Don’t worry, helpless insurance companies: The Texas Legislature is here to protect you from big, bad environmentalists. A Texas senator said during a panel discussion last week at a conference hosted by a prominent climate denier think tank that the state legislature would focus on rolling out legislation this year to penalize insurance companies that try to divest from fossil fuels. The big goal is ESG, or environmental, social and governance, a strategy companies can use to make ethical investments.
During a panel debate last week at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual summit — creatively dubbed “ESG = Everyone’s Suffering Guaranteed” (hi, you guys! Lol!) — Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes lifted the curtain on upcoming legislation that appeared to mimic law passed in 2021 that prohibits Texas from doing business with financial institutions who have pro-climate policies. This time, Hughes said, the legislature would target insurers that have similar policies.
“If they’re going to mess with money that belongs to Texas retirees and undermine the very Texas economy, we’re going to teach them some manners,” Hughes declared, drawing applause and applause from the crowd.
Those of you who have followed our coverage of fossil-fuel-friendly politics coming out of Texas may recognize the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the source of some of the wildest rhetoric about fossil fuels in the Republican Party, including the idea that coal was responsible for ending slavery. It’s easy to laugh at the TPPF and the completely honest stuff it pushes out. For example: Jason Isaacsa former Texas politician who now runs the TPPF’s energy arm and moderated this special panel, doubled down on the think tank’s rhetoric that fossil fuels are lifting people out of poverty, calling the Paris accord “treasonous” and calling for “human rights tribunals” for the likes of Bill Gates and the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres for their work on climate.
But the TPPF has proven to be a significant force in Republican politics. The annual summits have been places for Republican power players to test the waters on rhetoric and preview potential policies. And the extent of the think tank’s influence was evident 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 January 2021 annual conference featured an early discussion on the use of legislation to combat ESG measures.) More than a dozen similar bills have since passed or been proposed in state legislatures around the country, while anti-ESG sentiment is now a huge plank in the Republican Partywith TPPF-esque talking points floated of potential presidential candidates such as Ron DeSantis.
Never mind that the panel discussion last week was full of holes, bad science and logical fallacies. (During the panel, Hughes called a coal plant in his district “clean” and vowed to “do everything [he] can to stop” any legislation that would provide financial subsidies to wind and solar.) And care that the insurance industry is today see the effects of climate change in real time and may actually have a vested interest in preventing several people’s homes from being destroyed by storms and forest fires. It was clear from the discussion that the actual financial discussions around the benefits or drawbacks of ESG are not the targets of these guidelines and attitudes; rather, it is painting fossil fuels as the savior of the world.
During the panel’s Q&A, a man who identified himself as an oil and gas operator stood and thanked the group for their work to combat ESG policies.
“You’re helping the people of Texas, so thank you,” Hughes said.
“It’s people like you who lift the world out of poverty one barrel at a time,” Isaacs added.