With a few minor changes, this photograph would make a fine logo for the ultra-conservative faction running our state government, especially Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
The photo of an oil well spitting fire over a quiet suburban neighborhood in League City is near perfect just as it is.
Rip the bricks off the well-tended houses and replace them with cheap vinyl siding, sheet metal or maybe some unpainted particle board, post a sign reading “To let, short term,” cut down half the trees and hang a few plastic bags in the limbs of what’s left, however, and you’ve got in one perfect shot the Texas that those august leaders envision.
The story becomes more perfect in expressing that vision of Texas the deeper you look.
One example of that perfection is in the fact the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told League City officials it might be able to assesses the situation in about three days. Beautiful.
As we’ve reported before, there’s nothing League City or any other city can do to regulate the operations of oil exploration companies. Not even of rigs operating within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood, as is the one pictured.
Whatever right Texans had to regulate that sort of thing ended in 2015 when the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 40 in response to Denton’s vote to ban hydraulic fracturing within its city limits — in city parks in some cases, according to reports.
As he signed the bill, which forbids Texas cities from attempting to regulate where oil and gas wells can be drilled, Abbott said the law did a “profound job of protecting private property rights.”
House Bill 40 was among the first shots in Abbott’s war on the “patchwork of local regulations,” things such as tree preservation ordinances and plastic bag bans, that threaten his vision of what Texas ought to be.
Some people in League City today might argue their private property rights have been infringed upon. Those people don’t matter much, however, and they will come to matter less and less as the vision of Texas dancing in the heads of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick and the rest becomes more and more the reality.
The assault in Austin on the rights of ordinary people to have some influence over what happens in their communities has nothing to do with anything as noble as private property rights.
It’s about consolidating power and regulatory authority in Austin, where money talks.
It’s not about whether Joe Property Owner can cut down a tree, it’s about whether Joe Developer can bulldoze 400 acres of them.
It’s about making influence peddling a one-stop shopping proposition; about making Texas the Walmart of pay-for-play government.
People in Denton and League City don’t matter because they don’t feed big money into that machine.
Along with all the sad truth in that one photograph is some rough Texas justice, too, and that’s the main lesson.
If Texas voters don’t want to wake up to oil wells belching fire in the backyard, they might ought to wake up about who they’re sending to Austin.
• Michael A. Smith