From Marfa Public Radio:
Senate candidates from Texas, Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke, have spent a lot of time discussing their stances on immigration, health care and the economy while on the campaign trail. But the environment is a topic that is seldom discussed.
That's why Jon Gergen, a retired listener from Plano, asked Texas Decides: "Specifically what policies Mr. Cruz and Mr. O’Rourke are for, or against, to deal with what I perceive most of the scientific community believes is a severe climate problem."
To answer Jon’s question, we spoke to professor Robert Forbis who studies environmental policy at Texas Tech University. When looking at the two candidates' voting records, Forbis says the differences are sharp.
"Senator Cruz’s record is pretty clear: unless it’s gonna be beneficial for the economy, he doesn't really vote a pro-environment agenda," Forbis says.
And for O’Rourke, it's just the opposite.
"It’s pretty clear -- he votes along the line with just about anything that’s good for the environment," Forbis says.
The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, has tracked congressional members’ votes on environmental bills through 2017. The organization has given Ted Cruz a grade of three percent for his entire career, and Beto O’Rourke 95 percent. Unsurprisingly, the league has endorsed O’Rourke in this race.
O’Rourke has said he's for rejoining the Paris climate accord and wants more oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency. But in Texas, talking about environmental issues can be tough.
Despite the congressman's voting record, Forbis says, "I can see why he’s not really talking a lot about the environmental issues because in a sense, given the conservative nature of voters, it could harm him."
The final debate
Voters learned a lot more about the candidates' perspectives on climate change during their last debate. Cruz and O'Rourke exchanged insults when the senator was asked what his response is to energy companies that believe climate change is a serious problem.
"The climate has been changing from the dawn of time," Cruz responded. "The climate will change as long as we have a planet Earth."
The senator then referenced a 2015 hearing he held that challenged the impact of climate change by human activity. Although scientists went on to refute Cruz's arguments, he remained unconvinced that humans play role in climate change.
In the debate, O’Rourke disagreed with Cruz, saying, "Man-made climate change is a fact. Three hundred years after the Enlightenment, we should be able to listen to the scientists."
Throughout Cruz’s time in office, and during the debate, he has often pivoted from answering questions about climate change to talking about the Texas economy. In the debate, he accused O'Rourke of being "a prominent supporter of President Obama’s Paris climate deal, which would have killed thousands of jobs in the state of Texas."
Last year, Cruz pushed for President Donald Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, which eventually happened. The agreement aimed to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and was supported by energy giants like ExxonMobil. Despite this, some Republicans said it was a “bad deal” for Americans.
O'Rourke responded in the debate, saying he wants to diversify the economy by supporting alternative energy sources like wind and solar.
"We can continue to grow this economy," O'Rourke said. "We can reject the false choice between oil and gas and renewable energy."
What do voters in Texas think?
Robert Forbis says there's evidence people on the left and right are beginning to agree about transitioning into a less fossil-fuel-dependent economy. Two of his students at Texas Tech took a survey of voters in Lubbock, asking whether or not they favored moving towards renewables.
"Those persons who self-identified as Republicans, which -- pretty conservative county -- were almost in line, one to one, with self-identified Democrats [in] their preference from moving as far away from fossil fuels and towards renewables." Forbis says.
From an environmental policy perspective, Forbis says moving towards alternative energy is ultimately good for Texas business. In the coming years, he believes the environment will become more of a hot topic for Texas voters, as droughts and hurricanes become more severe and affect more people.
For Jon Gergen, the climate issue is already at the top of his list.
"I know everybody wants to live a long life, everybody wants to take care of their children and grandchildren. We all want clean water, clean air," Gergen says. "I just wish somehow we could come together to generally agree on identification of the problem."