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Archive for January, 2010

2 big upcoming events for the Texas Green Network:

January 21st — an inaugural San Antonio networking event, an introduction to San Antonio’s green business community

January 27th —  green tradeshow workshop & show featuring members of Texas Green Network (Austin)


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With climate legislation held up in the Senate and the Copenhagen climate talks’ failure to produce a binding, international agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has emerged as the critical agency in regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Through application of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority to curb climate change. Unfortunately, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and lobbyists for some of the biggest polluters in the country have other plans for the Clean Air Act.

Tomorrow, Senator Murkowski is planning to introduce an amendment that would halt the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act and undermine one of our most important environmental laws.

We know that big energy likes the amendment, since they helped draft it. In the Washington Post, a lobbyist for energy giants like Southern Co. and Duke Energy, Jeff Holmsted, admitted to working with Murkowski’s staff on the exact language of the amendment.This is after Senator Murkowski received more than $124,500 from Holmsted’s clients.

Don’t let Big Energy write the law to pollute more! Tell your Senator to protect the Clean Air Act.

The Murkowski amendment seeks to reverse the EPA’s critical finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health. The endangerment finding triggers the Clean Air Act and prompts the EPA to take the first step toward curbing climate change pollution.

Murkowski’s attempt to eviscerate our best existing tool for reducing greenhouse gas pollution not only threatens our ability to reduce the carbon in our atmosphere, but also serves as another shameful example of the role Big Polluters are playing in stalling climate change action.

Please act today to tell the Senate we need the Clean Air Act to curb global warming, and to oppose the attempts of Murkowski and Big Polluters to gut the Act.

Thank you for all you do!

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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According to this article from the New York Times, a “major trade group for the insurance industry” has taken the stance that global warming may, after all, be the scam all those talk radio and Fox News pundits are claiming it is. This group is the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, or NAMIC.

In a letter to insurance regulators, NAMIC makes statements denying the legitimacy of global warming science, making outlandish claims such as the University of East Anglia climatologists “actively colluded to subvert the peer-review process,” amongst other things. Apparently NAMIC prefers the cherry-picked misquotes of personal emails to the vast array of climate science available. That’s what they’ve armed themselves with to challenge the established scientific theories on anthropogenic global warming. None of these insurance businessmen are climatologists, but they feel they have the expertise and qualifications to make judgments about policy and how it relates to the threat of global climate change.

Overall, however, insurance companies still seem concerned about climate change, and for good reason. Insurance companies stand to lose vast amounts of money due to the changes scientists predict – some companies could go bankrupt depending on how bad and how quickly the effects occur. Perhaps this is just fear run amuck through certain insurance company circles, but that doesn’t make it any less irresponsible or dangerous. At a time when we need focused calculation and attention paid to the ever-increasing threats of global warming we are, instead, getting hysteria and misinformation. If NAMIC wants to join the likes of Glen Beck and Mark Levin let us at least hope that insurance regulators will take them just as seriously as those fine gentlemen.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes you a happy MLK Day as it brings you this week’s blog highlights.

Off the Kuff takes a look at some demographic trends in the Houston area.

Something STINKS about TCEQ’s recent Fort Worth air study. Considering that the Barnett Shale has a staggering asthma rate of 25% compared to 7.1% statewide, TXsharon thinks it’s time for an intervention in Texas. Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme, along with every other progressive, knows why Democrats are having a hard time. Even the Tea Party activists know that our country should not be run by corporate lobbyists.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson discusses the importance of the election this year, 2010 races loom large for 2011 legislative redistricting.

Mary Peters loves her some private toll roads which is understandable since her income depends on stupid people at TXDOT selling off our roads. McBlogger, understandably, has a problem with the fact that taxpayers have to get screwed for Mary and her masters to make money.

A few of PDiddie’s friends around the state are taking a crack at public office this year. See who they are at Brains and Eggs.

Bay Area Houston notices What they didnt talk about at the Republican debates.

Neil at Texas Liberal updated his Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List for 2010. This list is the best such resource on the web.

MUD? FWSD? WTF? Developer welfare comes back into the light in Denton County, at the Texas Cloverleaf.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Two proposed nuclear reactors in Florida were put on hold this week after the Florida Public Service Commission denied the lion’s share of a rate increase necessary to fund the project’s construction. The utility Florida Power and Light (FPL) requested a record rate hike of $1.27 Billion, but was only granted a a $75.5 million base-rate increase. Stripped of their authority to make ratepayers bear the financial burden and risk of new reactors, FPL announced

it would halt $10 billion in projects, including plans to build two new nuclear reactors at the Turkey Point plant near Miami and upgrade two new generators.

If the economy improves, FPL can ask for a larger rate increase at a later date — but for the time being, this is a major victory for consumers and anti-nuclear advocates alike.  Florida has seen the folly of forcing citizens to pay large rate increases and bear the long-term burden for risky investments in nuclear power — let’s just hope that the San Antonio City Council comes to the same conclusion.  They’re set to vote on $400 million in bonds to continue their stake in two additional proposed reactors at the South Texas Nuclear Project facility later this month.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Original post can be found at our sister blog, Citizen Vox.

How much does a pro-pollution amendment cost? From the looks of recent reports about the relationship between Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and a big energy lobbyist, at least about $35,000. That’s how much Duke Energy, Southern Co. and their executives gave to Sen. Murkowski’s campaign and leadership PAC so far in the 2009-2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

It’s no surprise then that Jeffery Holmstead, a registered lobbyist for clients Duke Energy and Southern Co., had extraordinary access to Murkowski – access to help craft an amendment to allow his clients to continue polluting. The amendment proposed by Sen. Murkowski would gut key provisions of the Clean Air Act. The Washington Post reports that Holmstead (also a former top official at the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush) and another lobbyist, Roger Matella, were very hands-on in drafting the amendment:

In an interview, Holmstead said of the Murkowski amendment, ‘I certainly worked with her staff’ on the exact phrasing of the measure in September.

The Obama Administration has moved forward to regulate pollutants that cause climate change using the Clean Air Act. This critical step to rebuild our economy with clean energy, and to protect our health and our climate from global warming and pollution is under attack by the big polluters. And they have friends in high places.

As early as Wednesday, Jan. 20, the Senate could vote on the “Murkowski amendment” to prohibit the U.S. EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. She may attach the amendment as a “rider” on a bill that has nothing to do with climate. Tyson Slocum, head of Public Citizen’s Energy Program said, “This amendment is all about letting fossil fuel polluters keep their outrageous profits and continue business as usual.”

Of course, the big polluters also have deep pockets. It’s obvious that Murkowski has wrapped herself up with big energy lobbyists and their money. She has received by far the most money from electric utilities and big oil – at least $389,313 so far since 2009. In fact, she’s the top recipient of contributions from the energy industry.

This kind of pay-to-play politics is not new to Washington or Murkowski, but it is the reason the public holds little faith that members of Congress are representing their interests. The story is the same whether the issue is climate change, the financial crisis or health care reform – big industry fuels elections and the policy falls far short of what the American people want and need.

To remove the appearance of corruption, Murkowski should give back the $35,000 and any other contributions she has received from clients of Holmstead and Matella. But if she really wants to show Alaskans that she values representative democracy over pay-to-play politics, then she should become a part of the solution to the underlying problem. She should support an alternative to the current corrosive electoral system and become a co-sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act. This bill would allow candidates for Congress to run without taking a dime over $100 from individual supporters.

But then again, a fair system with real accountability might make it tougher for polluters to prevail. It might not appeal to Murkowski and her big oil buddies, but it sure sounds like a good idea to us.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Statement of Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office

The latest interim charge of the state Senate Business and Commerce Committee provides a welcome opportunity for Texas to rein in rogue utilities like CPS Energy of San Antonio. Now tasked with studying the costs of municipally owned utilities’ generation plans and their impacts on residential and commercial customers, the Senate committee has the opportunity to protect Texans, especially low-income families, from the machinations of a utility bent on pleasing its industrial consumers at the cost of its most vulnerable customers.

CPS Energy is pursuing a risky investment in a nuclear expansion project that, depending on the final cost of the project, would raise rates between 36 percent and 60 percent over the next 10 years. The municipally owned utility has failed to adequately involve the citizenry and city government in its generation planning process. CPS Energy’s nuclear energy plan lacks any mechanism to protect consumers or low-income families, despite the fact that those customers would have to pick up the tab if the deal gets more expensive.

In comparison, the city of Austin’s generation planning process spanned two years and involved public input and roundtable stakeholder negotiations, leading to the development of special policies to protect low-income families from higher bills. Policies like built-in periodic reassessments of cost and feasibility will protect Austin residents and businesses from runaway energy costs that are so typical of large-scale nuclear construction projects. San Antonio residents need to see the same protections.

As Austin’s process clearly shows, CPS Energy can be much more inclusive and transparent. Public Citizen is grateful that the members of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee can step in and act as responsible figures in this process.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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If you were as frustrated as I was watching world leaders dither in Copenhagen while the Earth heats up and island nations continue making evacuation plans, there is good news on the horizon for Austin.

Austin Energy has developed a consensus plan that would establish our own CO2 cap and reduction plan. The great news is that by 2020, Austin’s investments in solar, wind and energy efficiency would allow us to reduce our dependence on the Fayette coal plant by nearly 30 percent! This energy plan will also bring a wide variety of jobs to the city, from innovative clean technology companies to installation, retrofit and construction jobs.

We need support to pass the plan now!

Public Citizen has helped form a coalition called Clean Energy for Austin. We’ve brought together businesses large and small, from Applied Materials to Greenling Organic Delivery, and 12 nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund to call on City Council to pass the energy plan.

The more individuals and businesses that join the coalition, the stronger the message to City Hall that our world-renowned green city must remain a leader in reducing pollution and creating a green economy.

Sign on as an endorser of Clean Energy for Austin!

Thanks,

Matt Johnson

Some background: This fall, I had the privilege of representing Public Citizen on the city’s task force charged with analyzing Austin Energy’s 2020 plan and making additional recommendations. We voted unanimously to upgrade Austin Energy’s energy efficiency goal, create a special self-sustaining market for local renewable power like solar rooftops and parking lots, and protect consumers’ pocketbooks by conducting periodic reviews in case costs change dramatically.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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So put on a sweater and crank up the thermostat! That was the major trend late last week and over the weekend, when arctic weather led Texas to set another winter power usage record.  According to the Abilene Reporter News,

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for most of the state, reported a winter record of 55,856 megawatts Friday between 7 and 8 a.m. to erase the previous high of 52,001 set just 12 hours previously between 7 and 8 p.m. Thursday.

Those of you paying close attention may recall that last year Texas also set the record for summer energy consumption.

This year Texas used more energy staying cool in the hot hot summer, and more energy staying warm in the cold, cold winter, than in any other time in the past.

It has been so unusually cold in North America that “wintry weather sweeping across the Northern Hemisphere has slowed coal deliveries in parts of the U.S. South.” Though we’re feeling the chill here, but its actually been unseasonably warm in most other parts of the world like Greenland where they usually count on that cold to re-form ice sheets — some scientists are even saying 2010 will very likely be one of the warmest on record.

In just a year Texas has faced searing hot summers, cripplingly cold winters, devastating drought, no coal for frosty’s nose… makes you wonder if there’s something bigger going on out there.  Like some sort of, oh I dunno, massive shift — a massive change leading to extreme weather events. Not sure what to call it now, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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What’s the difference between the Pete Sessions / Allen Stanford scandal and Pretty Woman?

A: Julia Roberts won’t kiss you– for any amount of money

The bubbling scandal over the “mini Madoff”, R. Allen Stanford, and the Ponzi scheme he (allegedly) engineered in his bank, Stanford Financial, continues to percolate and slime everyone he had dealings with.

Let’s briefly reset the stage, shall we? Sir R. Allen Stanford was a relatively big financier, meaning he would take your money, invest it, then give you a healthy return.  Of course, what he is accused of doing by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is “massive ongoing fraud” of investment funds worth over $8 billion.  Allegations are that Stanford would take your money, use it to pay other clients who had previously invested with him, and then take money from others and give it to you—this is what is known as a “Ponzi scheme” and is the same thing Bernie Madoff was convicted of.  But with Stanford it’s much less clear, as many of his bank accounts are hidden in notorious banking black holes in various Caribbean islands, so Stanford is not yet convicted of anything: we should continue to give him the presumption of innocence that our legal system affords him.  Ditto on the allegations that he laundered money for the Mexican Gulf Cartel or cheated on his personal and property taxes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, the following are facts which are NOT in dispute.  Stanford threw money around Congress and various elections like it was water, with over $2.4 million given to various candidates from Stanford, Stanford Financial’s PAC, and its employees bundling their donations.  These donations were often given to individuals who sat on committees who would mark up a bill which would regulate financial securities and clamp down on fraud– the same fraud he is now alleged to have been perpetrating. Convenient, no? (more…)

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Are you worried about the water usage of the proposed 2-unit expansion at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant up near Glen Rose, Texas?  Then you might be interested in the Brazos River Conservation Coalition meeting tonight at 7pm in Granbury, where they will discuss the impacts of increased water consumption if the project is completed.  The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Hood County Annex 1 meeting room at 1410 W. Pearl St.

Lake Granbury - Comanche Peak in the background

The Brazos River Conservation Coalition, “a citizens group that kind of monitors things that are going on along the river” in the words of their president, will host Comanche Peak’s nuclear environmental manager.  The environmental manager will discuss water requirements and answer questions from the public.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Austin Energy is hosting the Austin Climate Protection Conference and Expo this Friday and Saturday, January 15th and 16th from 10am to 5pm at the Palmer Events Center.  Admission is free to the public and participating professionals, but you’ve still gotta register.

The 2nd annual expo will feature:

  • Friday Full Day Conference for municipalities, business owners, professionals, and fleet managers
  • Continuous Speakers Program on Saturday for the public
  • Ride and Drive for hands-on experience with all transportation technologies

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Representatives from San Antonio’s CPS Energy and NRG Energy, their partner in the proposed South Texas Nuclear Project expansion, met this morning to try and reach a settlement on their $32 Billion lawsuit.  But CPS acting General Manager Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley apparently walked out of the meeting after learning that “neither Nuclear Innovation North America CEO Steve Winn nor NRG Energy CEO David Crane made the trip to San Antonio.

Update: Monday’s settlement meeting ended with no resolution. Cooperation fail.

Meanwhile, a new non-profit called the Ratepayer Protection Coalition announced its inception and intention to intervene in the CPS-NRG’s lawsuit.

Whaaaa? They can do that? Yes, according to attorney Karen Seal:

In Texas, citizen groups have the right to intervene in lawsuits like this if there is evidence of illegal activity like fraud and misrepresentation and if the behavior is expected to continue. We believe this to be the case. We hope to protect our interest as ratepayers, taxpayers and voters from continuing fraud and misrepresentation by all parties.

But why intervene? Orlando Gutierrez, president of the coalition, had the following to say:

Ratepayers are not represented in the legal proceedings between these parties, although they will bear the brunt of a bad settlement deal with higher electric bills.  There has been fraud and misrepresentation throughout this process. CPS withheld information and misled the public about the $4 billion cost increase throughout the series of eleven district meetings last year. Project partner NRG admits to misrepresenting costs for purposes of negotiation. Both partners deceived the City Council. Yet neither the Council, taxpayers, or voters have independent representation in the Court.

The Ratepayer Protection Coalition is seeking discovery information to “get to the truth” about the costs of the proposed reactors and available energy alternatives.

According to Greg Harman, reporter at the San Antonio Current:

CPS can’t represent the City of San Antonio, argues the Ratepayer Protection Coalition, a collection of familiar faces from the vindicated critics’ pool. Not only has CPS “conducted a campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and deception designed to convince the San Antonio community about the merits of pursuing nuclear power” but threatened the City Council “that a decision not to pursue the nuclear project would lead to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the project to date by CPS Energy.”

In short, CPS has “dirty hands” and can’t represent the City of San Antonio in court, according to RPC’s complaint filed this morning in the 37th District Court, joining the CPS-NRG lawsuit as an intervener.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Great editorial in the Dallas Morning News this weekend. We couldn’t agree more :)

Editorial: Texas, a state of denial on pollution rules

To the surprise of no one, the Environmental Protection Agency announced tougher ozone limits this week. The move to tighten pollution standards had long been anticipated as evidence mounted to illustrate the serious health risks associated with smog exposure.

In Texas, a state with notoriously dirty air, the appropriate response from leaders would be to get to work. Significant changes must be made to comply with federal rules – not to mention, to protect the people who live here.

But instead of getting started, too many state leaders just got angry. They seemed shocked – shocked! – that the EPA would dare abide by the science showing significant consequences of allowing a less stringent standard.

Gov. Rick Perry stuck with his three-pronged approach to environmental regulations: deny, deflect, pout.

In his statement, the governor denied the need for tougher ozone limits, somehow conflating smog rules with carbon dioxide regulations and suggesting that flawed science spurred this week’s announcement.

In fact, scientists have found that ozone exposure damages our lungs and is linked to heart and respiratory illnesses. Smog can be deadly. By lumping ozone standards in with climate change legislation, Perry only confuses the issue.

The governor also deflected suggestions that the state has less than pristine air. He focused on Texas’ modest anti-pollution efforts, ignoring the fact that our skies are still dangerously dirty.

And Perry pouted, arguing that the EPA has made Texas workers and taxpayers a target. Some of Perry’s allies have echoed that idea, asserting that the new administration has been hostile to the state.

The EPA is not picking on Texas.

The same pollution standards will apply to every state. Inhaling smog-choked air is a dicey proposition, no matter where folks live.

Admittedly, complying with the new rules will be tougher for Texas than many other states. That’s because years of plugging our ears, closing our eyes and pretending that new pollution rules weren’t looming did not leave Texas in a state of preparedness.

Implementing the lower ozone limits will come at a cost. But, the EPA notes, the new rules should yield comparable savings by reducing illnesses, emergency room visits and lost work days resulting from ozone-related symptoms.

The state now must get started on a serious ozone reduction strategy. Deny, deflect, pout doesn’t seem to be working.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Op-ed originally published in Sunday’s Amarillo Globe:

Column – Andy Wilson: Perry spews hot air on warming

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry’s recent essay (“EPA ‘science’ doesn’t add up in global warming equation,” Dec. 27, 2009) is full of hot air and not much else.

The governor’s outrage produces more heat than light, revealing his ignorance of science and penchant for quoting dubious and discredited economic studies funded by energy companies.

The real inconvenient truth is that Texas cannot afford to make meaningless political statements any longer, especially when there’s work to be done – carbon regulation is coming whether the governor throws a tantrum or not. We can shout at the wind or harness it into a clean energy future.

Planning for a low-carbon future now will pay dividends in the future as the world comes to Texas for the clean energy we can supply in abundance. But if we choose to pout rather than produce, we risk missing the clean energy train.

Already, Texas wind turbines are providing electricity, not to mention jobs and tax revenue, and we’re blessed with some of the best solar potential of any state. According to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, West Texas families pay less for their electricity, thanks in large part to all those wind farms. Peer-reviewed economic studies, including one by the Union of Concerned Scientists, show Texas families stand to save $980 annually in energy costs by enacting clean-energy legislation.

The scare-tactics scenarios the governor laid out use phony statistics from studies underwritten by dirty energy lobbyists who are afraid of competition from these low-carbon upstarts. If you dig deeper into these studies, even under their highest cost projections, U.S. economic growth remains robust and millions of new jobs are created, hundreds of thousands of which would be in Texas.

Given our high-tech, manufacturing, and energy leadership experience, Texas should be attracting green energy technologies already. But instead, we’re losing major solar and battery manufacturing to states which are less sunny but more savvy, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Maybe Perry should spend less time posturing and complaining about science he doesn’t understand and more time enacting strong policies to attract clean energy jobs and industry to Texas, the same way Amarillo has in their recent announcement to bring as many as 750 new wind turbine manufacturing jobs to the area.

The truth about the hacked e-mails Perry references that purport to discredit global warming is this: It’s a tempest in a teapot, and every scientist knows it. If we’re looking for a “smoking gun” that disproves the settled science of climate change, we would need glaciers and ice caps to stop melting at record levels worldwide. We would need temperatures and drought throughout Texas to recede, rather than having the last decade be the hottest and driest on record.

Since we only depend on the research of scientists at the University of East Anglia, a town and university so small, I challenge you to find it on a map, for a very small portion of the corpus of scientific knowledge on climate change, we would need much more than a few choice words from scientists behaving badly to contradict that. To discount all climate science based only on these emails would be the same as disqualifying University of Texas from playing in the Rose Bowl because of the criminal misbehavior by one of their bench wide receivers.

But the good news is that whether you believe in global warming or not, all of our tools to solve it are the same tools we need to solve our current crises and create a better future for Texans.

Worried about unemployment? Energy security? The loss of American manufacturing? Clean energy development cuts into all of these problems, and just happens to help save the planet while we’re at it.

Everybody wins.

So at the start of a new decade, let’s be winners, not whiners. Texas should be getting in front of federal legislation and putting in place the policies that ensure that the nation will turn to us for their future renewable energy needs for the 21st century, the same way they have for the past century with oil and gas.

Doing anything less, Gov. Perry, certainly seems … well, un-Texan.

Andy Wilson is the Global Warming Program director for Public Citizen’s Texas Office.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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