Oil Giants Want Taxpayers To Protect Refineries From Climate Change

The state of Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine project to protect refineries, which would almost all be coming from public funds.

Close-up of the Motiva Enterprises oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.

In an ironic twist of fate, big oil companies with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast are looking toward the government to save their facilities from the effects of global warming.

According to The Associated Press, there is a project proposal to build an approximately 60-mile “coastal spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates, and steel levees to protect against the powerful storms and higher tides that are expected as a result of climate change.

In addition to protecting homes and infrastructures from dangerous weather conditions, the spine would guard some of Texas’ precious oil refineries.

The state of Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, which would almost all be coming out of public funds. They already received $3.9 billion last month for three different smaller storm barrier projects which would specifically secure oil refineries.

The government fast-tracked the funding to the state after the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey last year, which tore through Houston and areas of the coast and briefly knocked out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity. This created a domino effect which led to average gasoline prices skyrocketing to an extra 28 cents per gallon across the country.

“Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who oversees a broad strip of Gulf Coast as Brazoria County judge.

However, many people — particularly environmentalists — take issue with the nation's taxpayers being forced to pay to protect refineries, which are worth billions of dollars as it is, and are situated in a state where the top officials are climate change deniers.

Furthermore, oil giants are considered key players in contributing to global warming and speeding up the process. 

“The oil and gas industry is getting a free ride,” said 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 Sen. [John] Cornyn, please Sen. [Ted] Cruz, we need money for this and that.’”

The Associated Press notes that Texas has a rainy day fund of its own with about $11 billion that it hasn't used for this purpose. Although federal rules mandate that 35 percent of funds spent by the Army Corps of Engineers must be matched by local jurisdictions, the GOP-controlled state legislature isn't likely to lend a hand.

The state “should be funding things like this itself,” said 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.”

However, state officials maintain that protecting the oil facilities is a national security issue as opposed to just a Texas problem.

“The effects of the next devastating storm could be felt nationwide,” said Republican Rep. Randy Weber from Houston who backs the coastal spine.

While it is true that damage to big oil impacts the entire nation, that is actually a problem in itself. The country should not be so dependent on the oil industry, and we need to be moving away from it and toward sustainable energy.

Furthermore, Texas officials and oil industry leaders need to be taking strides toward actually combating climate change instead of ignoring it and denying its validity until their livelihoods are in jeopardy.  Why should taxpayers be tasked with protecting oil giants from the environmental threat that their own practices are creating?

Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: REUTERS/Donna Carson

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