January 31, 2008
Thank you very much for having me here tonight. And thanks for the nice honor of it. It feels a little weird being honored by Environmental Defense, since so much of the work I’ve done in the area of the environment can be traced back to being coached, counseled or encouraged by this group and organization. It stretches all the way back to my time at the Air Control Board.
But, I guess it’s okay to be honored for being smart enough to listen to smarter people.
And, Environmental Defense, besides being one of my favorite organizations, is without a doubt one of the strongest, smartest, most effective advocates that the environment has in Texas, or anywhere.
It is, in fact, an honor to be here and to count you all as friends.
Thanks very much.
One reason Environmental Defense is so effective is your willingness to adapt to a huge range of political realities – from Washington, DC, to the West Coast to the Texas Capitol – and create the new constituencies that will ensure that our air, water, and other natural resources are protected.
You all drive a hard bargain. And, at the same time, you’re inclusive.
You don’t simply advocate among yourselves. You work for solutions that allow people to coexist with the environment, not live in a way that harms it.
I’m certain that you are also aware of how great you are. But I’d like to revel in one of your great achievements from the last legislative session: the derailment— I mean, the reprioritization of more than a dozen coal plants across Texas.
You all know the story, but allow me to offer a few thoughts on how I watched it play out from my perch on the Senate Business & Commerce Committee and the Senate floor.
The state’s largest electric utility, TXU, in an era of a deregulated electricity market, and in the aftermath of catastrophic weather events, decided to seize on an opportunity for profit. And, along the way, they tried to go too far. Some might say they got greedy.
This greed got the attention of many, including a group of private investors. And those private investors, with assistance and encouragement from Environmental Defense, could see what was being overlooked in TXU’s board room or executive suites.
Coal fired power plants that dump tons of CO2 into the air are NOT the wave of the future. And, without consideration for the environment, their plans will fail.
Before even announcing the plans for a buyout, the private investors made their first and most important call. And that call was to talk to you.
They made significant and substantial concessions, because ED was able to credibly negotiate and persuade. As a result, they garnered real support in the environmental community, so that on day one of the “new TXU” it would be sure to be seen as a different TXU.
You all do not need me to tell you that having a seat at the table carries with it a great responsibility. But I’m confident that, in turning to you for help in being better citizens and stewards, they found the right people.
This discussion is not over – there is still work to do. But no matter what happens from here, this was a giant victory for all of us who breathe the air in this state.
It was national news, and it happened in Texas. It was an extraordinary achievement, and I congratulate you for being who you are, and for doing what you did, to make it possible.
This is the type of approach, and this type of success, puts us on the crest of a wave that I believe will carry environmentalism into the 21st Century.
It will bring us our ultimate victory – the assurance that Cooper, who is with me here tonight, and our great, great grandchildren, and their great, great grandchildren will have the chance to be healthy in what they breathe and consume; to prosper in the products and economy they create; and to live among – and revel in – the organisms and ecosystems that support our planet.
I take this confidence from the fact that even outside this room – outside this circle of people who call ourselves environmentalists – our ideas and initiatives are taking hold.
More and more, broader society has come to acknowledge the challenges that this group knows so well.
Those who dismiss man’s contribution to climate change have been pushed further and further from the mainstream and the “debate”, although sometimes, I admit, I lose sight of this when camping out in the Capitol and listening to our leadership spew some toxic, backward views.
Business leaders increasingly acknowledge the enormous economic benefits that a healthy environment offers to their regions, as well as the threats that indifference and inaction represent to their bottom lines.
Innovators and entrepreneurs are realizing that protecting our air, water, and climate is not just the right thing to do – it’s the profitable thing to do.
Because of these trends, the defense of the environment has the potential to become one of the defining economic and political forces of the 21st Century.
Everyone from Adam Smith to Karl Marx knows – human advancement has created few things as powerful and transformational as the market.
What we’re seeing now is that the market is starting to work for us. And, the market is providing a catalyst for transforming the entire environmental movement and its message.
There is no area where this is more important, or more obvious, than in clean, renewable energy.
A recent Wall Street Journal headline read “Electric-Car Firms Get Star Investors.” That story – which, again, ran in the reliably liberal, progressive Wall Street Journal – states:
“The announcement comes at a show in which auto makers are scrambling to offer alternatives to traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles.”
That’s not all. It tells us that California entrepreneurs are pouring energy and investment into solar power, biofuels, geothermal outfits, and other green industries in response to what they hope will be a vast, long-term demand for alternative energy. We also see it with the announcement this week of a new clean energy park in Austin.
Again, the driver is the market. Oil prices are rising, and people and their elected officials are worried about climate change.
I got an e-mail just this morning announcing that the Wall Street Journal was launching a blog called “Environmental Capital”, which is advertised as “the Journal’s daily blog about the business of the environment.” In this day and age of polar ice caps melting, there’s something very weird about knowing that hell is probably freezing over, as evidenced by the Wall Street Journal not only recognizing environmental issues but, like, being way cool about it and blogging.
But it’s a graphic signal that this way – Environmental Defense’s way, our way – is the future. It will allow us all to shed old labels, build new alliances, and truly solve these problems for future generations.
Another quick example: Idling trucks burn a gallon of fuel an hour. This costs the trucking industry $2.5 billion a year in fuel alone, and it dumps 11 million tons of CO2 into the air.
Who would have thought environmentalists and truckers could become partners to help each other achieve their goals? Well, I mean other than ED, which has been working on this for years. But by pursing technologies such as electric truck stops, this is where we’re heading.
It’s one of the most exciting sets of strange bedfellows since hippies and cowboys figured out they both liked Willie Nelson.
All of this provides ample reason to hope. However, let me stress that government still has a vital role to play. Our elected representatives must invest in the educational system and in the research and development that will set the foundation for the next generation of clean-energy entrepreneurs and technologies.
Our elected leaders must create and support the systems that will allow these industries to grow and prosper.
And the legislative leadership must understand, or be made to understand, that no one is helped – not us, not business leaders, not the economy, no one – when we allow certain companies to burn coal and oil the way they always have; or when we allow developers to build sprawling subdivisions the way they always have; or when we allow industry to dump pollutants the way they always have; or when our Department of Transportation throws down highway asphalt the way it always has.
No matter what differences we’ve had in the past with all of these people, groups, and companies, they must now become part of the new wave. They must not only understand the innovative spirit of our new environmental movement, but they must share it.
The way we do things tomorrow has to be different – and it will be. The good news is that you get this, the market gets this, and voters and politicians are starting to get it too.
Traditional politics are realigning around the environment and the economy. We have very new friends, and they want what we want.
And the future belongs to all of us.
Thank you, and God bless you.