Texas Lege: Bear Many Children, Feed Them Gas. Climate Be Damned.

Texas Rotunda at the Texas Capitol Building. Image: Alex Thomson via Flickr

If Texas lawmakers really cared about ‘customer choice,’ HB 17, a bill to mandate gas hook-ups in new buildings, would not just prevent the ‘discrimination’ against fossil fuels but help revive the oil lamp industry, coal cellars, and cow dung dealers.

Greg Harman

To slow the manifestation of our climate crisis and dampen the violence being brought about by our now chronically off-kilter global climate system, cities, states, and nations around the world have been developing climate plans to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels—a primary driver of this fast-accelerating disaster.

Such plans have been passed in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, among other cities. Unsurprisingly, the gas industry and its acolytes—including Beaumont Democrat Joe Deshotel, author of HB17, which would ban cities from building virtually anything without gas services—aren’t ready to be counted out. If Deshotel’s name sounds familiar, that may be due to his early Lege-rumbling COVID diagnosis.

The irony and cultural sickness reflected in this effort is thick, as Deshotal and allies rally ’round the gas industry, the least prepared of all of the state’s energy providers when it came to delivering power during what Texas food producers came to call the Valentine’s Day Massacre. (Evidence: Mackenzie, Wood.)

Of course, it wasn’t just crops wrecked during the freezing blackouts. Many millions of residents suffered without power in near-zero temperatures, some for days on end. And more than 110 lost their lives across the state during Winter Storm Uri.

Yes, we’re used to such shillmanship in Texas. But it’s still a sickly time for it.

Interestingly, the same week the House pushed out this gold nugget for the gas interests who made billions out of the supply disruption their own lack of preparation made possible, the Texas Senate introduced one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in the nation. If passed, it would require virtually all pregnancies be brought to term, including in cases of rape and incest.

Structured to turn every resident into a procreative surveillance asset, the so-called “heartbeat bill” puts the enforcement power in the hands of Texans directly. According to the Houston Chronicle, the bill allows for “any Texan to file a civil suit against a doctor or any person who ‘aids and abets’ a woman who gets an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected in the fetus.”

Thou Shalt Bear Many Young; Thou Shalt Do Nothing For Them.

That’s been the playbook under the Republican leadership for decades now.

This week’s actions flow from a familiar and longstanding political posture in a purple state tilting blue-green, where Republicans still see their future in extremist and conspiratorial lurching, working here to out-extreme the rest of the country in the war on family planning and climate action. Meanwhile, the shameful flip side of economy-stoking “Texas Miracle” manifests in Texas’s ranking 49th in the nation for overall childhood wellbeing, based upon criteria like lack of health insurance, levels of hunger, and more.

To that raft of punitive actions against the very young we can add Deshotel’s gas bill that rejects any chance for these young people to grow up with a climate resembling the one humans have lived within for these many thousands of years. If you are just checking in on the subject: It’s really that bad.

HB 17 was just one of a suite of bills purporting to respond to the climate catastrophe that pushed the state to the brink of total grid collapse but headed to very likely adoption. It reads in part:

No regulatory authority, planning authority, or political subdivision of this state may adopt or enforce an ordinance, resolution, regulation, code, order, policy, or other measure that has the purpose, intent, or effect of directly or indirectly banning, limiting, restricting, discriminating against, or prohibiting the connection or reconnection of a utility service or the construction, maintenance, or installation of residential, commercial, or other public or private infrastructure for a utility service based on the type or source of energy to be delivered to the end-use customer.

In other words, gas must stay in the picture—and in the pipes—everywhere.

Deshotel’s bill analysis seeks to justify the state meddling in the energy market in this way as necessary “to preserve customer choice.”

Significantly, Deshotel’s top donors include major gas company CenterPoint Energy. (And if CenterPoint sounds familiar, maybe you heard about this lawsuit alleging the private utility was selectively shutting off power to the most vulnerable residents, including those in public housing, for days during the February storm.) Another big Deshotel donor is Entergy (which burns a lot of gas at a lot of gas plants). See his full donor list here.

Though HB 17 is traveling with a bucket of disaster bills, this gas industry gimme is not about fixing the problem of energy vulnerability, much less climate disruption, clean-energy advocate Doug Lewin told Mose Buchele at KUT. By mandating that gas supplies continue to feed into homes and buildings, even when they are neither wanted nor needed, rather than, say, existing power plants intended to keep the lights on, Lewin said:

“This bill absolutely, unequivocally, would make the problem worse.”

HB17 resembles a rash of bills in other states trying hard not to “be California.” But when it comes to protecting our health—and the wellbeing of our children, were that something we collectively valued—California seems to be onto something in its quest to get dirty gas out of buildings. (See “Effects of Natural Gas Appliances…” below.)

Texas, however, is on to something too. It’s something Hollywood screenwriters may draw inspiration from. Scene: dystopia. Time: near future. Shot opens on an abandoned highway, buildings are burning in the distance. The scene fills with children. They are the “heartbeat bill” children. They are looking to settle accounts with the Texas climate deniers who both designed this dystopia by mandating ecocide and then forced them onto the set.

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