Texas can’t secede from the planet
By William Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.
In June 2008, I was one of several speakers at the World Investment Conference in the French resort town of La Baule. The keynote speaker at dinner one night was Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The conference’s mission was to build trans-Atlantic business collaboration in areas such as green technologies. Along those lines, I expected Perry to talk about pressing issues of the day, including the great business opportunities the industrial nations of Western Europe and North America could create by leading the world’s transition to a clean energy economy.
Perry’s insights would be instructive, I thought, given what’s happening in Texas. It puts more greenhouse gas emissions into the air than any other U.S. state. It burns more coal than any other state. But it’s also America’s leader in wind energy.
Instead, Perry delivered several minutes of unadulterated Texas boosterism. After extending a “warm Texas howdy” to the audience, he praised his state as one of the best places in the world to do business, in large part because of his efforts to “reduce government interference” and to “cut away all the bureaucratic red tape that stands between hardworking Texans and the American Dream”.
“May God bless you and may He continue to bless the great state of Texas,” Perry concluded.
The dinner was delicious. Perry’s speech, on the other hand, left a bad taste in the mouths of the conferees with whom I talked later. The speech contained nothing that could not have been mailed to La Baule in a box of brochures. No insights into the challenge of leadership in a state that finds itself somewhere between the old energy economy and the new. No proposals for dynamic and profitable green-tech partnerships between the United States and Europe. Nothing about what the corporate leaders in the room could do proactively to cut pollution, save money and reduce the need for government intervention. As they say in Texas, Perry’s speech was all hat and no cattle.
It appears Perry hasn’t expanded his vision now that he’s rumored to be positioning himself as a candidate for President. He still demonstrates he can’t see much beyond Texas’s borders. A prime example is the state’s lawsuit to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the Clean Air Act, states are given the opportunity to implement their own plans for reducing pollutants. If states refuse, as Texas is doing, EPA is obligated by law to step in with a federal implementation plan.
On Dec. 10, a federal appeals court rejected a request from Texas and other plaintiffs to freeze EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases while their lawsuits against the agency are moving through the courts. The appeals court ruled the plaintiffs failed to substantiate their claim that the new regulations would cause economic harm. The ruling will allow EPA’s regulations to go into effect on Jan. 2, as scheduled.
What Perry doesn’t acknowledge, or perhaps doesn’t understand, is that greenhouse gases are not solely a state issue. Caron emissions don’t recognize state borders. Each state’s emissions contribute to global climate change, triggering long-lasting climatic disruptions whose impacts reach around the world and across generations.
If a state like Texas does not clean up its own act, then the federal government has a moral as well as legal obligation to intervene on behalf of all the rest of us who are not Texans.
On an issue like this, parochialism is a poor qualification for President. Perry denies he plans to run, but it’s hard to avoid the impression that he’s Sarah Palin in cowboy boots. Like her, he wants to excite the Right by politicizing climate change.
As Kate Galbraith put it in the New York Times, “Every politician needs a villain”¦ Gov. Rick Perry has the Environmental Protection Agency, which has had the audacity to order Texas to do more to keep its air clean.”
But EPA isn’t the villain. It’s the sheriff. If this must be a showdown between the nearsighted gunslinger from the Lone Star State and the law enforcers at EPA, we innocent bystanders should pray the sheriff wins.
Perry’s speech: http://governor.state.tx.us/news/speech/4642
Kate Galbraith: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/17/us/politics/17ttepa.html
– Bill Becker is a regular contributor to CP and the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.
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