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Shocker: TX Regulators and Right-Wingers Think Cap and Trade Is Bad

by Published on

Updated with video

This morning I attended some of the “Cap & Trade Summit” at the Capitol. I missed Gov. Perry’s address unfortunately but you can catch his remarks here.

I did hear about two hours’ worth of speeches by the commissioners for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Public Utility Commission and Railroad Commission as well as reps from some corporate-funded “free market” organizations.

The auditorium was maybe half-filled and there were more than a fair share of corporate lobbyists. Not too many people present weren’t wearing expensive suits.

While each speaker went on and on about the costs of the Waxman-Markey bill, I heard not a single mention of the costs of doing nothing. I heard nothing about the costs borne by a warming planet: inundated cities, acidifying oceans, extreme drought, loss of surface water, increases in infectious diseases, changes in agriculture and food supples, and so on.

I heard nothing about climate science other than some oblique references to how it may not be settled. I heard little about alternative proposals (though the speaker from the Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation did talk about giving prizes to individuals who conserve energy). Among the 30 or so speakers, not a single actual climate scientist could be found.

The omissions were deliberate, I think. In a revealing moment, Dr. Michelle Foss, the Chief Energy Economist and Head of UT’s Center for Energy Economics, said that PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman had asked her – and presumably the other speakers – to steer clear from discussing climate science.

Foss was there as an academic representative but she has deep financial connections to fossil fuel industries. According to her “Professional Summary,” she is co-owner of Harvest Gas Management, a “Texas-based exploration and production enterprise with coal seam gas operations in north-central Louisiana.”

She’s also done proprietary research for Shell Oil, El Paso Energy Corp, ExxonMobil, Reliant Energy, Conoco and many others. Also, Foss presented at the Exxon-funded Heartland Institute’s March climate confusion conference (theme: “Global warming: Was it ever really a crisis?”).

Among the 30 or so speakers, not a single actual climate scientist could be found.

What I did hear was a lot of fear-mongering about the economic effects of Waxman-Markey. The right-wing “think tank” crowd – the corporate-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation, and the Exxon-funded American Council for Capital Formation – took the lead, presenting the audience with the results of economic modeling, which, to simplify things greatly, painted a doom and gloom picture of Waxman-Markey.

To believe them, the bill will slice several points off GDP, cost families thousands of dollars every year and lead to massive job losses. (Karen Campbell, of the Heritage Foundation, warned, “So maybe you don’t get your kid those braces.”) This message is the functional equivalent of “death panels,” IMHO.

But before that the commissioners from the three state agencies made some brief remarks.

The TCEQ commissioners, Buddy Garcia especially, were more than a tad defensive about their environmental policies.

“We utilize science and we utilize the law,” Garcia mewled. “It is not just some effort to bypass the feds and try to pollute the earth. And no strategy is going to cool – er, control the climate.”

Repeat: No strategy is going to control the climate. This is literally an unbelievable statement that no responsible environmental policymaker could possibly believe. Even if you’re opposed to action on climate change, even if you think global warming is a hoax, you can’t possibly believe that humans have zero warming or cooling effects (“control) on the climate.

But, wait, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw says Texas has already figured out a “solution” for climate change.

“We’ve been working toward incentivizing and pushing toward more energy efficiency which has led to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but done so in a way that’s furthered economic development,” he said.

This is a frequent talking point for Shaw. Basically, he’s making the argument that increased efficiencies lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In a narrow sense, he’s correct.

Producing energy more efficiently or reducing consumption through home weatherization, for example, does reduce emissions of CO2. But as a strategy to halve global greenhouse gasses by 2050 (the UN’s target for avoiding temperature increases greater than 2 degrees Celcius) it’s akin to putting out a forest fire with a garden hose.

Moving on… PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman had this to say: “Perhaps, as the Governor said, if I knew for certain that taking all this money away from Texans might actually save the planet, I might be okay with it.” Might!

And then there was PUC commissioner Donna Nelson:

To the extent that you are testifying today and you believe the science is uncontroverted that CO2 causes global warming please don’t be condescending to those of us who still have questions.

Second, the air has no boundaries and a lot of people have talked aobut the fact that if India and China don’t sign on, to the extent there is a real issue we will, you know, pass costs on to the citizens of Texas and the citizens of the US and there will be no benefit from that cost.

So I think pure and simple what we’re talking about is a tax. If you look at the legislation… it’s not an honest effort to reduce CO2 emissions; it’s an effort to raise taxes and an effort to raise a disproportionate amount of taxes from Texans.

And that was really the theme of this summit: Waxman-Markey is a tax-and-spend policy that will drastically increase the role of the federal government in people’s everday lives and produce dubious benefits for the environment. Better to do nothing. QED.

I didn’t stick around to hear from the speakers from industry, who were scheduled for four hours of testimony. For balance, the final panel of the day includes an environmentalist and consumer advocate (Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen) as well as lobbyist Paul Sadler, speaking for the Wind Coalition, Robert Webb of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association and someone from the Catholic Diocese.

Environmental groups have complained that the summit made little attempt at an objective appraisal of the Waxman-Markey bill.

In a letter sent to PUC Chairman Barry Smitherman, author of If Jesus Were An Investment Banker and a free-market ideologue, Jim Marston of the Environmental Defense Fund noted the lack of balance in the summit’s line-up. (Full disclosure: Marston is chairman of the Texas Democracy Foundation, the board that oversees the Observer.)

The letter calls for a “fair review of the facts regarding the bill and the economic impacts of climate change on Texas” and includes a list of peer-reviewed studies examining both costs and benefits of Waxman-Markey. Smitherman’s response?

In a nutshell, he tells Martson in a response letter that the environmental and academic community had “ample opportunity” to address climate concerns at an EDF-organized conference earlier this year.

“[T]he focus of this upcoming summit is the likely impacts to Texas from passage of climate change legislation, in particular the Waxman-Markey bill,” wrote Smitherman.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.