under existing regulations but can be performed using staff and discretionary funding. As part of my strategy to ensure Texans are more fully protected, I am closely working with my Hill Country and other state elected colleagues from other parts of Texas. We all share basic concerns about APO’s and we need to use our combined influences to change the existing APO permitting program.
Question 3. Vulcan Construction Materials will likely soon submit a Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP) for their proposed 1500-acre quarry in Comal County. Water quality and supply are vital to District 73—both as a foundation for the local tourism industry as well as for human consumption and agriculture. Heavy industrial operations, quarries, and mining directly over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones endanger one of our most precious natural resources—water. When Vulcan submits their WPAP for this facility, how, specifically, will you be involved and what actions will you take as a state representative?
Phillips: District 73 is heavily reliant on our pristine water for attracting tourists from across the country. The economic impact of the tourist industry is significant and far exceeds the economic benefits of the proposed quarry. In order to preserve the unique beauty of the hill country, and to ensure the economic wellbeing of the district I will strongly advocate for the citizens of HD-73, and fight against heavy industrial operations around the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones. As Representative, I will use the platform of my office to draw attention to this issue, and combat the misinformation being propagated by Vulcan. A quarry directly over the Aquifer recharge is a danger to the cave and aquifer system as well as a threat to the geologically sensitive Comal Springs. I believe we need to change the way we look at this issue and I take inspiration from the “one water” initiative. One Water promotes management of all water within a specific geographical area as a single resource, that must be managed viably and sustainably. I intend to partner with national organizations as well as local advocacy groups to bring attention to the damages the planned quarry will have on the environment of the hill country. It is a blessing to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the state, and I will work to protect our natural resources for future Texans.
Biedermann: I am not waiting for the submission of the WPAP to the TCEQ. My staff has been in contact with the TCEQ and have identified our significant interest in certain aspects of the WPAP. Due to the proposed location of the Vulcan Construction Materials APO, the TCEQ review should perform an extremely detailed review of all available information regarding the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. I support the TCEQ calling upon university and college resources and Federal agencies like the United States Geological Survey to assist them in assessing the many different geological and hydrogeological factors associated with locating an APO over any groundwater aquifer recharge zone. Locating an APO over such a highly sensitive groundwater area that is the central source of water to over 2 million people and large agricultural and industrial operations must be pursued with great caution.
I will be continuing my dialogue with the Edwards Aquifer Authority, local university and college academia, environmental organizations, other Hill Country legislators, and other key stakeholders to strengthen my understanding and everyone else’s on locating APO’s over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone. I do plan on submitting a bill that specifically addresses any APO being proposed to be located over a recharge or transition zone in District 73.
Question 4. Eminent domain has recently been used by a Vulcan subsidiary, Southwest Gulf Railroad, to condemn properties that Medina County landowners refused to sell. Now this Vulcan company has built a nine-mile railway to connect a quarry to the Union Pacific line. In Hill Country counties just to the north, Kinder Morgan is using eminent domain to seize land and easements for their Permian Highway Pipeline. What specific actions have you taken (for challengers, would you take) to help correct the imbalance of power between large corporations and their lobbyists, and regular citizens and landowners when it comes to property rights and eminent domain condemnation?
Phillips: In a survey conducted by Texans for Property Rights, 60% of property owners faced with eminent domain said that the taking was done by a private company and not by the government entity. In addition, only 2% of the respondents felt the initial offers for compensation were fair. The Texas Legislature needs to level the playing field and create a fair process when eminent domain is necessary. It is time to give more protections to private landowners and end abusive practices, particularly by private corporations who use the government-sponsored power of eminent domain.
I would support legislation that provides for significant improvements in the transparency, fairness and accountability of the eminent domain process. Landowners are entitled to public meetings in their own county to better understand why their land is being taken, the taking process, and to have their questions answered. Landowners are entitled to a fair compensation process and Corporations should have consequences when they profit off of seized land or when they offer drastically undermarket bids.
Biedermann: I am on the Land and Resource committee that hears eminent domain bills. I reached out to the leadership of the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and expressed serious concerns about landowners and the public not being included in these land condemnations. Both agencies stated that they had virtually no authority in the eminent domain process. In this last legislative session, I supported the passage of legislation that would have allowed the public more opportunity to voice their concerns. This bill also allowed landowners being impacted by eminent domain condemnation to receive a more accurate valuation for their property as well as more transparency and fairness in payments for the easement affecting their property.
I have continued discussions with these two state agencies, and as a result, I plan to submit legislation. One bill will call for the elimination of eminent domain condemnation for the aggregate industry. A second bill will call for all future oil and gas pipeline companies to address why the existing rights-of-way for currently used and unused pipelines are not available as well as accountability for the routes of the pipelines. The bill will also include language requiring oil and gas companies to perform an environmental/geological assessment for all pipelines being installed in groundwater aquifer recharge and transition zones and under rivers/streams.
Question 5. The mission of Preserve Our Hill Country Environment is to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country against the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry. Considering our mission and the interest of our over 5,000 members, followers, and supporters, why do you think you are the best person to represent District 73?
Phillips: Protecting the unique ecology, caves, and living waters of the Hill Country region from destruction by irresponsible and reckless aggregate industry expansion is my number one priority. As your Representative, I will work tirelessly to stand up for the citizens of HD-73, and protect the natural beauty and the biodiversity of our home. I pledge to ensure the safety of our air and water, and not to focus on lining the pocketbooks of those in the aggregate industry. As State Representative I will sponsor legislation to reform TCEQ, grant increased local authority to counties to enact common sense environmental policies, and work to build bipartisan coalitions that will succeed in providing the kinds of protections that we require. The ecological wonder of the Texas Hill Country must be preserved for future generations.
Biedermann: My record is clear and consistent on my commitment to preserve and protect not only District 73 but the entire state of Texas. I am blessed to have one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people on these issues. My staff has brought transparency, expertise, common sense and urgency to these issues. We have been very effective calling out and persuading the powers to be that action is needed now. We are confident that the appropriate legislation will follow.
Map of Texas House District 73
Preserve Our Hill Country Environment (DBA Friends of Dry Comal Creek, Stop 3009 Vulcan Quarry) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social advocacy organization formed to preserve, protect, and restore the land, water, air, wildlife, unique features, and quality of life in the Texas Hill Country against the aggressive and insufficiently regulated expansion of the aggregate industry. To learn more, visit www.preserveourhillcountry.org and the Preserve Our Hill Country Environment Facebook page.