Factchecking the Texas Public Policy Foundation

Rafael Bejar, director of outreach and policy advisor for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Future Forum last year. Image: LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin.

Greg Harman

In recent months, an Austin-based think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has been holding regular (lightly attended) meetings to disparage and attempt to undermine the City’s draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). Though SA Councilman Clayton Perry, who has privately accused fellow council members of being “complicit” in supporting climate action, attempted to lend the group some legitimacy by sitting in with them recently. Yet this fossil-fuel-funded denialist organization can’t escape the breadth and depth of their willful misinformation.

For all those working for climate justice in San Antonio and elsewhere in the state (particularly, in this moment, those going to speak in support of climate action in the a.m., when SA’s Council will take up a vote on the CAAP), we offer this factcheck on some of the TPPF’s key talking points. Additional correctives will be added in the months ahead, as needed.

Who is the Texas Public Policy Foundation?

TPPF SAYS: “The Foundation’s mission is to promote and defend liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise in Texas and the nation by educating and affecting policymakers and the Texas public policy debate with academically sound research and outreach.” (See: About)

FACT: TPPF is a pay-to-play service that churns out papers that sound and look intellectually sound. But as their climate arguments seeking to discredit climate action in San Antonio demonstrate, the TPPF habitually stretches (mangles, buries) the truth to fit the radical agenda of its funders, which have included “the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil, Altria (tobacco), Geo Group (private prisons) and dozens of other corporations, interest groups, right-wing foundations and wealthy businessmen with an agenda to promote.” (Source: Texas Observer)

FACT: “The Texas Public Policy Foundation is not required to disclose its funders. Its major foundation funders, however, can be found through a search of the IRS filings. Here are some of the known funders of the Texas Public Policy Foundation:

  • Claude R. Lambe Foundation: $522,500 (Koch Foundation) (1998-2012); Charles G. Koch Foundation: $529,554 (2004-2015): No other foundation/organization did more to kill U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement (See: “Koch Brothers Campaign”)
  • Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund: $1,786,705 (2010-2014): According to Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist featured on PBS Frontline in October 2012, “by 2009, about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement [of climate change denial] is from the Donors Trust [and] Donors Capital Fund.”
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $315,000 (2010-2016): Likes to fund climate denial groups like the discredited Heartland Institute.

(See: Source Watch.)

Are Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere a Problem?

TPPF SAYS: Climate is changing, but it’s not much of a problem. (They are evasive on the point of human-generated climate pollution, but are quick to downplay, saying that global GHG levels have only changed 0.3 to 0.4 in 200 years.)

FACT: Greenhouse gases are a small part of the atmosphere, but are incredibly powerful and are the reason the average temperature on the planet is 59 degrees F and not 0 degrees F (NASA). Greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations throughout human history on earth have largely ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. But since humans started burning coal and oil, GHG levels has rocked up to more than 400 million parts per million (410 ppm in 2017)—nearing levels not seen since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. This has led to record-breaking heat across the planet, acidifying oceans, and a rise in extreme weather. If rapid action is not taken soon, GHG levels could reach a point where stalling and/or reversing runaway warming becomes impossible.

Is the United States a “Climate Hero”?

TPPF: We are leading the world in climate reductions because of the free market (not government regulations). The environment is cleaner than ever.

FACT: Air and water quality improvements, where they have happened, are largely the product of the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts of the 1970s. HOWEVER, things are not improving when it comes to our climate pollution. In fact, GHG gases emitted in the United States have increased since 1990, when the United States was the worst climate offender on the planet. In 1990, the U.S. pumped out 6.37 million metric tons of GHG. That number rose to 6.45 million metric tons in 2017 (Source: US EPA). Today, we are the second highest emitter next to China. Texas, were it its own country, would be the seventh worst offender on the planet. (See: World Data and US EIA)

Energy Subsidies in the United States

TPPF: Renewable energy gets too many subsidies … and subsidies, in general, negatively impact the “free market.” … Cost estimates of taxpayer subsidies for renewables in Texas show the cost to be as high as $36 billion from 2006-2029 when the PTC [Texas Production Tax Credit] is (currently) scheduled to expire.

FACT: Fossil fuels in the United States receive by far the most subsidies in the energy sector, including $649 billion in government after-tax subsidies in 2017. Globally, fossil fuels reaped $5.2 trillion the same year. (Source: International Monetary Fund)

Georgetown: 100% Renewable Failure?

TPPF: Recent rate increases in Georgetown, Texas, the state’s first 100% renewable city proves renewable costs too much.

FACT: The main issues behind recent rate increases in Georgetown are utility secrecy and mismanagement of the city’s utility. Utility rates in Texas’ first 100-percent renewable city have been going up. Assigning blame is difficult because Georgetown (like San Antonio’s CPS Energy) operates without transparency or accountability. However, the recent rate increases are likely to due to poor management, involving both overruns resulting from an unfavorable long-term LCRA contract involving fossil fuels and the (apparent) purchasing of more power than the city needed (this time renewable) in hopes of selling excess power back to the grid for a profit.

The CAAP is a Billion-Dollar Boondoggle

TPPF: The CAAP will cost “billions” to implement and hurt working families in San Antonio.

FACT: This erroneous talking point originated with Valero Energy and has gained traction within the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and San Antonio Manufacturers Association—and, of course, TPPF ally Clayton Perry.

FACT: The CAAP only commits the city to meeting reductions in climate pollution, culminating at net-zero by 2050, with no enforcement or penalties implied or written, except that failure guarantees damaging impacts from climate change. The policies that will get us to that point will still be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Essentially, the cost of the plan is zero. While pursuing policies to reach net zero will have costs: 1. the cost of doing nothing will be astronomical; 2. Replacing coal with renewables can actually save us money (we have research paper, attached); 3. Smarter policies on flooding, etc., can also save lives as we move into an era of more extreme weather.

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