With many families still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Houston’s leaders are deflecting responsibility for their poor flood control and disaster planning, and they’re pointing fingers at fossil fuels instead. Shamefully using the disaster as political leverage, Mayor Turner on April 22 released his Climate Action Plan (CAP), a mini version of the Paris Agreement, without any concrete evidence that the energy industry has or will worsen storms like Harvey.
While the intentions of this CO2-focused plan may be good, the plan itself is unrealistic and ultimately will fall short, achieving merely an illusion of progress at the taxpayers’ expense. More importantly, the plan does not outline the cost or plans to pay for these extreme measures. Officials will worry about the details later. For example, in order to achieve the 2050 net neutral carbon goals, cities must buy credits to offset their emissions (paying people to store carbon in the ground). Or perhaps equally outrageous, the city of Houston is phasing out low-CO2-emitting natural gas altogether and plans on purchasing 100% renewable energy to power all municipal buildings by 2025 — even though wind and solar power have proven historically expensive and unreliable.
It feels like our officials are in a bubble. Do they not recognize the abundance of cheap, clean-burning natural gas available to the city — with the proper infrastructure already in place? In the Permian Basin alone, producers are flaring more than 750 million cubic feet per day (MMcfd) of natural gas. That is the equivalent of almost 4700 million gallons a day — energy that could be used to power the city of Houston into a new age of growing prosperity, if politicians would put their constituents’ best interests first.
Further, this month, West Texas Intermediate crude oil has remained under $20 a barrel (down from $60 a barrel at the start of the year). On April 20, WTI May contracts closed at a record low of negative $37.63 a barrel (the first time in history crude prices were negative).
Houston progressives used this news as an opportunity to celebrate the supposed downfall of fossil fuels. But in fact, the Energy Capital has been anti-hydrocarbons for a while now; this Climate Action Plan just makes it a little bit more apparent to the few who know about it. According to a 2017 environmental report, per the EPA, Houston is the No. 1 municipal purchaser of “green” power in the nation. About 80% of this energy comes from wind. Additionally, the city entered into a 20-year agreement in 2015 to purchase 10.5% of the city’s electrical needs with solar power. Additionally, city officials plan to use our taxpayer dollars to lobby the state and federal governments to de-carbonize the U.S. power sector. Using taxpayer dollars to lobby against the interests of those same taxpayers hardly seems like a responsible use of those funds. We should take custodianship of the environment seriously, caring for it as we sustain ourselves. But we have to be realistic and recognize that we live in a very complicated world and our actions have consequences (voters — that includes us). Hard-working Houstonians are paying for these out-of-touch politicians’ radical (and expensive) experiments, and the costs will only increase through higher taxes, higher electricity bills, and a higher overall cost of living, hitting struggling families the hardest.
For all the city’s pontificating, it turns out that going 100% renewable isn’t the most environmentally friendly solution after all. Solar panels and wind turbines require a lot of land. They also don’t last forever, and current technology doesn’t allow us to recycle renewable energy equipment efficiently, resulting in most of it ending up in green energy tech graveyards.
There are tradeoffs to every form of energy and the tradeoffs with renewables need to be accounted for as well. You will hear CAP advocates criticize fracking, but will they discuss the environmental impact of neglected end-of-life solar panels?
While green energy sounds nice, there are severe implications of these proposals to the environment that go unaddressed in the CAP. Just because you say something is sustainable, does not make it true.
To be sure, the CAP has some innovative and good ideas for tackling environmental issues, such as its plans for materials management. But we carbon-based Houstonians know that the CAP’s anti-human posture needs to be addressed before the implementation. In the meantime, we would like the potholes to be fixed and our water lines maintained. The Mayor and City Council need to show it can address its basic infrastructure obligations before we trust it to implement anything as ambitious as CAP.