Sustainability: it’s about more than climate change
This week in Texas, history was being made with the beginning of the impeachment trial of the Lone Star State’s Republican Attorney General, Ken Paxton. Paxton should be familiar to almost every climate activist for his challenges to the climate and clean energy policies and programs of both the Obama and Biden administrations.
Grist’s Naveena Sadasivam reported, “During his eight years in office, Paxton participated in multistate lawsuits against the federal government 45 times.” Of that total, 15 cases were on environmental matters and three on energy (see Figure 1). Among his recent actions, Paxton challenged Biden’s executive order directing federal agencies to include the social cost of carbon emissions in their regulatory calculations.
Paxton is also a leader in current red state efforts meant to restrict the use of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in the investment decisions of banks and brokerages—particularly those involved with the investment of state pension funds--and private corporations. Proponents of these laws claim ESG threatens investment returns and allows these institutions to use their economic power to implement far-left climate and energy policies.
Paxton’s opposition to clean energy alternatives pre-dates the Biden administration. He was one of the leaders of the challenge to President Obama’s signature climate policy—the Clean Power Plan. Other challenge leaders were Patrick Morissey (R), West Virginia’s attorney general, and Scott Pruitt (R). At the time of the lawsuit, Pruitt was Oklahoma’s attorney general. He subsequently became Trump’s disgraced EPA administrator.
Paxton’s predecessor was the current Texas governor, Greg Abbott. Abbott, like Paxton, was involved in dozens of lawsuits against the federal government, many of which were attacks on national climate and clean energy policies. Both politicians are on record making unfounded and disproven statements of fact about the reliability of solar and wind technologies and their critical contribution to the electric grid in this record-setting summer.
As reported in the Texas Tribune about a major power outage due to a harsh 2021 winter storm, the governor “[I]gnoring that experts and officials agreed that a disruption in energy powered by fossil fuels was the biggest culprit behind Texas’ outages; Abbott added that losses in wind and solar energy ‘thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.’”
Paxton was also a leader in a coalition of 20 red states to defend the Trump administration’s effort to swap out its Affordable Clean Energy rule for Obama’s more strident Clean Power Plan. The Trump rule was being challenged in court by blue-state attorneys general.
According to Paxton:
“We [Texas} are proud to join this strong coalition in support of affordable clean energy, and we appreciate the Trump administration’s recognition that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan was an unlawful attempt to force bad policy on the nation,”
For both Paxton and Abbott, opposition to climate-friendly policies is ideological. It’s an ideology that has made climate change and clean energy technologies leading culprits in the culture wars currently being waged by the Republican far-right under the leadership of former President Trump and seconded by Florida Governor DeSantis.
On a bi-partisan vote of 121 to 23, the Texas House of Representatives to impeach the attorney general. The partisan divide in the House is 86 Republicans and 64 Democrats. The House sent 20 articles—or charges—to the Senate for trial.
The Senate, which has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, will act as a jury hearing the evidence supporting the 20 articles and rendering a verdict. The articles cover a lot of ground. They include allegations that Paxton used his office to benefit an Austin political donor and real estate developer, who helped conceal the attorney general’s extramarital affair and paid for renovations on one of the attorney general’s houses.
In June, Paxton was indicted by a federal grand jury for financial fraud—specifically for making false statements on loan applications. It will take 21 votes—two-thirds of the sitting senators—to convict. Paxton’s wife, a sitting senator, is recused, which means half of the 18 remaining Republicans would have to join with the 12 Democrats to convict. Paxton would be removed from office if found guilty of any of the evidence-based charges.
The attorney general is not without his supporters. The president of one organization—Defend Texas Liberty—has “promised that the group would spend ‘an epic ton of money’ in advance of the impeachment.” He also says: “Anyone that votes against Ken Paxton in this impeachment is risking their entire political career, and we will make sure that is the case.”
Other groups have also been applying pressure on the Republican senators. Moms Love Freedom has launched a petition asking the Senate to dismiss the articles with prejudice—meaning it can’t be raised again.
Paxton’s impeachment is remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which is that leading conservative Republicans—both in and out of the legislature—are calling upon Texas senators not to be blinded by what Paxton has done as a leading conservative to further a far-right agenda, but by his actions while in office.
Rick Perry, a former Texas governor and Trump’s Secretary of Energy, has condemned the efforts of Paxton’s supporters, who he accuses of trying to “delegitimize” the impeachment process as the Texas constitution intended.
Agreeing with Perry’s call for a full, fair, and open trial is the conservative Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR). The group is unequivocal in its condemnation of the lobbying efforts on Paxton’s behalf.
"The ongoing effort underway to intimidate the [S]enators into abandoning their constitutional obligations and acquitting Paxton before the trial even begins and the evidence has been presented...are disrespectful of the constitutional impeachment process and insulting to the integrity of the Texas Senate.”
Truth be told, the outcome of the Paxton impeachment trial will make little difference in the greater climate scheme of things. Texas policymakers who oppose climate action as an ideology rather than a provable scientific principle are unlikely to change their beliefs because of Paxton’s dalliance with a woman, not his Senator lady-wife, or his use of state funds to remodel his home.
It doesn’t mean, however, that what’s going on in Texas isn’t critically important to the nation’s sustainability—as a fully functioning democracy. The drama in the Lone Star State closely parallels what’s occurring nationally.
Rather than a people with a common dream and shared understanding of constitutional (federal and state) roots and values, American democracy is devolving into aggressive tribalist factions—where loyalty to the party supersedes that to the nation and, for one group, loyalty to a person trump everything else—including the truth.
Paxton and Trump have both claimed they’re the victims of a socialist conspiracy when they’re being charged with lying and cheating while in office—in other words, the types of crimes considered by both the Texas and US constitutions as impeachable offenses. If they’re innocent, then the evidence will show that.
Is it any wonder that “the vast majority of Americans” are concerned about the health of the nation’s democracy? A recent voter survey by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 83 percent of voters were either “very worried or somewhat worried about whether democracy can still function in America.”
The movement to political extremes in the US, as well as in other democratic nations, e.g., Israel, the UK, Italy, France, and Spain, does nothing more than draw and quarter the body politic so that it can no longer function.
Whatever the outcome of Paxton’s trial, it’s critical that Texas Republicans let the system work as provided for in its constitution as an example to the rest of us—Democrat and Republican—that the character and actions of our elected officials matter more than tribal any ideology. The nation—indeed the world—could use a good lesson in democracy right about now.
This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.