Debunking the Texas Miracle
by Amanda Starbuck, 8/11/2015
In a Forbes opinion piece last week Christi Craddick, one of Texas’ three elected members of the Railroad Commission, the public entity responsible for regulating the oil and gas industries, asked that presidential candidates spell out their national energy plan – and suggested that Texas would serve as a good model. In her words, “Texas has developed a globally renowned model that allows industry to flourish in an environmentally responsible way.”
While it is clear the strong executive/weak legislature model of government in Texas has been very friendly to the oil and gas industries, it has left the residents of Texas and the state’s water and soil resources under siege. Modeling our national energy plan on this kind of risk and devastation is a terrifying idea.
In Texas, weak regulation of energy companies costs workers’ health, residents’ clean water, and has created skewed job growth.
The majority of Texans are not benefitting from the states’ race-to-the-bottom public policies. Here are just a few examples:
- Fracking is contaminating drinking water across Texas. A recent study of 550 drinking water wells near Texas fracking operations found that 69 percent had been contaminated with toxic chemicals.
- Over 60 percent of Texan children go to school within the danger zone of a hazardous chemical facility, putting them at risk for a chemical explosion or release. Thanks to the lack of even basic zoning requirements, some schools in the Houston area are in as many as 41 overlapping facility danger zones.
- Texas rates last in several measures of job quality. The state has the largest share of medically uninsured persons, and also the highest share of employed persons who qualify for government assistance programs. These are likely the result of low-wage jobs and low levels of employee paid health care.
- Texas rates 11th highest in poverty, with 17.5 percent of its population living below the poverty line (compared to the national average of 14.8 percent). Alarmingly, 25 percent of Texan children live in poverty.
This pro-industry approach benefits corporations and the politicians they support. But it has done little to improve the quality of life of Texans. It fails to lift children out of poverty and provide workers with living wages. So why are politicians so eager to accommodate industry?
It just might be related to the over $800,000 that the oil and gas industry alone contributed to Craddick’s campaign during the last cycle – the largest total share of contributions from any source. (Yes, in Texas, individuals from regulated industries can contribute campaign funds to elect commissioners to the board that oversees the check-writers.) It seems Craddick speaks on behalf of her contributors, not the communities who live amid pollution, risks, and water contamination.
Craddick is also active in ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), a group that brings together state legislatures and industry representatives to create model legislation. ALEC pushes bills that attack safeguards and support industry interests. Craddick has spoken about fracking at ALEC meetings and last year tried to conceal a $25,000 donation from her father, Chairman Emeritus of ALEC’s executive board.
Other state leaders are also chummy with the oil and gas industry. Nearly one quarter of Texas legislators (or their spouses) own mineral rights or stock in oil industries. Encouraging drilling directly benefits their financial interests. This is crony capitalism at its worst – and most obvious.
The Texas energy model is a corrupt system that puts the personal interests of legislators and campaign donors above the public interest.
It is undemocratic to its core. Texas politicians embrace a “local control” rationale when seeking to block federal regulations from being applied to their state. But they have simultaneously stripped away the rights of local communities. In May, Governor Abbot signed into law a bill that prohibits communities from banning fracking, effectively overturning the fracking ban that the residents of the town of Denton overwhelmingly supported and voted for.
The Texas model would be devastating for our country. We need safeguards that protect workers in high-risk fields like oil and gas extraction and also protect citizens who are exposed to pollution from fracking. And we need our government to support the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources that limit carbon emissions and improve quality of life for everyone.
Christi Craddick: the Texas model is the wrong model for American democracy.