President Obama released his Clean Power Plan to the predictable chagrin of some GOP and energy industry leaders, but it also highlights the historical tension between the social and environmental justice movements on the left.
In response to the latter, Austin City Councilman Greg Casar wrote a powerful Op-Ed in the Austin American Statesman that illustrated the importance of recognizing that they are interconnected and offered several solutions that create a more holistic approach to addressing the effects of climate change and burdens that might lay on working people.
That schism is what is often exploited by the establishment to keep the status quo. I am from Southeast Texas and I know this game well. Even as refineries sit across the street from playgrounds in poor neighborhoods, questions about managing and reducing pollution are characterized as threats against job security, and met with the tired trope of government overreach. But according to the EPA’s environmental justice studies eventhough, “Port Arthur is at the center of the largest oil refinery network in the world,” the Westside community is located “adjacent to refineries, chemical plants, a hazardous waste incinerator, and next to a blighted downtown and an underused waterfront.” So where is all that money going?
Putting people in a position to chose their long term health over their immediate financial needs is part of the role of government. If necessity is the mother of invention then it serves to prove that instituting aggressive goals will help to create new industries and jobs, but the government will have to some role in managing the fallout from that transition including training and temporary assistance programs. This tends to also be an unpopular idea with conservatives as it undermines the status quo and shifts power downward towards labor beyond just a trickle.
The head of the Texas Association of Business (TAB) said, “once again, Texas is asked to do more than any other state in meeting the EPA’s goals for federal regulation of our energy economy.” Yes, of course it is, and it should because Texas accounts for 18% of the energy production and 30% of the refining capacity in this country.
We are also fortunate enough that we are positioned better than any other state to make this transition. Even TAB recognized that, “Texas is already far and away the national leader in renewable energy.” However, Senate Republicans voted to dismantle to state‘s Renewable Portfolio Standard which allowed for Texas become that national leader. Public Citizen’s Tom Smith explained why this is a counterproductive move, “since renewable energy is the least expensive way to reduce climate pollution,” and that the standards are an, “important tool in our efforts to comply with pending federal rules.”
The moral argument was recently made by Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change that continued his focus on the world’s poor. With Texas’ growing and largely Catholic Hispanic population it could help change the narrative towards one of empowerment.
It is more than just a moral duty for the state that produces the most greenhouse gases — Texas is also on the front lines of the effects of climate change. We are experiencing massive coastal erosion, increasingly devastating flash floods, and a financially insolvent windstorm insurance program. A bipartisan study found that without some mitigation efforts by mid-century Texas will face thousands of deaths resulting from extreme heat, as well as a decrease in worker productivity and crop yields.
These realities are being ignored by state leaders who maintain that climate change is not affected by human activity. They are not scientists, they are politicians. These scientific predictions will have enormous economic impacts and if the GOP decries “predictable regulation” as a key to the Texas Miracle than we must stop denying the inevitable and implement policies that equitably address climate change. We must take full advantage of our natural renewable resources, and stop pretending that being a leader is anything other than our only option.