DALLAS -- While the U.S. Senate considers a climate bill aiming to dramatically slash air pollution linked to global warming, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican leaders in the state that leads the nation in greenhouse gas production are watching closely _ and objecting loudly.
Perry, backed by powerful business and industry groups, for months has been denouncing the measure, saying it would cripple the vibrant Texas economy and the heavy-polluting oil, gas and chemical industries it depends on. The governor plans to keep up his campaign against legislation he claims would lead to massive job cuts, industries fleeing overseas and more expensive energy for everyone.
"The bill does not help the environment," Perry said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It seems like it's more about controlling than it is on having a real impact on the environment."
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The U.S. House narrowly passed the measure in June, with the Texas delegation voting against it 23-9, and a similar version is facing a tough fight in the Senate. Each bill would cut emissions significantly by 2020, with a "cap and trade" system allowing companies to buy and sell permits to release limited amounts of heat-trapping gases.
Most of the nation's 22 Republican governors oppose the measure _ including Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal _ but Perry is one of the most vocal. He recently railed against it after being named the head of an oil group that includes elected officials from more than 30 states, and he says he'll use that position and the "bully pulpit" of his office to attack legislation he's called draconian, disastrous and onerous.
Environmental groups and Texans who support the bill say Perry is ignoring the legislation's economic benefits in order to help powerful polluters that support him.
"In short, we can ensure the people of Texas have the responsible and clean energy policies they deserve and that Texas remains at the forefront of the energy field, or we can get left behind," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Democrat who traveled to Washington with state leaders this year to work with the White House on clean energy legislation. "We can't continue fossilized thinking, pretend there is no problem, and resist innovative thinking."
Texas leads the nation in industrial pollution and has more oil refineries, chemical manufacturing plants and coal-fired power plants than any other state. The massive oil and chemical plants employ nearly 270,000 people and pay billions in state and local taxes. Texas provides about 20 percent of the nation's oil production, one-third of the natural gas, 25 percent of refining and 60 percent of chemical manufacturing.
Carbon emissions in Texas have dropped in recent years, and Perry says that's happened while those industries have helped build a strong economy that attracts about 1,000 people a day to the state.
"We've been able to reduce emissions and have a growing population and a growing economy, and we didn't do it through regulations and taxes. We did it through incentives," Perry said. "Put the cap and trade legislation in place, and those businesses at some point will pick up and move offshore. They just can't stay in business."
Jim Marston, director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund, doubts that claim. He says Texas companies can be at the forefront of a new green economy and that Perry's employing the same scare tactics used when the 1990 Clean Air Act was considered.
"This is just not credible," Marston said. "Rick Perry gets extra campaign contributions from industry folks or these people he spends time with at the country club and he's going to say what they want him to say."
Perry, locked in a tough primary re-election fight with U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison _ who also opposes the measure _ has been traveling around the state discussing the bill and the predicted consequences for Texas should it pass.
Environmentalists do agree with Perry on one point: his pushing of alternative energy.
Texas tops the country in wind energy, plans to expand a south Texas nuclear plant into the nation's largest and offers incentives for energy efficiency and solar-power use. In fact, Perry's usual speech calls for Washington to follow Texas' lead by offering incentives to cut emissions while promoting all sorts of alternative energy.
"This isn't just the governor of Texas standing up and saying no. I'm an all-of-the-above guy," Perry said.
But it's his ties to the notoriously polluting big oil and chemical industries that rankle environmentalists. That, and the fact that Perry is skeptical of the science linking climate change and carbon emissions _ a stance shared by the three commissioners he appointed to lead the Texas environmental agency.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality contends that capping emissions will not affect global warming, and it would be bad for Texas.
"Due to the significant petroleum and petrochemical industry base of Texas that supplies the rest of the nation with fuel and other commodities, it is certain that cap and trade legislation being discussed will disproportionately affect both citizens and industry of Texas," spokesman Terry Clawson said.
Environmentalists say Texas needs to quit clinging to the past.
"I would say they are protecting the status quo _ or even worse, protecting the status quo of the 1950s," Marston said. "It's playing to the stereotype that we're yahoos, and we're not."
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