Don’t worry, helpless fossil fuel companies: Texas is coming to your rescue. Four Republican state senators introduced a bill last week that would prevent the state from doing business with any companies that “boycott” the oil and gas industry.
The bill, SB 13, builds off an idea previewed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at a forum discussion in early February, and is modeled on a disastrous bill passed a few years ago that prohibited the state from doing business with any company that did not support Israel. Just a few days after Patrick’s comments, much of the state was plunged into darkness as freezing weather sparked widespread power outages that kickstarted an unprecedented grid failure and political reckoning in the state.
But that crisis, it seems, is totally behind us! Nevermind the fact that Texas lawmakers falsely blamed renewable energy for the grid’s failure, or that the blackouts exposed huge issues with the state’s reliance on natural gas, or that fossil fuel facilities emitted much more than 100,000 pounds (45,359 kilograms) of pollution during the first days of the blackouts (the number eventually topped out at 3.5 million pounds or 1.6 million kilograms). It’s time to address the real catastrophe, Texas lawmakers seem to be saying: the business community being mean to the fossil fuel industry.
Now that we’ve got the text of the actual bill in our hands, the definitions and mechanisms to identify companies to target seem really broad. The bill, in essence, directs the state’s comptroller to create a blacklist of companies that “boycott” fossil fuels using publicly available information, including “information provided by the state, nonprofit organizations, research firms, international organizations, and governmental entities.”
The bill defines “boycott” as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with” an oil and gas company or companies that “do business with” fossil fuel companies. Basically, if a corporation is mean to a fossil fuel company and/or its friends, Texas will get mad.
After the comptroller makes this list, the bill states, it will give it to each legislative body and the state’s attorney general, who then can essentially send heads-up notices to companies that they’re planning to divest and give them a chance to explain themselves. But if a company does nothing, the bill instructs major state entities—including numerous pension funds and the state’s enormous K-12 endowment, the largest in the country—to divest from those businesses.
Under the parameters set in the bill, there seems to be a lot of companies Texas wouldn’t do business with any more, and the broad standards laid out for what it means to “boycott” fossil fuels raise a whole lot of questions. Does the very existence of a company like Tesla, which is building a much-anticipated gigafactory outside of Austin, threaten oil and gas? What about tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, which have come under increasing pressure stop licensing their software to fossil fuel companies and clean up their supply chains—and who the state is courting in its bid to become a major tech hub? The massive Texas K-12 school fund owns substantial numbers of shares in dozens of companies that have made public climate commitments, divested from fossil fuels, or made renewable energy pledges, including big names like Barclays, Vodafone, Bank of America, Samsung, Microsoft, AT&T. Will that fund miss out on more and more money by refusing to cooperate with these companies and with the others that will join them as the renewable transition inevitably marches on?
“Lt. Gov. Patrick and his allies will be shooting themselves in their own feet in order to own the libs,” Luke Metzger, the executive director of Environment Texas, said in an email. “The state’s political leadership are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They’re recruiting Fortune 500 companies to move here with promises that Texas can help them achieve carbon neutrality and then at the same time, undermining those very efforts in order to prop up the anachronistic, dangerous oil industry. They’re pledging action to prevent future blackouts and then doubling down on the fossil fuels that were responsible.”
The impetus behind the bill in many ways mirrors statements from federal Republican lawmakers, who got up in arms last year over banks saying they would no longer fund Arctic drilling. Incredibly, some of these lawmakers went as far as to decry the choice to divest as “discriminatory” and even likened it to the racist banking practice of redlining. The goal, it seems, is to us whatever means possible to arrest the clean energy transition and prop up the fossil fuel industry that’s increasingly struggling to maintain market share.
The bill is still in early days and could change during the legislative session, but the Texas Tribune noted that earlier-numbered bills, like SB 13, are marked as higher priority for lawmakers. It looks like state senators will be closely considering how to best save a failing industry—and perhaps reckoning with alienating Texas from the shifting tides on Wall Street and Main Street.