WTFTXLege: Money in politics meets climate inaction. It’s a perfect storm.

by | Mar 29, 2023 | Environment, WTFWednesday

A perfect storm: after decades of warnings from environmental scientists, the global climate crisis is upon us…. and so is the 88th Texas Legislative Session. If you’ve lived in Texas for the last couple of years, you’ve witnessed the impacts of climate change firsthand, courtesy of recent extreme weather events such as Winter Storm Uri or our series of record-breaking hot summers. As the leading  producer of oil and gas nationwide, which also means the highest carbon emissions nationwide, Texas is in a critical and outsized position to take bold action on climate change. So what can young Texans expect for the state legislature to do? The answer may shock you! (It probably won’t.)

As part of our series for young people demystifying why the legislature acts the way it does, and why clear-cut issues to us aren’t really clear-cut issues to politicians, we’re diving into the topic of climate justice.

You may be asking “Why am I having a hard time breathing, even outside? Why does my water taste funky? Why are there earthquakes occuring in West Texas? Why isn’t the government doing anything?”

An easy out would be to just say “it’s complicated,” and that’s true. But for all of the reasons we could give as to why the government is or isn’t doing something, one answer often serves as a common denominator.

Why aren’t there real talks from state leaders about protecting our Earth? Because oil and gas money is probably dictating the conversation.

For years, statewide leaders have gone to bat for the energy industry in overt exchange for cash, and Texas law has few teeth to prevent such instances of obvious corruption and conflict of interest. Instead of using legislative power to replace fossil fuels (ugly, outdated, dusty) with renewable alternatives (clean, beautiful, sustainable), Texas lawmakers have instead opted to continually file bills that protect the oil and gas industries, resulting in a steady increase in our state’s emissions of CO2.

For years, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has turned a blind eye to wrongdoings by polluters and anti-environment corporations. Following 2021’s Winter Storm Uri, he and other state leaders tasked top energy executives with the job of holding their own industry accountable. The task force was created after Abbott and others raked in millions from the oil industry within just a few days.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who after taking millions from the oil and gas industry, recently led a crusade to block Texas funds from being invested in any company or fund that promoted green energy alternatives over fossil fuels.

As reported by Texas Monthly, State Representative Tom Craddick, a former Speaker who currently sits on the Energy Resources Committee, has taken huge sums of campaign and personal money from oil companies in Texas and has swayed business dealings in their favor through legislative efforts. To make matters worse, Craddick is personally pushing legislation that would directly benefit his personal financial involvement in oil and gas disputes and his daughter, Christi Craddick, has intervened in numerous oil and gas matters, even though she is the state’s top energy regulator and owns interests in those matters.

The flow of money speaks directly to the nature of Texas politics. The legislative session is short, only five months every two years. Bills can only be voted on for only a couple of those few months. This means that in an arena where political willpower is rare and ethics rules are even rarer, money is the true motivator, and the oil and gas industry has plenty of cash to spare.

Current efforts by extremist state leaders to mitigate and adapt to climate change have ranged from nonexistent to insufficient. The good news is that MOVE Texas and countless others are in this fight to the end, but much more is needed to bring meaningful change.

While all Texans have now felt firsthand the effects of the climate crisis through extreme weather events such as Winter Storm Uri, the brunt of the crisis is being felt by our most marginalized communities. From homes that lack weatherization, to coal and fracked gas being extracted and processed near communities of color, these communities should be front and center in any legislative action regarding climate.

We must make sure our communities are prepared for the harmful effects of the climate crisis by expanding our Weatherization Assistance Program. Weatherizing equipment, alongside increased investment in community preparedness, will help ensure that the lights stay on next time we face an extreme weather event.

This also means the state must urgently transition to clean energy, and that transition should be overseen by the people through meaningful public oversight. By democratizing energy generation and regulation, we can return the power to the people, ensuring those most affected by current inaction are centered in future decisions.

In addition to switching to renewable energy generation over fossil fuels, we should also recenter the rest of our infrastructure around clean energy. Texas as a whole relies heavily on cars as a primary source of transportation, second only to California in sheer number of vehicles on the road. With federal funds earmarked specifically for electrification, it’s a no-brainer for our state legislature to seize this opportunity to shift toward renewable transportation such as electric cars.

The fight for environmental protections, and really the larger fight against money in politics, is not going to be a short skirmish. It’s going to take dedication, organizing, and true action to hold government leaders accountable.

The good news is that we and others aren’t going anywhere, and we’re prepared to see the push for clean air and clean water and clean politics to the very end.

Aaron Arguello is the MOVE Texas Advocacy Organizer

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