Don’t worry, helpless insurance companies: the Texas Legislature is here to protect you from the big bad environmentalists. A Texas state senator said in a panel discussion last week at a conference hosted by a leading climate think tank that the state legislature will focus on rolling out legislation this year to punish insurance companies that try to divest from fossil fuels. The big target is ESG, or environment, social and governance, a strategy companies can use to make ethical investments.
During round table last week at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual summit – creatively titled “ESG = Everyone’s Suffering Guaranteed” (lol, you guys! Lol!) – Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes lifted the curtain on forthcoming legislation that seemed to mimic the law passed in 2021 prohibiting Texas from doing business with financial institutions who have pro-climate policies. This time, Hughes said, the legislature would target insurance companies that have similar policies.
“If they’re going to mess with the money that belongs to Texas retirees and undermine the very economy of Texas, we’re going to teach them some manners,” Hughes said, earning cheers and applause from the audience.
Those of you who have followed our coverage of pro-fossil fuel policies out of Texas might recognize the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the source of some of the Republican Party’s most outlandish pro-fossil rhetoric, including the idea that coal was responsible for the end of slavery. It’s easy to laugh at TPPF and the downright crazy stuff it pushes. For example: Jason Isaaca former Texas politician who now heads the energy arm of TPPF and moderated this particular panel, doubled down on the think tank’s rhetoric that fossil fuels are lifting people out of poverty, calling the Paris Agreement a “treacherous” and demanding “human rights tribunals” for people like Bill Gates and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for their climate work.
But TPPF has proven to be a substantial force in Republican politics. Its annual summits have been places where powerful Republicans have been able to test rhetoric and preview potential policies. And the extent of the think tank’s influence was clear last week. During the panel, Isaacs claimed that TPPF was responsible for the first draft of the anti-ESG bill that the Texas Legislature passed in 2021. (The organization’s annual conference in January 2021 presented a first discussion on using legislation to combat ESG measures.) More than a dozen similar bills have since passed or been proposed in state legislatures across the country, while anti-ESG sentiment is now a huge board in the republican partywith TPPF-esque talking points floated by potential presidential hopefuls like Ron DeSantis.
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Never mind that last week’s roundtable was riddled with holes, bad science and logical errors. (During the panel, Hughes called a coal plant in his district “clean” and pledged to “do everything (he) can to stop” any legislation that would provide economic subsidies for wind and solar .) And it doesn’t matter that the insurance industry is currently see in real time the impacts of climate change and may in fact have a vested interest in preventing more homes from being destroyed by storms and Forest fires. It is clear from the discussion that actual financial discussions about the pros or cons of ESG are not the goals of these policies and attitudes; rather, it is about portraying fossil fuels as the savior of the world.
During the panel’s Q&A, a man identifying himself as an oil and gas operator stood up and thanked the group for their work in challenging ESG policies.
“You’re helping the people of Texas, so thank you,” Hughes said.
“It’s people like you lifting the world out of poverty one barrel at a time,” Isaacs added.