Before the presidency of Donald Trump and the rise of the MAGA/QAnon crazies, I would sometimes need to search for a good example of bad public policy to discuss in my classes. Indiana supplied many of those, but if even the Hoosier state lacked an appropriate case of WTF, I could always depend on Texas.
An article from the New York Times I read a while back suggests that it isn’t only the Texas governor and legislature, or Texas’ outsized influence on textbook selection. The state evidently supplies all manner of nefarious actors seeking to shape federal policies in ways favorable to their bottom lines. The organization profiled by the Times operates beneath the radar, in a far too successful effort to protect fossil fuel companies from those silly laws intended to save the planet.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is an Austin-based nonprofit organization backed by–and serving the interests of– “oil and gas companies and Republican donors.
With influence campaigns, legal action and model legislation, the group is promoting fossil fuels and trying to stall the American economy’s transition toward renewable energy. It is upfront about its opposition to Vineyard Wind and other renewable energy projects, making no apologies for its advocacy work.
Even after Democrats in Congress passed the biggest climate law in United States history this summer, the organization is undaunted, and its continued efforts highlight the myriad forces working to keep oil, gas and coal companies in business.
In Arizona, the Texas Public Policy Foundation campaigned to keep open one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the West. In Colorado, it called for looser restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And in Texas, the group crafted the first so-called “energy boycott” law to punish financial institutions that want to scale back their investments in fossil fuel projects, legislation adopted by four other states.
The article also notes that the organization spreads misinformation about climate science, producing YouTube videos, sponsoring pundits to appear on Fox and Friends, and social media campaigns. The message–aimed at lawmakers and the public–is that a transition away from oil, gas and coal would harm Americans.
They have frequently seized on current events to promote dubious narratives, pinning high gasoline prices on President Biden’s climate policies (economists say that’s not the driver) or claiming the 2021 winter blackout in Texas was the result of unreliable wind energy (it wasn’t).
Foundation personnel travel widely in order to encourage lawmakers in various state to punish companies trying to reduce their carbon emissions. It sponsors an initiative called Life:Powered, that makes what the organization calls “the moral case for fossil fuels.” The basic argument–which doesn’t seem all that moral–is that “American prosperity is rooted in an economy based on oil, gas and coal.
The article quoted the chief executive of an Austin-based trade group for renewable energy companies, who pointed out that the Foundation, whose members spent decades advocating for offshore oil drilling, oppose offshore windfarms. It opposes subsidies for renewables. (Last time I looked, the government continues to subsidize fossil fuel industries to the tune of 20 billion dollars annually.)
They’re for looser restrictions on fracking and drilling, but greater restrictions for solar and wind. This organization exists to defend fossil fuels from any threat to their market share.”
On Thanksgiving, Jason Isaac, an executive at the group, tweeted “Today, I’m thankful to live a high-carbon lifestyle and wish the rest of the world could too. Energy poverty = poverty. #decarbonization is dangerous and deadly.”
The article goes on to describe the various ways the amply-funded Foundation influences policy and protects the financial interests of fossil fuel industries.It’s a textbook example of the way monied interests drive American policy.
There are several issues here, the most obvious of which is how these people can sleep at night. An overwhelming scientific consensus warns that continued reliance on fossil fuels threatens the Earth. Perhaps they don’t care about other people, but presumably many of them have children and grandchildren…
Less obvious, perhaps, but equally confounding ,is the ability of this organization and others like it–organizations that are pursing equally dangerous and/or dishonest goals (ALEC comes to mind, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others)– to wield dramatically disproportionate influence in America’s legislative bodies.
Ordinary citizens lack the resources to hire lobbyists, make significant campaign contributions and otherwise mount effective responses to these organizations. Worse still, the stealthy ways in which these organizations influence policy keeps most of us ordinary citizens from recognizing their existence or understanding what they are doing and how they are doing it.
It’s fashionable these days to attack capitalism, but America no longer has a genuinely capitalist economic system; it has corporatism— control of government by large interest groups.