This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on June 23, 2015.
Across the board, Texans overwhelmingly trust state government over federal to regulate for a clean environment. Results from a recent Baselice & Associates energy regulation poll, commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, send the clear message that the federal government is out of touch in terms of its environmental regulatory policies.
In his U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement address, President Obama ranked “climate change” as one of his top priorities for action in his remaining tenure. This priority for Obama has taken shape in the form of environmental regulatory mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rules.
Federal regulation in the form of the Clean Power Plan would usurp Texas state government’s regulation role while increasing the price of electricity. Sixty-six percent of Texans believe that state government should take the lead in securing environmental quality.
Critics from the environmental left will no doubt be quick to point out that it’s no surprise that “red” state Texas opposes Obama’s federal environmental regulatory programs. However, survey results demonstrate how opposition to federal environmental regulation exists across the entire demographic and political spectrums.
To effectively evaluate, one must consider the recent public opinion results within the framework of modern Texas politics. While Republicans dominate statewide elected offices, Democrats maintain a significant bloc of support, as evidenced by recent elections. In 2014, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis nearly captured 40 percent of the statewide vote. Two years prior, 3,308,124 Texans voted for Obama’s re-election.
Yet some Texans’ support for Obama does not equate to support for his regulatory “top priorities.” Fifty-seven percent of African-Americans polled stated that local government should take the lead in securing environmental quality. Only 33 percent of non-Anglo, self-identified Democrats believe the federal government does a better job than the state in regulating for a clean environment.
In addition to these groups’ opposition to federal environmental regulatory control, regional Democratic strongholds in Texas also share similar rejection of Obama’s climate change policies. Take Travis County, described by many as the “blueberry in the bowl of tomato soup” in terms of its liberal politics compared to Texas as a whole. In an area where 63 percent of voters chose Davis over Abbott, 55 percent of residents think the state government does a better job in regulating for a clean environment in Texas.
The energy regulation poll demonstrates that Texans shed partisanship for pragmatism when the anticipated effects hit their pocketbooks. Coal, the target of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, generates 34 percent of Texas’s electricity. The plan eliminates coal-fired power plants and requires Texas to assume reductions in excess of 27 other states combined.
Experts predict the CPP will cause the average price of electricity to rise 10 percent, and 17 percent for peak electricity rates. Texans recall entirely too well the spike in energy prices following Hurricane Katrina, resulting in increased prices both at home and the grocery store. They do not want to witness something similar via this potential federal regulatory disaster.
Obama’s top Clean Power Plan priority would hurt the most vulnerable Texans by increasing the cost of electricity for those who can afford it the least. Texans oppose the onerous regulations, knowing it would increase their bills. It is no surprise that we Texans say, “Don’t mess with Texas.”