Oil industry pollutes Texas politics, too

2013-04-12_Midland_Oil_Enterprise_Zachary_Strain01718

Zachary Strain

Oil Pumpjack, Midland, TX

Michael Jensen

Texas has long been associated with the oil industry, and for good reason. Our relationship with “Texas Tea” has often been mutually beneficial, driving economic growth and employing millions of Texans in the process. Many of our parents in Houston have worked for oil and gas companies and many of us will likely join them after graduation. Even the University of Texas endowment fund has amassed billions of dollars from oil money. Quite frankly, oil is a large part of what our way of life possible.

Despite all the good that oil money has done for our state, our relationship with it can be problematic. In particular, many Texas politicians receive millions of dollars from or have personal ties to the oil industry. Big oil might generate wealth, but these corporations have also fueled climate change and furthered their own interests at the expense of ordinary people. As Texans, we should question the degree of influence which the oil and gas industry exerts over state politics, as well as how this relationship affects those outside of the lone star state.

Money in politics has been a hot button issue for most of 2016. However, most of the debate has focused on Wall Street and the impact of super PACs on national elections. But big donors arguably have an even larger effect on state elections because free media coverage is harder to come by and voters in general tend to be less engaged and less informed.

None of this would really matter if donor money had absolutely no influence on government policy. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support this. Recently state attorney general Ken Paxton worked to hinder an investigation which sought to uncover whether ExxonMobil knowingly spread false information about climate change. And shortly after the town of Denton overwhelmingly voted to ban fracking inside its city limits, Greg Abbott was signing a bill into law which made such local fracking bans illegal. These are clear example of politicians favoring the interest of large corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens. But when one considers that a prominent Texas politician was the single largest recipient of oil and gas money in 2016 and several of the Texas GOP’s biggest donors also have ties to the industry, these actions shouldn’t be surprising.

Texas cannot change its economy overnight and cutting all our ties to the energy industry simply isn’t realistic. And once again, oil and gas money has done a lot of good things for our state ranging from job creation to funding our museums, universities and hospitals. Regardless, the risks posed by climate change and our state’s dependence on a potentially doomed industry are not among them. For the sake of future generations of Texans, it’s important that we at acknowledge the role that of oil money in state politics, and reconsider how large that role should be.

Jensen is a neuroscience junior from The Woodlands.