Opinion: Texas can continue to lead in a new economy that's carbon neutral

·3 min read

For years, governments have been grappling with the impact of carbon emissions. From incentives for clean energy to increased regulations, lawmakers have been searching for ways to clean up our environment, which is no doubt concerning to the hundreds of thousands of Texans who rely on the fossil fuel industry for a paycheck.

However, here in the Lone Star State, our Legislature realizes that some solutions lie with the private sector and more specifically, Texas' farmers and ranchers. For decades, our agriculture and energy industries have worked together to create millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output for our state. And now they can work together to help clean up our environment.

To that end, government would do well to simply establish the legal, regulatory and economic framework that allows companies to clean up their carbon footprint without compromising their economic output. Fortunately, there is an innovative way to store the excess carbon being produced by energy companies. It comes in the form of Carbon Capture Underground Storage which would enable the energy industry to inject carbon emissions into permanent storage. As chairperson of the Carbon Neutral Coalition Advisory Board, we are working to help establish the legal guardrails to enable Carbon Capture Underground Storage in Texas. According to many experts, "nature-based climate solutions ... have the potential to remove and store up to 25% of annual U.S. emissions."

In addition to this leading to a cleaner environment, it would open another revenue stream for our farmers and ranchers. By working together with companies that emit CO2 into the atmosphere, landowners throughout the state would be able to offer their land for storing carbon in exchange for a fee.

Not only could the agriculture industry be paid to store this carbon, but they would also have the ability to utilize that carbon to improve the health of their soil through a process known as a carbon farming. Texas A&M points out that carbon farming "works by applying agricultural methods such as no-till or conservation tilling for minimal soil disturbance, mulching, composting, rotating livestock and using cover crops as ways of sequestering carbon in the soil." These same researchers go on to say that these "practices also provide other benefits in relation to water retention, hydrological function, biodiversity and resilience."

And to ensure landowners are protected when it comes to storing carbon, our policymakers should adhere to the BCarbon protocol developed by researchers at Rice University’s Baker Institute which list ten core principles protecting private property rights.

Unlike the Green New Deal which has many Texans rightly concerned, Carbon Neutral Coalition's proposals, will safeguard our environment and the fossil fuel industry. Through Carbon Capture Underground Storage and carbon farming we have an opportunity, as a giant economic engine of America, to preserve oil and gas jobs, clean up our environment and provide even greater financial opportunity for our farmers and ranchers.

Doing so will require leadership in our state. Last session, the state Legislature took the first step in enabling this to happen. House Bill 1284, authored by Representative Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) and sponsored by Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), transferred the regulatory authority of geologic storage of carbon dioxide from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Railroad Commission.

Next session, the Carbon Neutral Coalition will be working alongside its partners to build on this success and ensure the legislative guardrails are put in place to preserve the economic future of the Lone Star State. Texas is a global leader in energy and agricultural production, and by enabling private sector solutions, can continue to lead in a new economy that is carbon neutral.

Combs is the former Texas Agriculture Commissioner and chairperson of the Carbon Neutral Coalition Advisory Board.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Opinion: We can clean up the carbon footprint without compromising the economy