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As Environmentalists Prepare for President Trump, Some Look to Texas for Lessons

Daniel Reese for KUT News

To say President-elect Donald Trump's incoming administration has public health and environmental advocates worried may be an understatement.  Like a lot of Republicans, Trump wants to roll back environmental protections and some people are already protesting his positions in the streets.

But, beyond protest, how will these groups push their agendas under the next administration? 

Some say it’s worth taking a look at Texas for lessons. That’s because, with Republicans controlling Congress and the executive branch, the country is about to look a lot like Texas has for years. 

That's what Dan Cohan, a professor of Environmental Engineering at Rice University, recently voiced in his editorial for The Hill "Lessons From a Red State, How to Go Green Under Republicans."

He says a lot of people are surprised to hear Texas is a leader in wind power. But it is, and that’s because politicians here supported the development of transmission line infrastructure. Similarly, massive infrastructure investment is also a goal of the Trump administration.

“So because there’s already that momentum there behind infrastructure, let’s pivot from it and reshape a plan that really does address our nations needs and really catalyzes more growth in clean energy, just like we’ve done here in Texas," he said.

He says that momentum can help reshape a plan that "catalyzes more growth in clean energy, just like we’ve done here in Texas.”

Tom “Smitty” Smith is the outgoing head of Public Citizen Texas. He says, even if it’s seemed like it lately, environmental regulation was not always such a partisan issue.

“The first advocates for air pollution reductions were Republicans like Richard Nixon and George Bush the first,” he said.

Under Trump, Smith says, clean energy advocates may want to make a better business argument for policies they favor – something they’ve been doing in Texas for a long time.

“It’s all about coming to ways that we can use the economy and the cost of public health as tools to make it clear that doing the right thing environmentally means that we’re improving our economy and making America stronger again,” Smith said.

And, when the Trump administration tries to roll back environmental rules, here’s another lesson not from environmentalists but Texas politician: Sue the administration, early and often.

“If the laws do not change, citizens groups can step up and bring their own enforcement in citizen suit actions,” Tracy Hester, a lecturer at the University of Houston Law Center, pointed out.

“In addition, the same way that Texas and other attorneys generals have filed litigation to resist rules that they opposed. Now that the agency may be taking actions they agree with, other states may step up and take the same litigation role," Hester said.

He expects states like California and New York to take the lead in the same way Texas did under Obama.

He says one big unknown is how far Trump and the incoming Congress will try to overhaul U.S. environmental law, not just roll back specific existing rules and policies.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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