Oil & Petrochemical Companies Want YOU To Pay To Protect Them From Climate Change!

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Chutzpah, so they say, is murdering your parents, then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you are an orphan. If that be the case, America’s oil and petrochemical companies are guilty of chutzpah raised to the tenth power. Not content with destroying the Earth with billions of tons of carbon emissions and plastic waste, they now want the federal government to build enclaves to protect their refining facilities from rising sea levels and more powerful storms.

Motive refinery Port Arthur
Motiva refinery Port Arthur, Texas. Image credit: Motiva

They are not worried about your narrow ass, mind you. They don’t expect the government to protect private residences, just the industry infrastructure that makes their business possible. The rationale? Protecting industry is a matter of national security. Individual homes are not. In America today, corporations count for everything. Individuals count for nothing.

Isn’t it curious that The Trump Who Killed Democracy has decreed that all planning for new federal buildings may not include flood and storm protection measures. No use spending federal dollars to guard against something that is nothing more than a Chinese hoax.

Texas, as you might know, is a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth red state. Big government is evil, evil, evil. It is “the swamp” that the Jackass in Chief is always tweeting about. Government does nothing good. But when it comes to protecting Texans, they sing out of the other side of their mouths. Then they are all confirmed disciples of that noted philosopher, Xavier Onassis.

Can We Haz $12 Billion, Please?

Texas wants the federal government to spend $12 billion to build a fortification from the Louisiana border to below Houston. Fully 30% of the US oil refining and petrochemical infrastructure is situated along that coast. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities according to a report by CBS News.

“Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” says Matt Sebesta, a Republican who oversees a large swath of the Texas Gulf Coast in his role as Brazoria County judge. Stalwart Tea Party senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are falling all over their vaunted fiscal principles to grab those federal dollars. Cruz, always quick to throw his ideals under the bus in pursuit of re-election, calls the plans to reinforce the coast “a tremendous step forward.”

Construction on the three smaller projects is slated to begin in 2020. First up, some dirt levees will be raised to 17 feet high, and 6 miles of 19-foot-high flood walls would be built or strengthened in Port Arthur, which is close to the Louisiana border. It is home to the largest oil refinery in the US, the Saudi-controlled Motiva facility, as well as others owned by Valero and Total.  It also has about a dozen petrochemical facilities located nearby.

The second project involves the constructing 25 miles of new levees and seawalls in nearby Orange County where Chevron, DuPont, and other companies have facilities. The third will extend and heighten seawalls around Freeport, where Phillips 66 has an export terminal for liquefied natural gas, a refinery, and several petrochemical facilities. Not surprisingly, none of the companies had the courtesy to respond to a CBS News request for comment. Take the money and shut up seems to be the order of the day for them.

Not Everyone Agrees

“The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” says Brandt Mannchen, a member of the Sierra Club’s executive committee in Houston. “You don’t hear the industry making a peep about paying for any of this and why should they? There’s all this push like, ‘Please Senator Cornyn, Please Senator Cruz, we need money for this and that.'”

Texas “should be funding things like this itself,” says Chris Edwards, an economist at the libertarian Cato Institute. “Texans are proud of their conservatism, but, unfortunately, when decisions get made in Washington, that frugality goes out the door.” Oddly enough, the Cato Institution has been known to accept donations from Koch Industries, which could be the poster child for the US oil industry.

Texas Declines To Help Itself

The great state of Texas, bastion of liberty and defender of individual rights, is zealously guarding its own treasury when it comes to protecting Gulf Coast businesses. With $11 billion in its rainy day fund, it has yet to offer to pay one cent toward the coastal protection effort. Yet a special report to Congress prepared after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area prepared by a special Texas commission suggested it will cost $61 billion to “future-proof” the coast.

Suzanne Lemieux, a manager for the American Petroleum Institute, whines to CBS News that her industry already pays into programs such as the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the Waterways Trust Fund. Yet those underhanded, double-dealing people in Congress keep diverting the money collected to other causes. “Do we want to pay again, when we’ve already paid a tax without it getting used? I’d say the answer is no,” she says. In other words, according to the API, the industry has already paid its fair share and should not be asked to pay a nickle more.

Economics Is The Key

As usually happens in human experience, it comes down to money. The fossil fuel and chemical industries have inflicted untold harm on America and the world but want to be excused from having to compensate society for their actions. It is not remarkable that people should seek to shirk their responsibilities. What is remarkable is the number of people who stand up and cheer when the industries make such outrageous demands.

Ordinary citizens can go to prison for decades if they attempt to interrupt the flow of fossil fuels and petrochemicals. Yet the corporations responsible for creating harm to billions of people get a free pass. Does that seem fair and reasonable to you?

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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