The next Dem debate is in the heartland of the oil industry

by John Noël

September 4, 2019

The move off of oil has begun; but will it include everyone? Houston, we have a solution.

At a refinery in Baytown, Texas an industrial flare burns off waste at refining plant more than a week after Hurricane Harvey hit the area.

Get ready folks — the Democratic candidates will soon face off for the third presidential primary debate.

While I’m anxious about whether real solutions to the climate crisis will be substantially discussed, I can’t help but think about the larger picture of where this debate is being held — Houston, Texas — the “energy capital of America”.

Houston, Texas is considered the heartland of the oil industry. The area is home to vast fossil fuel and the second-largest petrochemical complex in the world.

Just weeks ago, an explosion at an Exxon Mobil refinery injured 37 people. It was the second fire at the same facility this year and the fourth fire in the surrounding area since April. A major chemical incident occurs every 6 weeks in the Houston area.

Houston is also home to local communities and families raising children stuck living in “sacrifice zones and the shadow of the oil industry. A large majority of whom are low-income communities of color.

Bridge over Buffalo Bayou in the haze of the oil refining industrial complex in Manchester, an environmental justice community in Houston, Texas.

“The world’s largest petrochemical companies are based in these tiny annexed towns outside of Houston proper’s purview.”

When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston industrial zones, facilities released 8.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into surrounding communities. An oil industry representative afterward went so far as to say, “America’s refineries are located exactly where they should be.”  Translation: Not where the executives live.

It’s time for the whole country to look forward away from boom and bust cycles, chemical explosions, and job “security” tied to endless extraction.

But, this all begs the question: What would a brighter, more just, climate-safe future look like in Houston and will there be enough jobs to support the transition off of fossil fuels?

The Green New Deal lays the foundation for careers in well-paying, family-sustaining, union jobs that will be central to the new low-carbon economy. And, Democratic candidates are doubling down on their proposed plans to move us away from an extractive economy that endlessly takes for profit to one based on caring for people and the environment so that communities can live and not just survive — where jobs in renewables, nursing, teaching, healthcare, childcare, environmental restoration, and disaster response will be prioritized.

So, no matter what the critics or Trump says, transitioning to a renewable energy economy will create millions of safe, high-paying, union jobs. The transition to a renewable energy-powered economy will reduce climate pollution by 80 percent, add 550,000 jobs each year, and save the federal government $78 billion.

From coal miners in Utah and West Virginia installing solar panels and retrofitting buildings to Army Veterans building wind turbines deep in the Texas Permian Basin, clean energy already supports more than 3 million jobs in the United States.

Solar and wind are two of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. In 2016, one in every 50 jobs created in the United States was in the solar industry. A wind turbine technician is expected to be the single fastest-growing job in the state between now and 2026.

Texas already leads the nation in wind energy production, generating roughly 16 percent of electricity from wind power!

So, if you are watching the next presidential debate this month and the camera happens to zoom out above the Houston area, high enough to see the smokestacks, methane flares, cooling towers, or oil tankers imagine all the work that will be needed to build something new, something better, cleaner, and safer. Think of the opportunity to change it all.

By John Noël

John is a Senior Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace USA.

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