Meta-law: Texas bans fracking bans

This story is quickly turning into a question of state vs local authority rather than the normal battles between federal and state. Some towns, cities or counties around Texas have been listening to their liberal, green minded activists and passing bans on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as a means of energy production. This sort of patchwork mixture of laws and regulations tends to give energy companies fits as they struggle to figure out where and how they can do their work, as well as who they have to deal with to obtain permits and complete the rest of the red tape involved in such endeavors. But this month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has stepped into the debate and (for now) essentially put an end to it. The Lone Star State has gone meta and imposed a ban on bans.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a prohibition on cities and towns imposing local ordinances preventing fracking and other potentially environmentally harmful oil and natural gas activities.

The much-watched measure sailed through the GOP-controlled Legislature after voters in Denton, a university town near Dallas, banned hydraulic fracturing locally in November.

The new law limits not only the Denton ban but other actions communities could take limiting energy industry activities. It was backed by oil and gas concerns.

Abbott said Monday he was protecting private property rights from the “heavy hand of local regulation.”

Plenty of other states have been dealing with similar squabbles, including here in New York. But the Empire State has gone pretty much the exact opposite route of Texas, with the Governor banning fracking everywhere. This has led to sufficient consternation that several counties have been seeking a way to abandon ship and join Pennsylvania, where jobs and wealth from energy exploration have been flowing richly.

But this brings us back to Abbot’s statement at the signing. He said that he was protecting private property owners from the heavy hand of local regulation. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what conservatives are normally up in arms about, when the federal government is imposing its views on state and local governments against the better judgement and wishes of residents. It would be disingenuous of me at this point to not admit that I’m fully on the side of expanding energy exploration here, as any long time reader already knows. I think these local bans are counterproductive, based on faulty “science” and have hindered potential economic recovery all around the nation.

But for the most part, the bans are being put in place at the local level by village, city or county governments. These are the entities which are most directly tied to the will of the voters and they deal with issues specific to the needs of the community. No matter how misguided, these are the choices that local voters make and they usually have to live and learn from them. How do we align fidelity to small government conservative principles with the idea of the state (or federal) government stepping in and overriding their choices? I may completely agree that the city council is doing the residents no favors by cutting them off from the ability to lease their lands for energy exploration, but it really comes down to a sort of zoning issue at the end of the day, doesn’t it? And isn’t that precisely the sort of question which conservatives want handled on a case by case basis at the local level and not by Uncle Sam? (Or Austin or Albany or whichever other state capital you prefer.)

I’ll confess to being conflicted on this one. I like the result of what Governor Abbott is doing, but I’m not sure I can get behind the method used to achieve it.