Due to Texas’s size and influence, the Lone Star State is capable of disrupting, influencing and creating policy trends.
That’s because as the second most populous state, 27 million Texans are reflected by 38 electoral votes and 36 members in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. What happens in Texas politically will likely affect others beyond its borders, and the Texas Tribune Festival is evidence that people everywhere are watching—and taking notes.
Hosted at The University of Texas at Austin campus, the Texas Tribune Festival addressed the most pressing issues facing Texas and the nation. With more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers, this year’s event featured renowned journalists, business leaders, senators, mayors and even a few celebrities, who participated in lively discussions on a range of topics—from education to climate change. Among the discussions, however, three issues stood out as ones with potential to largely dominate Texas politics in the next year: energy, flooding and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Modernizing Texas Energy
Over the past decade, energy decisions for Texas were made in favor of diversification. With a competitive market system in place, energy sources compete for Texas’ use in zone agreement. The power grid modernizes itself, creating an accurate depiction of modern power demands.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of electric power to approximately 24 million Texas customers, is a successful example of an interconnected grid that includes natural gas, wind, solar, nuclear and other sources. ERCOT is a marvel in the way it balances renewable and non-renewable sources, considering Texas’s large size and diverse landscape. Wind and solar are on the rise in Texas, and are projected to lower costs. In the meantime, the use of natural gas is also projected to increase. With each year, however, Texas will become less reliant on coal.
Preventing and Rebuilding from Natural Disasters
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, local leaders and industry experts speculated about Houston’s future infrastructure and what it will cost. In fact, $15 billion has already been allocated for Harvey relief funds. The city of Houston is currently pursuing $50 billion in disaster recovery from FEMA and HUD. Federal funding would also be required to develop a coastal spine (formerly known as the ‘Ike Dyke’) across the Gulf of Mexico waters, protecting key shipping and refinery sites from harm. The amount is yet to be determined, but after Harvey, the need for this type of preparation is paramount for the future.
Houston’s future infrastructure will also be amended. In efforts as part of a “grey to green” initiative, coastal prairies will play a role in preventing future floods by soaking up rain water. Preserving such natural features will help in part with projected growth in west Houston. The market will determine Houston’s development and the city will need to develop criteria for the proper way to grow.
Exploring the Future of NAFTA
For more than 20 years, the United States, Mexico and Canada have traded without serious hindrance from any serious executives in leadership. Donald Trump’s election in November of 2016 is perhaps the most prominent wake-up call for business leaders and politicians, however, who see the benefits of NAFTA and want to keep it. Texas’ economy improved after the NAFTA agreement, particularly in the automotive and agricultural industries. As discussed at TribFest, Texas leaders in Washington will likely be vocal about NAFTA’s benefits, citing energy, infrastructure, e-commerce, environmental agreements and labor as examples of successes.
As with all trade agreements, however, the benefits can be imbalanced. In Texas, the labor force in El Paso suffered, but over the years the market adjusted to the new trade agreement. The panelists reminded us of Texas’ important role in international trade. They also agreed that more innovative strategies in technology, safety and security along the border, are necessary for Texas and the United States’ powerful trade policies.
Preparing for Texas’ Future
No matter one’s route home, be it 290 east to Houston, I-35 north to Dallas, or I-10 west to El Paso, attendees at this year’s Texas Tribune Fest had reason to walk away with a renewed sense of pride—and purpose. And it’s perhaps what is most impressive about the event, as each city and town’s contribution is recognized in making the Lone Star State great. Every newspaper, business and school within the state takes part in making Texas a better place to live and work every year. Though others may perceive us as simply boastful about our size, the truth is, Texas will continue to be a central player in the evolution of our nation.
Del Mixon worked on Capitol Hill on a number of policy issues, including telecommunications, cyber-security and space-related research and development prior to joining Pierpont as an Assistant Account Executive.