Presidential candidates take aim at Texas oil and gas industry, but reassure workers
AUSTIN — Democrats have their best chance to win Texas in a presidential election since the 1970s, but many of their leading candidates are pitching climate action plans that call for eliminating the fossil fuel economy that has been a linchpin to the Texas economy for decades.
That has candidates tailoring their message in the Lone Star State where they talk tough against the oil industry but are also offering up programs they say will prevent the Texas economy from cratering and provide alternative career paths for hundreds of thousands of workers.
“That whole thing about ‘we can’t clean up the climate crisis without hurting the economy,’ I think that is a bunch of bull,” said California businessman Tom Steyer, who is scheduled to be in Houston on Monday to make his final pitch to area voters.
Steyer said for a place like Houston, workers are going to be a big beneficiary of his plan, which calls for holding those workers harmless as the nation moves away from oil and gas.
Elizabeth Warren in Houston: 7 p.m. town hall at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St. General public can RSVP here.
Pete Buttigieg in Dallas: 6:30 p.m. rally at Main Street Garden Park, 1902 Main St. General public can RSVP here.
Mike Bloomberg in San Antonio: 8 p.m. rally at Hangar 9; 8081 Inner Circle Road. General public can RSVP here.
Tom Steyer in Houston: 12:15 p.m., town hall at Buffalo Soldier National Museum, 3816 Caroline St. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.
Joe Biden in Houston: 1 p.m. rally at Texas Southern University- College of Science; 3100 Cleburne St. General public can RSVP here.
Joe Biden in Dallas: 7 p.m. Gilley’s, 1135 S Lamar St. General public can RSVP here.
“We put $50 billion aside to make sure their wages, their benefits, and their retirement are assured by the federal government,” Steyer said in an exclusive interview with Hearst Newspapers. “We need to solve this crisis. But we can’t do it on the backs of American workers, including in the fossil fuels industry. We’re not going to do it.”
Steyer, co-founder of a group called NextGen Climate Action Committee, has been one of the most aggressive candidates in talking about the issue.
In 2019, more than 428,000 Texans worked directly in the oil and gas industry, according to The Texas Oil and Gas Association. Just in Harris County, there are an estimated 125,000 workers directly in the industry.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has made clear he supports the Green New Deal, which would eventually end the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels completely. During a speech in Houston on Sunday, Sanders said the nation’s energy sector has to change.
“We do not have a choice but to go forward and transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy-efficient and sustainable energy,” he said.
But on his website, Sanders makes clear he knows there are a lot of jobs at stake. His plan would guarantee five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement for any displaced workers.
One of Sanders’ top advocates in Texas has been former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. In an interview, he said the Sanders energy plan would not happen overnight.
“Bernie has said we cannot abandon these people,” Hightower said. “We need to train them for other jobs and help them with job placement. You have to create jobs with a future.”
In San Antonio on Thursday, Elizabeth Warren showed no hesitation in taking on oil and gas companies.
“It is a government that works great for oil companies that want to drill everywhere,” Warren said. “It’s just not working for the rest of us who see climate change bearing down upon us.”
But Julián Castro, who has been working with Warren on her campaign, insisted oil and gas workers aren’t going to be left in the dust.
“She’s also been clear that there has to be a good transition and an ability for people to have gainful employment in the new energy economy,” Castro said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has called for the phasing out of the fossil fuel industry. During a debate last week, Biden vowed to eliminate all the subsidies that oil and gas companies receive.
But Biden has also emphasized that he has a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that gets former fossil fuel workers into $50-an hour plus benefits jobs.
“We’re not going to leave any workers or communities behind,” Biden says on his website.
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has called for the nation to have net-zero emissions no later than 2050, but like the others insists he’s going to help workers in the oil and gas industry through the transition.
“It means helping industries that have provided so many families a livelihood to transform into clean energy leaders and be ready to provide for generations to come,” Buttigieg said in policy position papers on climate change.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also has called for getting to net-zero emissions but has pushed back at times against other candidates for being too quick in calling for fracking bans. She has signed onto the Green New Deal, but has also touted being the granddaughter of a coal worker and wanting to look out for workers in the fossil fuel industry. That plan includes offering tax credits for companies that hire workers who had previously depended on the fossil fuel industry for employment.
Steyer said he understands the Houston region’s concerns about changing the oil and gas economy, but said the threat to the planet is too great to not react.
“Houston should know this better than anyone in the world,” Steyer said noting the damage of Hurricane Harvey and persistent flooding in Texas. “This isn’t something we can ignore and hope goes away.”