Why Not Now? If Not Now, When?

Extreme weather events have a way of clarifying the issues and focusing our minds.

As we struggle through the worst summer on record and suffer a drought that already rivals 2011 with no relief in sight for either condition, we should be demanding and getting accountability and action from politicians and regulators, but all they give us is canned mumbo jumbo, platitudes, pablum, garbage and promises they know they won’t keep. 

Here is an example taken from the column by Chris Tomlinson of August 3, 2022 in the Houston Chronicle’s business section.  The article is entitled “Oil, gas turn up the heat.”  Mr. Tomlinson first points out the ungodly profits that oil and gas and refining companies are making due to high oil prices and high refining margins.  Next, Mr. Tomlinson reminds us that methane gas, the valuable part of natural gas, is a super-potent greenhouse gas that does “83 times more damage to the climate over 20 years than carbon dioxide.”  Mr. Tomlinson then reports that according to recent satellite studies of the Texas Permian Basin, “Methane emissions jumped by 1/3 in the first quarter of 2022 when compared with the 4th quarter of 2021 and by nearly 50% year over year, surpassing pre-Covid levels.”  This big jump in methane emissions is after years of warnings about the danger of methane leaks and flaring and years of failed industry promises to do better.  Mr. Tomlinson’s point is that the industry can afford to do much better and that they are hurting us with no cost to themselves. They are dumping in our atmosphere free of charge.  Of course, they will continue to do this unless they are stopped.

Any reasonable person would find this very alarming and you would think that the regulator, in this case the Texas Railroad Commission, would be hopping mad about it. Not so the Texas Railroad Commission.  Tomlinson quotes Wayne Christian, Commission Chairman, as saying:  “The Biden administration continues their efforts to tax and regulate the oil and gas industry out of existence.  The U.S. is a global leader in reducing emissions not through regulation – but technological innovation.”

Of course, every word of Christian’s statement is either a political jab, a half-truth, or a lie, but it reveals the true nature of the Commission and of Christian.  The Commission is a shill for the oil and gas industry run by politicians. It is not really a public regulatory agency, i.e., a governmental body that regulates an industry by creating and enforcing regulations that are in the best interest of the public.  At best, it is a record keeping agency for the oil and gas industry.  It makes no attempt to promulgate or enforce regulations that are intended to help our environment by eliminating unnecessary and economically wasteful greenhouse emissions that are causing global warming. 

Considering the enormous role Texas plays in the total oil and gas production of the U.S., the failures of the Texas Railroad Commission are truly magnified.  Methane doesn’t respect state or national borders.  Nor does it care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.  It just does what it does and we all suffer.  Science is funny like that.