Dark Sky Protection

‘The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas…’

The Problem:

Texas is at risk of losing its dark sky and natural nighttime environment to excessive light pollution.

The International Dark-Sky Association defines light pollution as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.” Light pollution affects the health of all Texans, the environment, wildlife, and our ability to find awe in the natural night. Unnecessary nighttime light can disproportionately impact specific regions of the state, having a larger negative impact on the Hill Country tourism region of Texas. According to the Office of the Governor: Culture & Tourism Division, this region accounts for [XX%] of revenue in Texas and attracted as many as [XX#] of visitors from around the country in 2019. Many of these tourists report visiting to experience the natural beauty of the Hill Country, including stargazing and astronomical phenomena.

Limiting unnecessary nighttime lighting ensures people will continue to enjoy the wonder of Texas’s dark sky.

Current Efforts to Protect the Natural Nighttime Environment in Texas:

San Antonio

The city has implemented a Military Lighting Overlay District to regulate nighttime lighting around Camp Bullis/Camp Stanley and Randolph and Lackland Air Force Bases.

McDonald Observatory

In the 82nd regular legislative session (2011), Governor Perry signed into law legislation that applies to “a municipality located in a county any part of which is located within 57 miles of a major astronomical observatory at the McDonald Observatory.”

The statute allows and instructs the 7 counties within a 57-mile radius of the McDonald Observatory to establish provisions relating to the regulation of outdoor lighting. The seven counties (Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, Hudspeth, Culberson, Reeves, and Pecos) surrounding the campus have outdoor lighting ordinances and all the cities within these counties have similar municipal ordinances. This represents 28,000 square miles of land with outdoor lighting ordinances, for the protection of dark skies.

Hill Country Alliance

To date, 14 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 to pass dark skies legislation. 

Current Efforts to Protect the Natural Nighttime Environment Across the Country:

At least 18 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws in place to reduce light pollution. The majority of states that have enacted “dark skies” legislation have done so to promote energy conservation, public safety, aesthetic interests and astronomical research capabilities. 

Most state laws are limited to outdoor lighting fixtures installed on the grounds of a state building or facility or on a public roadway. The most common dark skies legislation requires the installation of shielded light fixtures which emit light only downward. Replacement of unshielded with fully shielded lighting units often allows for use of a lower wattage bulb, resulting in energy savings. Other laws require the use of low-glare or low-wattage lighting, regulate the amount of time that certain lighting can be used, and the incorporation of Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) guidelines into state regulations.

Recommendations:

Bracket Hill Country Counties.

The American Medical Association recommends the use of 3000K or lower lighting for outdoor installations such as roadways. Additionally, they suggest all LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods. 

“Thirty-three percent of all outdoor lighting is wasted by going where it’s not intended to go,” Kaplan said. That waste translates to 15 million tons of wasted carbon dioxide and $3 billion spent on unintended lighting nationwide.