Austin officials had ambitious green energy plans — before natural gas lobbyists interfered

Austin officials had ambitious green energy plans — before natural gas lobbyists interfered

In Austin, one of the Democratic strongholds in a state that has arguably gone from deep red to light red, local officials had a plan to gradually move the Texas city away from fossil fuels and more in the direction of green energy. But reporters Emily Holden, Amal Ahmed and Brendan Gibbons, in an article that has been published by the Texas Observer and others, describe the ways in which a natural gas company, Texas Gas Service, set out to undermine the plan.

The reporters explain, "The proposal, an existential threat to the gas industry, quickly caught the attention of Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials. In its suggested edits, the company struck references to 'electrification,' and replaced them with 'decarbonization' — a policy that wouldn't rule out gas. It replaced 'electric vehicles' with 'alternative fuel vehicles,' which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air — both of which might help it to keep burning gas."

According to Holden, Ahmed and Gibbons, the Climate Investigations Center shared the revisions with the Texas Observer, Floodlight and San Antonio Report. The Climate Investigations Center obtained the information through public records that documented communications between Austin officials and the Texas Gas Service.

"The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas," Holden, Ahmed and Gibbons observe. "The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-secured changes."

Austin isn't the only place where lobbyists for the fossil fuels industry have set out to thwart plans for green energy. In 2019 in San Antonio — another Texas city with a strong Democratic presence — lobbyists for the company CPS Energy did everything they could to undermine a green energy plan.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott voiced his opposition to green energy during the state's recent energy crisis, which found millions of Texans without electricity, heat or running water during a bitter cold snap. Abbott claimed that wind turbines were to blame for the blackouts, which was total nonsense — as former Rep. Beto O'Rourke pointed out, during appearances on MSNBC and the Spanish-language Univision in late February, the problem wasn't green energy vs. fossil fuels. The problem was that Texas' power system in general hadn't been properly winterized.

Holden, Ahmed and Gibbons note how subservient some Texas lawmakers are to fossil fuels lobbyists.

"In Texas," the reporters explain, "lawmakers have introduced two bills that would prohibit local governments from banning gas connections. The gas lobby, the American Gas Association, has said it isn't actively coordinating support or lobbying for state laws to prohibit gas bans, but its internal records indicate a different story."


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