Local lawmaker accused of cozying up to gas industry




Posted on May 7, 2011 at 1:10 AM

Updated Saturday, May 7 at 1:21 AM

DALLAS - Should cities have the final say over pipeline and drilling location? Should gas companies have more power than cities? The debate has turned bitter at the state Capitol; and in the case of one politician, it's gotten personal.

Drilling rigs, pipelines and compressor stations are a familiar site throughout North Texas these days, and not just out in the country. Many times, if cities try to say "no, not here," they get sued.

"They said, 'If you don't allow us to go across your property we are going to sue you,' and they did," said Mayor Pro Tem Al Filiforo, Flower Mound.

Flower Mound has been sued twice in recent months, most recently after the city denied a permit to a pipeline company wanting to bury a line next to a fire station.

The story is the same in cities all over the Barnett Shale, according to Rep. Lon Burnam, of Fort Worth.
"You can ask any number of municipalities - ask Southlake, ask Denton, ask the mayor of Grand Prairie - many municipalities have been subjected to harassment threats or actual lawsuits," Burnam said.

Burnam has authored House Bill 3792, which would give cities the power to deny drilling and pipeline permits.

"Industry doesn't like the idea of this particular bill because it would undercut their ability to blackmail the municipalities, and that's what's going on right now," he said.

Burnam said his bill is supported by every major city in the Barnett Shale but is one vote short of passing to get it out of committee. The lone hold out is from North Texas, freshman state Rep. Stefani Carter, of Dallas. Last week, she said she wasn't familiar with Burnam's bill.

"I need to go back and read the bill," she said. "I think he has like eight pending, so I'm not sure which one that is."

At that point, Carter checked her computer and then spent several minutes talking with colleagues. About 20 minutes passed when WFAA asked again.

"I haven't read the bill yet," she replied.

But, Burnam believes Carter knows all about House Bill 3792, which is opposed by the the oil and gas industry. According to state campaign records, Carter is on the top ten list of all Texas House members receiving contributions from the oil and gas industry, logging in at number nine during the 2010 election and taking in nearly $59,000.

Later in the day, and after repeated requests to respond to her opposition to the bill, Carter had only this to say.

"Rep. Lon Burnam has bribed me," she said. "He has said if I do not vote for his bill, he will put out information to you and other news sources. That is inappropriate, and it's probably illegal and obviously unethical."

A few hours later, Carter voted in favor of House Bill 3105, a measure that many say would make it easier for gas companies to sue cities that deny them permits.

Flower Mound Mayor Melissa Northern, who testified three weeks ago against the bill, called its passage devastating.

"This eliminates municipalities ability to have any authority over gas drilling in their communities," she said. "It eliminates it."

The Texas Pipeline Association has failed to respond to our numerous requests for comment on the story.

Meanwhile, Burnam called Carter's bribery allegations "an outright lie." Burnam also said his bill to protect cities from gas industry law suits is effectively dead this session.