Interview with George P. Bush (Texas land commissioner candidate)

   Here's a transcript — edited for length and clarity — of The Texas Tribune's in-depth interview with land commissioner candidate George P. Bush, in which he lays out his positions on environmental policy. 


Commissioner [Jerry] Patterson has talked about, as part of his legacy, promoting the development of renewable energy on some of [the] land [managed by the General Land Office, or GLO] … that’s a way of diversification, and you never know what’s going to happen to the price of natural gas or with the shale boom. Is that something that you’re interested in and plan to continue?


   Absolutely. I’m not an expert on our power grid, but in our hot summers we’ve come close to capacity on several occasions and have been on the verge of rolling blackouts. So the message is clear that we need all forms of energy. In the short term, it’s hydrocarbons. In the medium term, I think we eventually transition to a natural gas-based energy economy and then in the long term, renewables.

   In Texas we produce the most amount of wind energy on private lands, and on public lands we’re one of the largest public developers that you’ll find in North America of electricity generated by wind power. But it’s a two-way street, in terms of energy development. Renewables need to be developed in an environmentally responsible way. And, you know, I frankly have heard criticisms from even environmentalists saying that some wind farms impact gaming and fishing patterns, whether it’s offshore or onshore. The GLO just signed one of the largest offshore wind farm development leases with Siemens very recently. And, you know, I’ll look to continue these programs, but it has to be done in a responsible way.


I wanted to pick up on something that I thought I heard you say: This transition that we’ll be making to a natural gas-based economy and then renewables. Is that how you see Texas’ energy future?


   I do. You know, I think if you look at the available shale reserves of natural gas … an excess of 120 years of current supply, and within a generation having the ability to export natural gas through the Texas Gulf Coast … you know, I’m a big proponent. It would help to mitigate some of the volatilities that you see in global pricing in natural gas.

   But more importantly, it’s been proven to result in less CO2 emissions, as far as our vehicles, [and] in terms of our power plants. Regardless of your politics, the EPA is regulating coal and rationing down of its overall usage in our electricity grid. In my opinion, one of the big stories of this century will be natural gas filling in that void, because it’s readily abundant.


I think you may be the first Republican politician running in Texas to ever talk about reducing CO2 emissions.




Is that something you plan to talk about more during your campaign, or as land commissioner?


   Well, I do … Absolutely. It’s funny because I mentioned [former Texas Land Commissioner] Garry Mauro at the outset and he had an interesting book that he wrote about his experiences after serving as land commissioner.

   And he says — and I find the greatest irony in it — that in the '80s he worked with T. Boone Pickens at the time, during the initial blueprint of the Pickens Plan, to basically help America wean itself from foreign services of oil and gas with pretty much a focus on using natural gas for industrial vehicles, for individual consumer vehicles, for industrial fleets and for power plants.

   And here we are 35 years later and we’re still at this crossroads, and regulation prevents us from being able to export, or [we’re] lacking ingenuity to use natural gas more for our power plants or for our vehicles. Now, I’m not saying that there hasn’t been progress — there has been. And the GLO has managed Department of Energy grants that help build out infrastructure so that people can use more natural gas for their vehicles.

   But yeah, it is going to require a land commissioner that understands those issues, and goes out and is willing to commit themselves to it.


Since we’re on the subject, what do you think of the EPA’s carbon regulations plan, that they announced in June?


   Well, you know, my viewpoint is that states can regulate best. I think you touched on one of the bigger issues in my mind — and that’s making sure that you’re hedging against wild swings in oil and gas and other feedstocks for your power plants. And that ultimately would have more impact. I think we as Americans, we as Texans recognize we can always do better as it relates to cleaning our environment and finding ways to emit less.


We’ve gone to a lot of meetings held by folks like the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Public Utilities Commission on the new EPA regulations. And the sense that I’ve gotten from them is: This is a war on coal and we should fight it in every way possible, and if anything maybe we shouldn’t even follow [the rules]. Their faith in natural gas does not seem to be what yours is. Would you say you disagree with them on their approach to the carbon regs?


   Well, I would say that there is a responsible way to develop our natural resources that we have right here and right now. And I think if you take a look at, especially in Texas, our available natural gas shale reserves — that there isn’t any reason, especially as cheap as it is right now, not to utilize them more.

   In terms of coal, I’m not sure that really anybody can agree with the total eradication of coal. I think when you’re talking about these huge ideas and movements in terms of the largest line item for the consumer — and that’s energy — you can’t just overnight, just ratchet down coal. I think people see increasingly the benefits of using natural gas as a feedstock. Whether it’s in the development or usage of it. But, you know, there’s a long way to go. It’s not going to happen overnight. [Transitioning away from coal is] going to have more impact honestly in the Adirondacks and the mid-Atlantic than it will in Texas, just because more of our capacity is natural gas-driven.


Do you mean we’ll have an easier time [than other states] following the [carbon regulations] if we decide to?


   Yes, exactly.


It sounds like you’re saying, though, we shouldn’t end coal tomorrow. But there will have to be a gradual move away from it.


   Yes — absolutely, I think there is a way in which we’ve got to move towards … leading the rest of the world honestly, here in the U.S. in terms of our responsible energy policy and how we develop it.


So, because you talked about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, what’s your view on climate change?


   Well, I think people can agree that there has been warming, you know, in recent years. The question is whether or not it’s 100 percent anthropogenic, which means man-made. So I’ll leave that to the experts to discuss on that. But as it relates to the coast, you’re absolutely right, the studies show in the last few years that we average about 4 feet of erosion per year. Some counties are experiencing as high as 20.

   And the GLO is involved in examining that, and assessing ways in which we can leverage federal dollars, state dollars, county dollars, to mitigate some of these more problematic areas. Whether it’s jetty development, beach mitigation, working with A&M Corps of Engineers to relocate impounded sand. We’re trying to do that right now in South Padre Island, which is a tourist capital and hugely relies on its beaches ... it’s going to be a challenge.

   Also, dealing with recovery. I mean, how do we respond in an effective way to hurricanes, or the next category 3, 4 or 5 [hurricane] that hits the greater Houston metropolitan area? I mean, that’s something that honestly keeps me up at night. And you know, oil spills. We’re the first responder on those as well. So definitely a lot going on on the Gulf Coast that more Texans should know about.


By Neena Satija

Texas Tribune‎

August 31, 2014