Analysis

Messing with Texas: The Big Stories to Watch in 2022

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Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Texas-based reporters, activists, and academics discuss what they’re watching—or hope to be watching —in 2022.

Greg Harman

Understanding the big Texas stories of a new year ahead involves, inevitably, looking back to the year that was. For Texas, grid insecurity and price-gouging gas companies will remain a concern, even if the Texas Legislature will be sitting the year out between sessions as we approach another sure-to-be contentious mid-term election. (God that sounds so quaint in the middle of a slow-roll coup, no?) But longer-term trends, too, such as the entrenched record-breaking temperatures moving from a hotter-than-typical winter into sure-to-be-overheated spring and summer months also bring consequences.

What does rising heat mean for human well being around the state? Consider Deceleration‘s year-long intervention, alongside dozens of others in San Antonio, to move a single individual off the streets—then start multiplying. Factor in our disappearing groundwater, a sign of ineffective water bureaucracies, as well as a developing build-out of resource-straining and heavily polluting industries along the Gulf Coast, and troubling, if all-too-familiar, signs appear of the year ahead.

But big stories don’t coalesce along straight lines. The wheels of history are forged through heavy tinkering by political actors and social movements. So much is idling, to be determined.

When I was invited to write about stories worth watching for the Society of Environmental Journalists newsletter in advance of their upcoming annual conference in Houston (published last week), I immediately put the call out to dozens of working reporters, activists, and academics. Most responded to my survey, sharing their big stories, but also their hopes and encouragements for those covering the news. Activist-journalist Bryan Parras urged, for instance, more “solutions-making” journalism of the sort that Deceleration attempts, but doesn’t always land.

“For me the whole point of journalism is to advance society on societal issues,” Parras told Deceleration.

“I really want to know what is going to move us forward in a positive way. That’s how I frame all of my understanding of an issue. It shapes my questions. It shapes who I talk to. So I look for folks who are honest, have some integrity, and are actively working to solve a problem or a situation.”

Solid.

I tried to challenge media members with fresh takes, including a nod to Biden’s border wall (this does not look like a promised pause), SpaceX’s colonizing of the RGV (en route, as it were, to Mars), and the assembling ‘Nurdle Patrol‘ on the Coast tracking Formosa’s massive gulfside plastics dump. There was so much spilling over the banks of the assigned word count that I realized I needed to capture this energy and information in a way more people could access—and build their own solutions with, to draw on Parras again.

I started hitting record on these video calls. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to sync calendars with everyone. Among those below, I regret I was not able to include the fuller convo with Parras, or Dallas-based freelancer (and Texas Observer ex) Amal Ahmed, among many others. Many important sources didn’t respond, or were sick, we should note, so this is not a full accounting of voices. But the conversations here have a lot to offer and I’m grateful to all who took the time to chat.

It should be noted also that progress on issues like our destablized climate, public health, and racial and economic injustice are premised upon open/accessible to free and fair elections, that all forms of fascist and supremacist power grabs, are effectively beat back. At Deceleration, we’ll be exploring ways to factor these basic democratic concerns more clearly into our coverage in the coming months.

Enjoy!

Samsel: ‘It’s About to Get Crazy’

Haley Samsel has a front-row seat on serious solutions-making of a kind in Arlington, where a drilling permit was recently denied—possibly a first for any Texas city since the Lege and Governor Greg Abbott, in essence, prohibited cities from regulating fracking within their boundaries in 2015. She fully expects the big story on her plate, at least, to be urban gas drilling deep into 2022.

“People finally know what meetings to go to and how to be heard by city council members and perhaps the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,” she said.

Gibbons: Don’t Just Fix It—Connect the Grid

Brendan Gibbons, assistant manager at the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, a regional nonprofit dedicated to protecting area watersheds, emphasized the need for collective problem-solving both on water and on energy. (His former beat, some of you may know, was as an environment and energy reporter at the San Antonio Report). His big 2022 headline is more aspirational: ‘Don’t Just Fix It—Connect the Grid.’

“We get to the middle of the century, we’re going to need our neighbors to help us. And we’re going to need to help them too,” he said.

Virginia Palacios: Reforming Texas’s Oil and Gas Regulators

One of the new actors on the scene in 2021, nominated for inclusion here by several we spoke to, was reform-minded Commission Shift. The new nonprofit emerged in the moment of grid collapse with Texas’s oil gas regulators at the Railroad Commission of Texas in its sites, releasing in quick order an impressive suite of animating reports based upon the financial disclosures of the three commissioners. We spoke with their director for a peek at their emerging agenda of 2022, which includes a deeper look at abandoned oil and gas wells, like, apparently, this stunning West Texas eruption.

“Too often I talk to people and they’re disillusioned … and say you’re never going to change it.”

Klineberg: Houston’s Radical Re-creation

Stephen Klineberg, leading the Kinder Houston Area Survey at Rice University for the past 40 years, has a notable vision of not only a changing Houston, but changing urban landscape across Texas and the US. It’s a public more deeply concerned with issues of racial and economic equity and climate response, being driven, according to his research, by changing demographics and economic urgency requiring a clean(er)-energy transition.

“We have fought tooth and nail against the whole concept that the burning of fossil fuels is a problem for America and for the climate,” Klineberg said. “We don’t fight that anymore. It’s only a question of what’s best way of dealing with it and don’t destroy the economy while you try to save it.”

Emma Guevara: SpaceX Colonizing of the Rio Grande Valley

As I highlighted for SEJ, there’s a definite shift in Texas-based space coverage these past years. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is undoubtedly, as it claims, a “a hub of human spaceflight activity,” but the bulk of state news coverage has definite tilted to space tourism pursued by the billionaire rocketmen deepening their respective ventures in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. And while Elon Musk may have his eye on Mars, it is important not to overlook the power of his very real colonial impulse as it’s being felt here on Earth.

Sierra Club organizer Emma Guevara has called on journalists to remember that the new city called “Starbase” Musk brags about building is on land that has been inhabited, traveled, understood and loved for thousands of years in patterns of pre-existing relationship. Discounting this fact, she wrote recently in Trucha, “contributes to our erasure.”

“This is colonization,” she told Deceleration. “Especially with the gentrification we’ve also seen with our city … the cost to survive is getting high.”

‘Sister Elizabeth’: More Skepticism Please

This Catholic Sister and anti-fracking activist goes places few others do. Her insights are frequently worth noting, including when she waxes on about her interactions with supposedly pro-life elected leaders prone to quoting from the Bible on the death penalty but unaware that a fundamentalist interpretation of these ancient texts require children be put to death, for example, for insulting their parents, among other potential transgressions.

She gets spirited when discussing the failure of news media to adequately hold accountable what she sees as a rampantly corrupt regulatory system in the state. (Yeah, Commission Shift was one of her recommendations.) Few outlets get good grades in her book.

“They usually do not understand how the Railroad Commission works,” she said of national reporters dropping in on Texas. “Unless they’ve had direct experience with confronting the Railroad Commission or complaining to them, they believe they can trust the Railroad Commission and the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality], but nothing could be further from the truth.”

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