Texas lawmakers have denounced Joe Biden’s energy moves, but experts say they could benefit the state

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HOUSTON — Surrounded by refineries and chemical plants that make up the Houston Ship Channel, the Republican leader of the U.S. House stood last week along what he called “one of America’s success stories.” A cadre of Texans in Congress flanked U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California to continue a campaign of criticisms they’ve lobbed at President Joe Biden’s climate-focused agenda.

Biden’s swift moves to combat global warming have brought equally quick criticisms from state officials that Texas oil and gas jobs are in danger. But their comments often ignore that there is a global push in the free market — not just from the White House — to limit reliance on fossil fuels. And their rhetoric belies the benefits Texas’ oil and gas sector could see from Biden’s early moves.

“Unfortunately, our economic bedrock of oil and gas is under attack by an administration that is bent on eliminating millions of jobs,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, one of seven Texas lawmakers who joined McCarthy last week in front of one of the busiest cargo ports in the world.

Even before Biden took office last month, Texas lawmakers had forecasted doom and gloom for the state’s energy industry, projecting the sector’s demise at the hands of the new president. And it hasn’t been a strictly partisan battle: Even Texas Democrats have swiftly pushed back against Biden’s early moves aimed at protecting the environment.

However, the percentage of jobs in the oil and gas industry had begun steadily declining, both in Texas and nationwide, long before Biden took office. In 2014, more than 2.5% of jobs in Texas were in the oil and gas, mining and quarrying industries, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. At the beginning of 2020 — before the coronavirus pandemic and a global drop in the demand for oil — the share of jobs in the Texas oil and gas field had fallen to about 1.8%.

A majority of Americans have said they are interested in a clean and safe environment. Their spending habits increasingly demonstrate that, which experts say poses a much larger threat to the Texas oil and gas industry than Biden does. And, in the short term, Biden’s moves may help Texas, some say.

“Basically every executive action Biden’s taken is good for Texas oil and gas,” said Michael Webber, energy professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

On his first day in office, Biden signed an order revoking a permit the Trump administration granted to a Canadian energy company behind the Keystone XL pipeline. The decade-old international energy project consists of a partially built system of pipelines that run from Canada into the United States.