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Gov. Greg Abbott vows to fight Joe Biden's energy and climate agenda

Gov. Greg Abbott visited the Permian Basin on Thursday and spoke out against President Joe Biden's energy and environment policies. (Jerod Foster for The Texas Tribune)

By Patrick Svitek, Texas Tribune

Gov.  Greg Abbott, looking to show an early contrast with President Joe Biden, visited the Permian Basin on Thursday and announced a series of steps the state would be taking to push back against the new Democratic administration when it comes to the oil and gas industry.

During a news conference in Odessa, the Republican governor vowed that Texas would pursue an aggressive legal strategy against the Biden administration much like Abbott, then the attorney general, did against former President Barack Obama. Abbott signed an executive order that he said would "direct every state agency to use all lawful powers and tools to challenge any federal action that threatens the" energy sector in Texas. And he announced his support for legislation that "prohibits cities and counties from banning natural gas appliances," railing against a  similar move last year by San Francisco.

"I am in Midland to make clear that Texas is going to protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington, D.C.," said Abbott, who was actually speaking in the nearby city of Odessa at CUDD Energy Services. "Texas is not going to stand idly by and watch the Biden administration kill jobs in Midland, in Odessa or any other place across the entire region."

In his first days in office, Biden has moved swiftly to implement his climate change agenda by recommitting the United States to the Paris climate agreement, canceling the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and issuing a 60-day freeze on new oil drilling on federal lands. The latter move has proved particularly controversial within Texas, with four U.S. House Democrats from the state  asking Biden to rescind it on Wednesday.

Discussing his executive actions on climate change Wednesday, Biden said they were part of a "whole of government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security and foreign policy.

"It’s advancing conservation, revitalizing communities in cities and on the farm lands and securing and environmental justice," said Biden, who insisted that, despite his pause of fracking on federal lands, "We’re not going to ban fracking" altogether.

Abbott acknowledged that in Texas, there is "either zero or close to zero" federal lands where drilling is done, so Biden's order does not impact the state as much as it does New Mexico, for example. Still, Abbott said he is convinced that the Biden administration "will be trying to take actions that will make it harder, more difficult and more costly" for oil and gas businesses in Texas, which are major economic drivers for the state.

The  executive order that Abbott signed asks state agencies to "work to identify potential litigation, notice-and-comment opportunities and any other means of preventing federal overreach within the law." Abbott called the order a "homework assignment" for every agency and threatened to fire agency leaders who do not go along with it.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a fellow Republican, said his office stood ready to comply with Abbott's order.

"Following the certification of election results, I immediately directed the Texas General Land Office to begin preparing for an onslaught of executive orders and policy decisions by the Administration that are detrimental to the Texas oil and gas economy," Bush said in a statement.

As for the legislation on natural gas appliances, Abbott did not cite any momentum for banning them in Texas but did point to the San Francisco decision, which outlawed such appliances in new buildings. It was not immediately clear if there was already a bill filed with the Texas Legislature to achieve Abbott's goal.

Responding to Abbott's news conference, the Texas Democratic Party said Abbott was not "being honest with working Texans," noting that the state's energy industry is still hurting and its path forward is through renewable sources, not fossil fuels.

“To save Texas energy, we need to demand new leadership in this state that is honest, upfront with Texans, and embraces the future," party spokesperson Abhi Rahman said in a statement.

Environment Texas, the Austin-based group that advocates for cleaner air and water in the state, also criticized Abbott's event, saying he is "on the wrong side of history." The executive director of Environment Texas, Luke Metzger, said in a statement that the governor's "head-in-the-sand approach to global warming makes no sense when Texas could lead in solving the crisis by taking full advantage of our abundant clean energy resources and technological know-how."