Texas writers of editorials and opinion columns have been sounding off lately on an array of climate and sustainability topics – state Republican leaders’ skeptical approach to climate change, court rulings for Texas and against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the pros and cons of wind power and the wisdom of water conservation.
Texas GOP and climate
Two prominent journalists who outspokenly support action on climate change – San Antonio Current editor Greg Harman and Texas Observer writer Forrest Wilder – let fly at the state Republican Party and its leaders for taking a contrary position that Harman labeled “extremist.”
He noted the party’s “plea for ‘protection’ from ‘extreme environmentalists'” in the context of recent studies’ attribution of some of the severity of Texas extreme drought and heat wave in 2011 to manmade climate change:
In case you need a preview of this future climate, look outside your window. The USDA has declared more than half of the United States to be a drought-ravaged disaster area. This is what climatologists suggest will become the “new normal.” I don’t know about you, but I watch all of this happening and then read the Texas Republican Party platform pleading for the dismantling of the U.S. EPA and I have to shake my head in dismay. Which position could possibly be more “extreme”: calling for the rapid re-organization of our energy infrastructure to stave off the worst of the wrath building up in our atmosphere and acidifying ocean, or the call to dismantle and dismiss the agency with the regulatory authority to potentially slow the spread of this global fire?
One thing is for certain: anyone still claiming global warming/climate change to be a “hoax” can only be accurately described as either dishonest or scientifically ignorant. And most of the later, I’m afraid, are willfully so. Among that number, I suspect, falls the new extremist Texas Republican Party.
In a column headlined “Hey Texas, climate change denial isn’t funny anymore,” Wilder bemoaned “the almost-gleeful denial of climate change by Texas leaders, even as its effects become increasingly evident” and as “scientists are increasingly confident that a warming planet raises the probability of extreme, record-breaking weather events.”
Wilder complained that “willful ignorance has infected the Republican Party from top to bottom” leveling particular scorn the state attorney general:
For a time, I collected—like someone who morbidly clips obituaries out of newspapers—all the unbelievably idiotic things Texas politicians say about climate change. One of my favorites comes from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who last year said the following about carbon emissions: “It is almost the height of insanity of bureaucracy to have the EPA regulating something that is emitted by all living things.” Memo to EPA: Don’t worry about that leaking sewage plant. It’s just all-natural feces!
But seriously, does Abbott deny that carbon dioxide traps heat, a demonstrable property first posited by Joseph Fourier almost 190 years ago?
Here’s the entirety of Abbott’s reasoning: Plants need carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide good. No wonder Abbott’s frivolous lawsuits challenging EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act have been laughed out of the courtroom.
Rulings against the EPA
Texas has lost some rounds in its courthouse fight against climate-protection regulations to limit greenhouse emissions but recently won a couple of appellate victories in its defense of its industry-backed flexible permit program for other air pollutants and its opposition to the EPA’s bid to cut back on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power plants in 28 states including Texas.
Neither substance is a climate-warming gas, but the rules were universally regarded as a major threat to coal plants in Texas and elsewhere, which are major emitters of the principal human-produced greenhouse pollutant, carbon dioxide.
Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, hailed the victory for Texas on flexible permits in an op-ed column in the Wichita Falls Times Record News, calling it a “tongue-lashing” for the EPA, which moved to overturn the permit program 16 years after its start:
Although Texas’ flexible permit program pertains to other air pollutants, but not specifically to greenhouse gases, which Texas has never directly regulated, Mills noted that the court ruling in favor of the Texas program was issued shortly before a federal report documented a 2011 decline in “energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.”
Sixteen years tardy is hardly a good-faith effort on the part of the EPA, and the court rightfully overturned the EPA’s attempt to undo 16 years’ worth of permits that were designed to reduce overall emissions from a facility.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the state agency that administers the flexible permit program. In an op-ed column that appeared in newspapers including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Abilene Reporter-News, TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw celebrated appeals judges’ voiding of the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule on power plants’ sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide as “a Labor Day victory for all Texans.”
Shaw, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry who is, like the governor, strongly skeptical about scientific findings on the manmade character of climate change that are endorsed by the vast majority of climate scientists, proclaimed:
Like so many of EPA’s other rules and actions — such as extreme tightening of ozone limits and “global warming” control schemes — the rule was not intended so much to improve the environment as to impose unnecessary, expensive federal controls on industry and to increase the costs of energy to citizens. Increased energy costs are especially tough on the poor and the elderly living on fixed incomes, and they increase the price of nearly everything individuals purchase.
Hopefully, the EPA will take this adverse ruling as another sign that times are changing. No longer will citizens, states and industry stand by as the EPA destroys states’ economies, imposes higher costs on residents and threatens critical infrastructure for absolutely no environmental benefit. We stand as a nation to improve our economy, improve the health of all Americans, and improve our environment.
The Dallas Morning News didn’t see things that way. In an editorial, the newspaper praised the EPA’s cross-state rule, said its rebuff in an appeals court was “particularly troubling” and criticized the record of Shaw’s TCEQ on air quality:
The EPA wisely had sought state-by-state caps to cut down on the amount of pollution that crosses borders and degrades air quality in neighboring states. Having a coordinated effort is the practical way to make sure all states are doing all they can to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Sulfur dioxide can lead to acid rain and produce soot harmful to humans and the environment. Nitrogen oxide is a component of ground-level ozone and smog.
The Clean Air Act passed by Congress clearly envisioned environmental regulation to be the cooperative efforts of states and the federal government. But the EPA rightly has acted when it appears states or power companies weren’t moving fast enough to clean the air.
If the EPA is losing influence in the courts, then it is critical that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and state officials who supported adding more coal-fired power plants take aggressive steps to clean the air. The TCEQ has been slow to act on the state’s clean air plan and too easy on power plant permits.
The Houston Chronicle editorialized in support of an extension of a federal subsidy for wind power development, supported by the wind industry, environmentalists and others, but opposed by some in traditional energy industries that produce greenhouse gases and their political allies:
We favor extending the credit for two straightforward reasons:
1) While benefiting significantly from the subsidy, wind power is also demonstrably improving its performance and efficiency. It is moving in the right direction.
2) Long term, wind power will be a part of the diverse menu of options that will help create the sustainable energy future this nation should be seeking. An assist from the federal government to keep us on that course is warranted.
We root unabashedly for wind prospects because Texas has a lot of it.
The Chronicle also published an op-ed column by Brian Seasholes, an adjunct scholar of the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative, industry-supported think tank that has vigorously opposed climate-protection regulations.
He focused on wind turbines’ threats to birds, including severely endangered whooping cranes that winter annually on the Texas coast:
Every year, wind turbines in the U.S. kill at least 500,000 birds, but the total is rising as the number of wind turbines skyrockets. One wind farms hot spot, a 200-mile swath of the Great Plains that stretches from Texas to North Dakota, also happens to be the migratory path for the 278 whooping cranes that constitute the species’ largest and most viable population.
Wind farm owners worry about prosecution under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if a whooping crane is killed by one of their turbines. So the industry is seeking an exemption under the ESA, known as a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), if a crane is accidentally killed.
The exemption is part of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “Smart from the Start” initiative to “accelerate the responsible development of wind energy projects across the nation.” Why Salazar, who is required under the ESA to protect species, is enthusiastically leading the charge to kill whooping cranes is hard to explain.
The federal government aggressively prosecutes politically incorrect forms of carbon-based energy – oil drilling and coal-fired power plants – for accidentally killing common species of birds. Yet wind power producers have never faced similar prosecution, even for killing endangered species of bats and bird species that are uncommon and declining.
All of Texas has become more water-conscious since 2011’s severe drought conditions, no place more than Lubbock in West Texas. Climate-action proponents have been warning that projections about climate change point to a hotter, drier future for Texas and arguing that more aggressive water-conservation efforts are in order.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal had an editorial backing Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson’s proposal to tie water bills more closely to the amount of water consumption:
Robertson’s plan is based on reducing the base water fee charged to all consumers by 75 percent over a three-year period and increasing the rate per use of 1,000 gallons of water per month.
The customers will pay a closer amount to what they actually use, whether they are big users or small users.
Robertson believes it will encourage conservation, which is something that should be a high priority for residents of a city with Lubbock’s climate.
“I am convinced the cheapest water we will ever find in the future is the water we will save,” he said.
The use of water per household in Lubbock averages about 7,000 gallons a month. If the new plan would inspire local residents to cut back even a modest amount in their monthly usage, it could have very positive long-range effects and protect the city’s water sources.
– Bill Dawson