The Texas legislature has long turned a disapproving eye to local environmental legislation through preemptive laws meant to override local initiatives, such as the Shopping Bag Freedom Act filed in response to a plastic bag ban in the liberal enclave of Austin. Last week, state lawmakers introduced a new twist by introducing a bill that would limit cities’ ability to use outside counsel to pursue environmental claims — generally cleanup of hazardous substances — on a contingent fee basis. A second bill would allow the Attorney General to settle such lawsuits without input from local governments.
Supporters of the bills argue that such lawsuits are not as effective as voluntary remediation programs available under state law, and that they do little more than line the pockets of unscrupulous attorneys. This is the position taken in this white paper by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. They argue that this does not undermine the ability of cities to pursue environmental claims, but merely places reasonable limits on using outside counsel, and recognizes the state’s interests in the cleanup efforts. The cities are not convinced.