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TX Decides: What Are Cruz And O'Rourke's Stances On The Environment?


By Diana Nguyen

We’re in day three of early voting, and Texas is seeing voter turnout headlines it’s not used to. For once, it seems the word “Shocking” isn’t followed by “-ly low.” Have any questions before you cast your ballot?

The Texas Standard and public radio stations across the state have been working together to help you make sense of the midterms through our Texas Decides project, inviting listeners to send in their questions.

And all this week, we're answering them. Today, the question about one of the big contests that’s getting people to the polls: the Senate race between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic Beto O’Rourke. 

Texas Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke have spent a lot of time discussing their stances on immigration, healthcare, and the economy while on the campaign trail. 

However, the environment is a topic that's seldom come up during this race. 

That's why Jon Gergen, a retired listener from Plano, asked TX Decides, "[S]pecifically 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. 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."

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 3% for his entire career, and Beto O’Rourke a 95%. Unsurprisingly, The LCV has endorsed O’Rourke in this race. 

O’Rourke’s said he's for re-joining the Paris Climate Accords and wants to give more oversight to 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 the last scheduled debate in this race. 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 by man's role in the changing environment. 

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's continually pivoted from climate to the Texas economy. The Senator 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 Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreement, which eventually came to fruition. The agreement aimed to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and was supported by energy giants like ExxonMobil. Despite this, some Republicans insisted this effort was a “bad deal” for Americans.

O'Rourke responded by 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?

Dr. 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.

Forbis says, "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..."

From an environmental policy perspective, Forbis says moving towards alternative energy is ultimately good for Texas business in the long run. And 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 within the state and personally affect more people. 

For question-asker 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."

Diana Nguyen is a reporter for Marfa Public Radio.