Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Texas Railroad Commission Has Nothing To Do With Railroads! It Has More To Do With The Green New Deal


-by Kelly Stone
candidate, Texas Railroads Commissioner

The Texas Railroad Commission is one of the most powerful elected offices that most people have never heard of, and I am working hard to make sure that more people know about this wildly corrupt government position. The thing is, the Texas Railroad Commission has nothing to do with railroads and everything to do with oil, gas, flaring, fracking, pipelines, earthquakes, unmonitored methane leaks, and the RRC is responsible for a great deal of the externalized costs borne by our health and our global environment.


But Big Oil sure likes for voters to be confused when it comes to this particular office. They’ve been able to elect themselves to their own regulating body and to perpetuate a fox-guarding-the-hen-house style of government where large oil and gas interests are able to provide unlimited financial contributions to their puppets, maintaining their own monopoly to “regulate” themselves, and increasing profits rather than protecting public health and safety.

On Dec 16, the Texas Democratic Party announced that the 2020 race for the Texas Railroad Commision is “the most important environmental race in the country,” but not surprisingly, it received very little media attention. The announcement came in the form of a press release issued in coordination with their favored primary contender. The establishment anointed themselves a candidate. They hand-selected an oil and gas defense attorney to take on the Republican incumbent, Ryan Sitton, who has also been denounced by other Republicans due to his conflicts of interests. The powers-that-be chose to perpetuate this historic Texas trend of elevating fossil fuel insiders to regulate themselves. Because there hasn’t been a Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in more than 20 years, the establishment strategy appears to be to prop up a Republican-lite ConservaDem to take a seat on this 3-person commission. It’s her turn, they’ve decreed.

So, when I strolled into the party headquarters this summer to shake hands, introduce myself, and share my vision for implementing the goals of the Green New Deal, putting an end to the wild-wild west lawlessness of our environmental exploitation in Texas, the men suggested that I sit down and wait my turn. This other gal is “smart,” they told me. “She can raise the money needed for this race.” To my credit, they admitted that I was clearly “genuine” and doing this “for the right reasons.”

I did not leave discouraged, as they may have hoped. No, I got back in my car, with a broken A/C, on yet another record-breaking-day-in-a-row of triple-digit heat, and I drove away listening to a report from NPR about how Texas had just exceeded all historical records for barrels of oil produced in any given year.

I knew I had to take on this fight.

Prior to this meeting, I had completed the Texas Water Safari, known as “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race” where I not only completed the 262-mile canoe race in a C1 canoe in 78-hours by myself, but I did it after breaking my boat in half at the 57th mile and rebuilding it with sticks and tape and zip ties. During this ultramarathon, I saw where pipelines crossed the river. I could always smell them. In some places, I could see bubbles. In one place, down by Tivoli, I saw four pipelines in a row, and each pipeline had signage on either side of the river to indicate which toxin was being carried. I noted that each sign listed a different emergency contact number and that each phone number was in a different state!

I wondered: who was actually looking out for me? For us? Why isn’t there one number that calls actual first responders in case of emergency? Why are we supposed to call the oil companies directly to let them know their pipelines are leaking?

I knew it would be pretty dang intimidating to take on Big Oil in the Biggest Oil State in the nation, but I’ve never been a gal ruled by fear.

Our system has kept us sick, uneducated, and afraid, but I’ve spent my entire career working to build a healthier, more confident and educated society by working as a health education specialist and being a teacher through the community and higher education.

I wasn’t supposed to find myself running for the most powerful position nobody has heard of. I was born to a 17 year old girl at Jefferson Davis Hospital in Houston, Texas, and I’ve been told in a myriad of ways that I should  know my place, stay in my lane, keep my head down and my mouth shut, and that nice girls don’t talk about certain things.

Well, I’ve always had a hard time with that.

As the oldest of three children, I assumed it my duty to stand up to my abusive stepfather, and well, maybe that trauma helped prepare me for standing up to this corporate abuse that’s railroading Texas (and the planet).

Right now, the Texas Railroad Commission is allowing all the companies to burn as much natural gas into the air as much as they want (in 2010, they gave 500 permits for flaring exceptions, and in 2018, they awarded 5,500 of these permits without so much as one denial). They are also allowing these companies to claim eminent domain wherever they want to take our land and stick their pipelines through it.

You see, there’s a little check box on the permitting forms, submitted to the Texas Railroad Commission that allows companies to declare themselves a “public use.” Just by checking this box, they are granted the power of the government to claim eminent domain over private property owners to declare that they shall be taking their homes and/or their land. Legally, they must pay “a fair price” to the owner, and if property owners don’t want to accept their low-balling, they face the company’s prerogative to condemn their property or be forced into expensive legal battles. (This is roughly the same tactic Monsanto uses to squash small farmers and bury them in lawsuits until they give up, lose, or go broke.)

I spoke with an attorney in Big Spring, Texas who represents landowners, and he said that when his clients’ fights make it as high up as the Railroad Commission, he tells his them to give up. He said they’ll never win, and he can’t bear to keep taking their money. This is terribly disheartening.

In central Texas, Kinder Morgan is strong-arming communities to ram 430-miles of pipeline from west Texas to Houston, for the purpose of export, nevermind that it would cut through two karst limestone aquifers where 2 million people get their drinking water. (That population is expected to increase to 4 million by 2040.) Another 475-mile pipeline, for export, is being forced on communities from west Texas to Corpus Christi, and that doesn’t include the additional Kinder Morgan pipeline also routed to Corpus Christi.

We’re moving in the wrong direction, and we are exacerbating the climate crisis.

My data team plotted out a graph of the eminent domain activities in Texas that have been granted significantly more since the 2000’s for the purpose of increasing pipelines.

However, there is absolutely no rigor or proof required for these corporations to demonstrate that they are, indeed, for public use. They simply have to check a box, even if their goals of installing a pipeline are for the purposes of delivering their extracted fuels to a port city for export. Eminent domain for private gain needs to be stopped, and environmental impact studies must be required regardless of whether they cross state lines or not.

They say this “lack of pipeline capacity” is due to increased oil production from the ramping up of our extraction of fossil fuels. This, they say, is why they must burn natural gas into the air...it’s because they don’t have the pipelines. The flaring and the “need” for more pipelines is actually a symptom of the real problem:  the exponentially increased hydraulic fracturing (fracking) practices that are breaking apart our plate tectonics, increasing seismicity, and wasting large sums of water, exacerbating drought as well.

No, nice girls shouldn’t talk about those things.

Okay, so how about earthquakes? Our neighbor, Oklahoma, has experienced 6,000 years worth of natural earthquakes in a time span of 5 years due to the fracking and wastewater disposal in Texas. Can I talk about earthquakes? Because fracking is certainly causing huge increases in earthquakes.

Naturally, I signed the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal Pledge because I firmly believe this is the radical change we need NOW. The pledge reads: “The American people need a Green New Deal-- a 10-year WWII-scale mobilization, as put forth by Senator Edward Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to stop climate change, achieve environmental sustainability, create millions of good jobs, and realize economic prosperity for all.

“I pledge that I will use my office to champion a Green New Deal in any and all ways, including but not limited to: developing and supporting Green New Deal legislation and/or resolutions; building support amongst my colleagues for a Green New Deal; and publicly advocating for the necessity of a Green New Deal.

Goal Thermometer“In order to fully uphold this duty, I pledge to not take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, or PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”

This distinguishes me among my primary opponents as none are willing to speak about implementing the Green New Deal, and the first campaign financial reports reveal that some of them have already been willing to accept large donations from fossil fuel executives. The reports revealed that my campaign, fueled on grassroots, grit, and gumption, is no joke. We have more individual grassroots contributors than double the amount of all of my opponents combined. However, we have a long, long way to go in this battle for our future.

If I have to get to the finish line with a duct-taped boat, I’m up for this challenge. I’m determined to fight.

Did I mention I took on the high school football establishment in Texas and played as a kicker in the 90’s?

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At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheepdog barking again. Why, it's as if the canine wants you to believe that TX will be not only blue but progressive blue (as opposed to the fascist blue that has existed since 1980).

TX ain't turning blue. and if it does get a little bluer, it will be the fascist kind and not the progressive kind.

how many times do I have to say this: IT'S FUCKING TEXAS! If you'd ever been there, even for a day, you'd understand.


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