Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Texas Fights Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Facing Billions of Dollars in Damages From Severe Weather Events

By Amelia Schlusser, Staff Attorney
A boat sits on the dry lake bed of Texas's Lake Travis.
Credit: Erik A. Ellison 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan calls for states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030. In Texas, the draft rule directs the state to reduce power-sector emissions by 38% before the rule’s proposed 2030 deadline. EPA determined that Texas could reduce emissions by nearly 20% by switching from coal-fired power to natural gas. To achieve its remaining emissions reductions, EPA recommended that Texas increase coal-plant efficiency rates (cutting emissions by 3.8%), generate power from zero-emitting sources, like renewables (cutting emissions by 9.2%), and increase energy efficiency (cutting emissions by 5.5%). 

Texas, however, opposes the federal government’s efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing power-sector greenhouse gas emissions. In May, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that he intends to sue the Obama administration over the Clean Power Plan, which EPA is expected to finalize in August of this year. This forthcoming lawsuit will require the state to spend additional taxpayer money on legal challenges against the Obama Administration’s regulations. According to the Texas attorney general’s office, the state has spent more than $850,000 over the past five years challenging EPA air quality regulations and more than $400,000 on challenges to federal climate change regulations.

While the Texas government devotes hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawsuits challenging federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the state is racking up tens of billions of dollars in damages from extreme weather events. From 2011 to 2012, Texas suffered from one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, with total damages estimated between $60 billion and $100 billion, according to LiveScience. Over Memorial Day weekend of this year, Texas experienced record-setting flooding—according to meteorologists, enough rain fell in Texas in May to cover the entire state in eight inches of water. The state is still tallying up the damages from this flooding, which will likely exceed one hundred million dollars. In Houston alone, flood damages are estimated at more than $45 million. According to the Austin Statesman, the flooding caused more than $80 million in damages to public property, and the International Business Times estimated at least $27 million in infrastructure damage statewide.

While individual weather events cannot be directly attributed to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that climate change does increase the risk of both floods and droughts. The climate models evaluated by the IPCC consistently projected that precipitation extremes would increase as the climate warms. Over a five-year period, Texas experienced both a 150- to 200-year flood event and one of the worst droughts in the past 500 years. Yet rather than accept and confront the destruction that climate change is inflicting on the state, Texas officials are choosing to spend more money fighting federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Texas has enormous potential to generate electricity from renewable sources—it already leads the nation in installed wind capacity, and the state has access to abundant wind and solar resources. However, instead of promoting policies to increase renewable energy development, the state government is considering policies that would stifle future renewable energy growth. In April, the Texas senate voted in favor of a bill that would eliminate the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. It is time for Texas to wake up to the realities of climate change and work to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

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