A national climate plan needs a Texas component

With spring’s emergence, memories of winter’s Polar Vortex begin to recede and lose their sting. Unfortunately, we know that these weather disasters will continue to occur with increased frequency and magnitude due to climate change. Texas needs a plan to address climate change and we have one — the Texas Climate Plan.

About two years ago, I decided to use my office to examine what Texans could do to impact climate change — it turns out, we can do a whole lot. Texas is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country and a major emitter of methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are the primary greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. If Texas were a country, we would rank 7th in the world for our carbon dioxide emissions. Major sources of these greenhouse gases are the vehicles we drive, and the oil and gas industry.

After examining the data, we concluded that any national plan to combat climate change must have a substantial Texas component. I collaborated with several House Democrats to develop the Texas Climate Plan as a roadmap to reduce emissions.

The plan consists of four parts, beginning with: “Texas Jobs for a Changing Economy.” The clean energy economy is here, and we have a huge opportunity to benefit from this growth sector.

Since 2017, clean energy added jobs two times faster than national employment and 60% faster than fossil fuels in Texas. Our state is already a leader in electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturing with Tesla, Peterbilt Motors Co., Navistar, Toshiba Heavy Industries, Ayro, Volcon and Hyliion all located here. Major auto companies continue to announce an end to manufacturing gas-powered cars as they transition to electric vehicles. Clean energy job growth in Texas already outpaces fossil fuels, and provides higher paying wages – about 25% more than the median wage statewide. The “future” economy is already here and ripe for prosperity.

Part two of the plan is “Preserving Texas Resources and Industry Accountability.” Texas possesses a wealth of natural resources that have served as a source of economic strength for our state, but these resources must be preserved through responsible stewardship. For example, much of the methane that comes from the oil and gas industry comes from wasteful, routine venting and flaring of natural gas. In 2018 alone, Permian Basin oil and gas producers flared off enough to meet the entire state’s residential demand. Even the UT System can minimize venting and flaring on university lands to reduce the ecological footprint of oil production on public lands and maximize profits by directing this wasted gas to the market instead.

Part three of the plan provides for “Transparency to Empower Texans.” Our staff worked countless hours to unearth the data needed to build the Texas Climate Plan. Details on Texas’ environmental status should be readily available. Texans need transparent information to effectively engage policymakers and provide public oversight.

Part four of the plan, “Resiliency in a Changing Climate,” comes full circle to address the nightmarish “Texas Power Fail” in February. This man-made catastrophe could have been averted had we prepared for the effects of climate change. An estimated 200 Texans lost their lives during the Polar Vortex and damages are estimated at $195 billion — the costliest disaster in Texas history. To save lives and livelihoods, we must prepare for and prevent future extreme climate-related disasters.

As a Texan, I am proud of our energy dominance and the prosperity it has generated for our state. At the same time, we must recognize the negative byproducts of a fossil fuel economy. Texas will continue to be a leader in energy if we take advantage of new technologies that will power our homes and our economy without devastating our environment. We must confront a warming planet so Texans can continue to thrive. Texans are innately suited for this challenge because Texans do not fear the future. We lead it.

State Representative Gina Hinojosa

Austin American-Statesman

April 8, 2021

Listen to the scientists when reforming the grid

Re: March 31 article, “Texas House approves reforms to state power grid in aftermath of February winter storm.”

The catastrophic mismanagement of our electric grid in February was the most devastating event that I have experienced in my 45 years here. I couldn’t believe it was possible to lose electricity for 77 hours in the U.S.

As Asher Price noted, the hearings and media coverage revealed a deep information gap between utility board rooms, state grid control rooms and Texans in their darkened living rooms.

Our lawmakers have to be transparent about their plans to address the short- and long-term crises. The short term to winterize the grid with adequate funding and management of the power grid that puts Texans in the center and not the regulators in control rooms.

They must listen to the Texas climate scientists’ warning on changing climate and an urgent need to debate thoughtful policies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Texans want leaders to transition to clean energy.

Kalpana Sutaria

Austin American-Statesman

April 5, 2021

LTE Under Consideration: Re: March 21, 2021 Article, “Electric cars could double as generators”

There was a silver lining in living for three days without power and freezing conditions inside my house. Having an electric car in the garage which provided a temporary reprieve for charging devices, temporary warmth and power outage news. Outfitting electric cars with generators would be extremely helpful.

Investments in electric cars and necessary infrastructure to make it viable is an important step in reducing emissions. But the power outage of last month demands reckoning with the facts on climate change. 2021 snowstorm happened after the hottest decade of all times since the 2011 storm. People suffered when our leaders played blame game.

Texas leadership is in denial and we should demand action. We are surrounded with things which are made using fossil fuels including electric cars. Transition away from fossil fuels would be extremely hard but not impossible. Let us take a first step and put price on carbon.

Kalpana Sutaria

Submitted to the Austin American-Statesman

March 22, 2021

LTE Under Consideration: Re: March 1 Article, “Was climate change to blame?”

Texans just experienced devastating storms whose ripple effects are still hurting people. While the blame game is going on, we should not forget that lives were lost and life threatening hardships were felt.

We still remember the freezing weather of 2011 and power outages. Texas Legislature directed weatherization of electrical infrastructure soon after but tragically that was not done. After the warmest decade of all times, the 2021 snowstorm from the Polar regions brought below freezing weather for days knocking electricity and water infrastructures. Texans are still suffering. We had refrigerator like conditions for 77 hours in my house.

Scientists have been warning us for many years about warming temperatures, their effects on polar regions and resulting weather patterns everywhere. Our leaders and are fully aware of these facts. We need a thoughtful climate policy now and we must demand that. Business as usual is not an option.

Kalpana Sutaria

Submitted to the Austin American-Statesman

March 4, 2021

We must find unity on climate change

Climate change has struck us all. Hurricanes, wildfires and floods have struck Democrats and Republicans, supporters of Trump and Biden, young and old, country and city.

The military has identified climate change as a top security threat – for all. The Lancet’s commission on climate change it the “biggest global health threat of the 21st Century” – for all. Economists and business leaders who participated in the World Economic Forum recognize that climate change is the biggest risk to business – for all.

We are divided. We must seek unity in fighting climate change. We must insist that our congressional leaders seek bipartisan solutions to climate change and pass them. For all. Now.

Bob Hendricks

Austin American-Statesman

February 2, 2021

These are the results of humans heating Earth

Re: Dec. 29 article, “Five things worth remembering about Austin’s weather in 2020”

An interesting article about Austin’s 2020 weather. I couldn’t help notice the words “climate change” and “global warming” never appeared – interesting because record-setting heat waves and droughts, permanently escalating “average” temperatures, increasing number of hurricanes and severe weather events, and the general “weirder” weather you mentioned, are all results of humans heating the earth.

One might be tempted to think this isn’t so bad, it’s just the weather; and indeed, if the warming stopped dead in its tracks right now, we could live with the results, albeit at high cost. The problem is, the warming is still escalating rapidly, and will continue to do so unless we take immediate, vigorous measures to stop emitting greenhouse gases.

We have the technology and resources, and even the proposed legislation (HR763), to slow and ultimately stop the toasting of our planet. Let your government representatives know you want it done, now.

Mark Warren

Austin American-Statesman

January 4, 2021

Texans should demand action from lawmakers on Earth Day

This letter was published in 2018, but the discussion remains relevant today.

Each year, the world celebrates Earth Day on April 22 after its creation in 1970, when a large oil spill occurred on the California coast off Santa Barbara.

Concerns about the environment were increasing at the time in the U.S., and Republican President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

Humankind has been using fossil fuels for a long time — and its use has helped modernize transportation, manufacturing and agriculture. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activities have produced 40 percent more atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, from 280 ppm to 406 ppm in early 2017. This increase has happened despite the absorption of the gas by oceans and forests.

These trapped emissions have severe consequences for humankind. They act as a blanket around Earth, allowing global temperatures to rise. The American Meteorological Society has been keeping records of weather since 1919, allowing scientists to understand the changing climate.

Thirteen of the 15 hottest years in last 100 years occurred between 2000 and 2014.

Researchers found that there is some certainty that human activities are responsible for warming of the Earth.

As temperatures rise, evaporation increases, which causes more water vapor, a potent greenhouse gas. These conditions create more intense storms. We saw the likes of them in 2017 in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical depression, grew into a Category 1 hurricane and continued to gain strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and churned towards Texas.

It became a Category 4 hurricane, covering a huge area from the coast to Central Texas and dropping 51 inches of rain over Houston. The estimated damage is $198 billion.

Total damages from natural disasters in 2017 alone are estimated between $300 billion to $400 billion. Victims are still waiting for help. In comparison, the damages were just $46 billion in 2016.

The list of climate change impacts is large: Heat waves, floods, wildfires, melting glaciers, rising sea level, droughts, severe storms, off-the – charts high temperatures in the Arctic, crop destruction and deforestation are just a few.

Earth Day is especially crucial for Texans this year. We must reverse warming of the planet by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and developing clean sources of energy. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.

The Montreal Protocol signed by 197 countries to discontinue ozone-depleting chemicals was a success story in 1987 for the global community. It has worked hard for years, and 195 countries signed the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 to limit global temperature rise. But President Trump announced his intention to withdraw in 2017, making us the only country to disengage.

A Yale survey of 36 congressional districts in Texas shows 67 percent of adults are concerned about global warming — and 75 percent believe in funding research into renewable energy sources. Millennials are broadly convinced human-induced climate change is real and deserves action. Industries, businesses, universities, cities and states are addressing it.

A carbon fee and dividend is proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which would put a fee on oil, coal and gas. The money collected would be returned to American households.

This rebate would stimulate the economy and make clean energy cheaper. The Climate Leadership Council is proposing a similar solution.

On Earth Day 2018, let us demand actions from our lawmakers to find solutions. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House are working on it. Let us support them and ask others to join for a livable world for all.

Kalpana Sutaria

Austin American-Statesman

April 21, 2018