The Texas story: An imperfect model to help sustain an imperfect union

Many are still reeling from the sweeping changes the Trump administration has proposed or introduced since January 20. Regardless of the candidate one may have supported during the presidential campaign, the tremendous forces at work (in terms of their rapidity and depth) are breathtaking—alarming for some and exciting for others.

The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation is concerned about some of this political conjecture, particularly as it affects our mission and the issues we care about the most.

While our funding priorities focus on sustainability issues in the state of Texas, we join our philanthropic colleagues in their trepidation about trends at the federal level. We abhor the notion that science, credible data, knowledge, and reason seem to be threatened or altogether rejected by many in the new administration—principles that should form the pragmatic basis for our national policymaking.

While our country adheres to the rule of law, we are also dependent on the rules of reason and science to help inform and guide decisions, both short- and long-term.

The United States has enjoyed the benefits of better health and well-being afforded from almost 50 years of continuously improving environmental protection through effective laws and policies, including efforts to protect water, land, species, and air resources.

We’re not alarmists; and yet we find ourselves alarmed by threats to turn back the clock on critical environmental protections previously put in place by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

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Woven into the chronic stereotyping and polarization that plagues our political landscape, so-called “conservatives” are assumed to not value the environment. Headlines would suggest this voting bloc would be fine with the trade of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone for a new mixed-use condo development, or the disregard of children’s asthma attacks in exchange for dismantling EPA air quality policies.

It is the foundation’s opinion, however, that conservatives should not be typecast in such a manner. On the contrary, polls conducted by conservative pollsters of registered Republican voters show overwhelming support for environmental protection and natural resources. The fact is: it’s actually the path to environmental protection that is the divisive issue, not the protection itself.

On one hand, so-called "progressives" emphasize regulations, enforcement, and in some cases, heavy-handed governmental action to address concerns.

Conservatives, on the other hand, gravitate toward voluntary actions, markets, and financial incentives to drive environmental protection.

What brings us together is mutual concern for the natural world, and our collective and individual well-being. What drives us apart is the strategy and tactics—the means to achieving a common end.

Can we not work together on these issues, identifying where we agree and finding workable solutions where we do not?

We’re confident we can. And, what better starting point to find common ground than the state of Texas.

In 2017, it seems that any ostensible trade-off between environmental protection and economic well-being is no longer considered an option at the federal level. Yet the state of Texas has success stories of simultaneous environmental progress and economic growth.  

Texas has achieved this progress through market and policy innovation, bottom-up planning processes, bold investments, some smart regulations, and voluntary programs. The state also has seen more than its share of failures; and, no doubt, many practical environmental programs have been thwarted for political reasons.

Texas’s anti-environment rhetoric and hostility toward regulation justifiably provoke skepticism. Yet well-timed policy actions, including market deregulation and renewables requirements adopted by Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry, build-it-and-they-will-come energy infrastructure investment, and limited interference in energy markets appear to tell a different story.

For context, click here to read the Mitchell Foundation's Marilu Hastings’ Op-Ed published by U.S. News & World Report on January 19, 2017.

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Looking back in order to look forward, we think a number of Texas’s steps and missteps can help inform and influence the Trump administration’s environmental policy platform.

With this in mind, we’re interested in exploring stories of success and failure (and a few somewhere in between) related to Texas’s environmental and sustainability progress.

This post is the first of our 2017 blog initiative, which poses the question: Can Texas’s approach to sustainability inform a path forward for the U.S.?”  

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll look at the progress and pitfalls the state has encountered in its pursuit of a sustainable future over the last twenty years. Participants will explore a menu of topics, with focus on energy, water, and land conservation issues.  

All told, the Texas story presents an opportunity to inform U.S. policies that can influence our path forward.

We hope these stories will illustrate that we do have common ground in caring for the environment, and that even if we don’t necessarily agree on the approach, we are interested in finding innovative solutions.

We understand it’s a less than perfect model yet there are key ingredients that can help inform our imperfect union’s transition to a viable, sustainable future. Hopefully, the right decisionmakers will be listening. 

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Editor's note: This is the first post from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation's blog initiative “Can Texas’s approach to sustainability inform a path forward for the U.S.?” The foundation works as an engine of change in both policy and practice, supporting high-impact projects at the nexus of environmental protection, social equity, and economic vibrancy. Follow the foundation on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for regular updates from the foundation.

 

 

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