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New law to allow more Texas cities to become Dark Sky communities

Milky Way

About 80 percent of Americans cannot see the Milky Way at night due to light pollution, according to Scenic Texas. iStock image

A new Texas law will make it easier for communities to pursue International Dark Sky designations. Texas Senate Bill 1090, authored by state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) and state Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Kerrville), was signed into law on Monday, June 14, by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Effective immediately, the legislation allows communities to take the necessary steps in order to protect their night skies, according to Scenic Texas, which announced the bill’s passage in a news release. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve and enhance the “state’s visual environment, particularly as seen by the traveling public.”

“It’s estimated that the Milky Way is no longer visible to fully one-third of humanity — including 80 percent of Americans,” said Sarah Tober, president of Scenic Texas, in the release. “But cities and states are beginning to understand that we can play a role in reversing these unsettling trends, and we thank Sen. Buckingham and Rep. Murr for helping Texas lead the way in this effort. After all, the stars here in Texas are big and bright.” 

Current state law protects existing International Dark Sky Association (IDA) communities but unintentionally did not allow for new Dark Sky communities, according to the release. The new law allows communities to pass necessary lighting ordinances to pursue a Dark Sky designation. 

In Texas, limiting unnecessary nighttime lighting ensures people will continue to enjoy the wonder of the dark sky, Tober said, adding that Texas has a number of recognized IDA-certified communities that have passed lighting ordinances in compliance with global guidelines to protect the night sky from light pollution. 

SB 1090 exempts lighting ordinances as long as a governmental entity adopts a resolution stating its intent to become an IDA community and regulates lighting in a manner that is not more restrictive than necessary to become IDA certified. The IDA defines light pollution as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.” 

“Most American children will never get to gaze at the stars and see the Big Dipper like so many of us did growing up in Texas,” Tober said. “Dark sky legislation like SB 1090 has the potential to improve light pollution – the most easily reversible form of pollution – and the health of our environment, wildlife and migratory patterns, driving conditions, and the overall health of Texans.”

Earlier this year, Texas cities, including Austin and Fort Worth, participated in the nationwide Lights Out Initiative, which works to protect billions of birds as they migrate across the United States. Additionally, 15 of the 17 counties making up the Hill Country Alliance, an organization dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of the region, have passed resolutions supporting efforts for dark skies legislation.