December 7, 2010
I took a quick trip up to Abilene last week for a conference on clean energy.
Now, keep in mind, a “quick trip” from Austin to Abilene and back doesn’t feel particularly quick (although there were moments I did a pretty good imitation of Jimmie Johnson). These days, when I have to spend that kind of time alone (or with my family and/or folks who have no choice but to accept me regardless of my appearance), I face a very new, very simple, and hopefully very temporary question: tooth, or no tooth?
You may recall that way back in July, a routine trip to the dentist resulted in me undergoing a series of oral surgical procedures, losing a tooth, and getting a little prosthetic device that makes my teeth appear to be where they’re supposed to be.
But here’s the thing – that device is really no fun. It’s like having to wear a retainer for dentures or to keep a slug of peanut butter stuck to the top of your mouth. So when I know I’m going to be alone in a car for four or five hours, it’s a pretty easy answer: no tooth. I pop that dude out and pitch it in the passenger seat.
This leaves a pretty gaping hole. Don’t worry, it does NOT reduce my ability to do great imitations of everyone from Merle Haggard to the Allman Brothers to Sheryl Crow as I sing like a bird and at the top of my lungs.
But there’s an important rule to keep in mind if you find yourself in this position: the tooth must, absolutely must, be back in the mouth before you’re seen by a) anyone you know, and b) anyone else.
And this rule isn’t as easy to follow as you’d think. For instance, it’s entirely possible that after four or five hours in a car at the far end of the tail of the day, you’d be so tired and relieved to be at the hotel that you’d just hop out of the car to check in without remembering to put the tooth back into your mouth.
And it’s also possible that, at that very minute, you’d have a couple of friends and constituents, including the ones that invited you to the conference, stroll into the hotel lobby, greet you, and want to catch up.
And, finally, it’s possible that you’ll be standing there, greeting your friends, and flashing an electric smile with a gap in your mouth that can’t help but remind folks from a certain generation of a slightly more distinguished Alfred E. Newman.
You know, hypothetically.
The good news is, this long process is going well and the ultimate procedure to permanently replace my tooth is right around the corner – in February.
I think I’m going to make it. I’m not so sure about the fake tooth, though.
Getting back to that clean energy conference in Abilene …
You know, stop right there for a second. Because the mere fact that there’s a conference about clean, renewable, 21st Century energy out near the edge of the Permian Basin should tell you a lot about where the world’s headed.
For a century, the energy industry has been defined by oil and other fossil fuels that have meant so much to the West Texas economy – and really, to all of the state.
But that industry is fundamentally changing. It’s moving toward renewable energy, both to solve current environmental challenges and to meet the needs of a growing state, nation, and world.
The conference reflected that economic and technological shift, as well as the growing awareness of it. It attracted energy executives, chamber of commerce and economic development leaders and business community representatives from the region.
They heard from two Chairmen in the state House of Representatives – Mark Strama and Jim Keffer – and me about what’s going on with the 21st Century energy economy (in Texas and around the world) and what the prospects are for good, forward-looking energy legislation in the upcoming legislative session.
I talked some about the very real challenges – particularly regarding the budget and the need to reform it – that will rightfully soak up so much of the legislature’s time and attention over the next six months.
I also reminded them of some of the other issues – things like Voter ID, immigration and redistricting – that unfortunately lend themselves to politics and could easily become needless distractions next year.
And we all discussed the need – in spite of all of those challenges – for legislation and projects that will ensure Texas continues to be the energy leader in the 21st Century as it was in the 20th Century.
The truth is, there are a lot of good things going on in this state when it comes to renewable energy. We are, by far, the nation’s leader when it comes to wind power.
But regrettably, some folks continue to treat renewable energy as less than an economic development opportunity that could greatly benefit the state. This growing sector of business needs to be a part of how we plan for future jobs and economic stability.
Instead, some Texas officials are pulling back on many of the kinds of projects that have helped us lead in this economy and industry.
Two years ago, the state approved a bold, $5 billion investment that would build transmission lines to bring power generated in West Texas, including wind and hopefully solar power, to the rest of Texas.
Since then, however, some of these vital transmission lines have been scaled back or scrapped, without anyone thinking or working through some of the legitimate questions and issues raised about the lines. That’s a short-sighted decision, and I think it’ll keep Texas from moving as quickly as we need to, provide less power than the state needs, and further drive up the cost of electricity for Texans.
I also talked last week about the need for comprehensive state policy that will allow Texas to catch up with the rest of the world on solar power and take advantage of one of the biggest resources we have – the sun.
In last year’s legislative session, I passed out of the Senate a bill that would have set a goal for how much of Texas’ electricity would come from solar power and other sources that won’t emit greenhouse gases. I believe the bill would have passed out of the House, too, had it not been for a needless partisan fight that derailed so much legislation at the end of the last session.
You can read about that bill, which I will pursue again this session, here. I’ll also work with my colleagues to pass strong, common-sense legislation that will ensure Texas remains an energy leader for the world.
Because Texas didn’t just become an industry leader. We worked for it. Our parents and grandparents built the industry and sustained it through good times and bad, and they made spread prosperity across so much of Texas.
We have to make the same kinds of investments, and we have to do the same kind of work. We’re already behind where we should be – and where so many other states and nations already are.
It may not be easy – probably won’t be, particularly this session. But it never is. Our parents and grandparents didn’t use that as an excuse, thank goodness, and we owe our children and grandchildren the same kind of effort.