They say everything is bigger in Texas and often that's true, especially when it comes to big hair and the bravado of politicians. This amounts to a lot of drama and theatrics. I mean, as someone who grew up in Dallas, I can tell you that the soap opera by the same name wasn't too far off the mark.
Being a mighty oil and gas (and wind!) state, this drama often translates into fights with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other environmental regulators over pollution reduction. Texas is the number one emitter of carbon emissions and second biggest water-polluter in the nation. Texas doesn't really have solid ground to stand on.
Yet as of 2012, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (current GOP and Koch-brothers backed candidate for Governor) has sued the federal government over environmental regulations sixteen times. And of the 25 total lawsuits pending against the federal government, Texas has only prevailed five times. Exemplified yet again in June when the Supreme Court ruled seven to two that yes, in fact, EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from most large industrial facilities, like power plants and factories, despite Texas’ arguments.
In Abbott’s own words, "what I really do for fun is I go into the office [and] I sue the Obama administration.” This fun hobby has cost taxpayers roughly $2.5 million – or a "bargain," according to Abbott.
So, of course, after the Obama administration announced that carbon emissions from existing power plants will be limited for the first time ever, the same cast of characters began revving up the futile fight with words like “job-killing,” conveniently ignoring the job growth in the state’s renewables sector. Abbott yet again vowed to waste even more money fighting EPA in court while Governor Perry went so far as to say that there’s a “war on American energy [designed] simply to appease what appears to be a tiny sliver of environmental extremists.” Well, “more than two-thirds of Americans support President Barack Obama’s new climate rule,” hardly a “tiny sliver of extremists.”
But it doesn't have to be this way. We can avoid all the sanctimony of failed lawsuits and go straight to growing Texas' clean energy economy by taking advantage of the flexibility built into EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
On the day following the carbon pollution rule announcement, it just so happened that the bi-partisan Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC) held a luncheon to announce the findings of a new Brattle Group report commissioned by the host organization: Exploring Natural Gas & Renewables in ERCOT, Part III. This is the third in a series of analyses that TCEC has conducted to look at the full potential of Texas energy assets beyond fossil fuels.
While it does rely on natural gas, the report emphasizes renewable energy, like wind and solar power, and demand response (a program that rewards people for using less electricity, rather than turning on coal-fired power plants to meet electricity demand) as key players moving forward. This blueprint shows the way Texas can reduce emissions by over 38 percent by 2032. EPA’s Clean Power Plan requires a 39 percent reduction in Texas’ carbon emissions from 2012 levels by 2030. This path forward is well within Texas’ reach. The report also highlights that "the scenario with the most aggressive assumptions for efficiency, demand response, and combined heat and power was also found to deliver the lowest power prices in 2032."
So the day after Texas was tasked with reducing carbon emission by 39 percent, TCEC came out with a plan to get us there. That's what I call serendipity, and we should embrace it as a positive step forward in the state.
The TCEC report isn't the only path either, as co-author Dr. Peter Fox-Penner noted. The analysis was modest in estimating the potential growth of demand-side resources, such as rooftop solar power, demand response, and energy efficiency, which Brattle estimates could "cut projected peak demand growth in half and provide substantial opportunities to… lower overall electricity costs." Fox-Penner added that "Texas is in a position to build a cleaner, more affordable, more water-lean and more reliable electricity sector.” The report concluded that no matter the pathway, "the more demand-side resources deployed, the more money Texas would save."
This comes as the World Bank estimates that fighting climate change will grow global GDP by up to $2.6 trillion a year and as Citigroup bullishly reports that renewables will displace coal and nuclear in the near future. Even Governor Perry, with his "Texas Miracle," bragging about stealing jobs away from California, is thinking of moving to the carbon-regulating state and driving a Tesla. The writing is on the wall. Yet Texas’ current leadership is fighting an old war that they don't even seem to really buy into anymore.
The University of Texas’ Dr. Michael Webber sums it up well:
What's the number one way you can reduce emissions in the power sector? By switching from coal to gas. And who sells the gas? We do. What's the other way you do it? With wind and solar. Well, who's got the wind and the sunshine? We do. Who's got the cheap, flat land for building wind farms and solar farms? We do.”
Denying climate change and rigging the system to benefit fossil fuels may have been a lucrative strategy in the past. But if Texas wants to succeed in the new world, it needs to take lessons from its most desirable cities, proactively harness our renewable resources (including the power of people), and improve the quality of our environment.
Rick Perry may be heading to Hollywood following his last act as Governor, but Texas still has a leading role to play in the clean energy economy. It's time we cut the theatrics and the pollution.
This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.