What could be worse than building a giant, polluting fracked gas facility along our pristine coastline? Asking Cameron County taxpayers to foot the bill. 

Right now, Cameron County Commissioners are considering giving Rio Grande LNG a multi-million dollar tax break off the backs of Cameron County taxpayers for their fracked gas export facility. Rio Grande LNG is one of three dirty fracked gas export terminals proposed near Port Isabel and South Padre Island that would process fracked gas from the West Texas’ Permian Basin and export it overseas for their own corporate profit. Taken together, the impacts of these three export terminals could be devastating for local communities, where we depend on industries such as eco-tourism and shrimping that rely heavily on clean water and a pristine coastline.

The Rio Grande Valley already struggles with seasonal air quality issues, which is some of the worst in the country. Three fracked gas terminals would put our vulnerable communities at a greater risk for negative health impacts and amplify the risk to COVID-19 which is known to impact black and brown communities at a higher rate. The last thing the county should be doing is enabling a fracked gas company to contribute to the health risks of people of color who are already suffering from poor air quality and a pandemic that affects them at a disproportionately higher rate. This facility shouldn’t be built at all, let alone at our expense. 

If the tax break is granted, it would allow Rio Grande LNG to forgo paying taxes on this massive, destructive facility, depriving Cameron County taxpayers of $373 million in revenue over the next decade. As Cameron County suffers the effects of COVID-19 and associated budget crisis, the last thing we need is a multi-million dollar bailout for a fossil fuel corporation. 

That this facility will even be completed is far from a done deal. The company has still not announced a Final Investment Decision (FID) confirming that they will pursue the project, and has recently delayed making their decision until 2021. The project faces enormous public opposition from local communities, as well as numerous legal challenges.

Given the controversy around this project, this decision should not be made in secret without public input. At the very least, the Cameron County Commissioners should put the tax abatement renewal to a public vote during a regularly scheduled meeting with 30-days notice for transparency and not conduct those meetings behind closed doors in executive session. In fact, a transparent process is required by law under HB 3143, which took effect last year. 

South Texas communities have a right to intervene in the construction of a project that would not only deprive them of $373 million of taxpayer money and be a disaster for the Rio Grande Valley, but also threaten the health, safety, and livelihoods of the people in the region. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned jointly by Rebekah Hinojosa, Sierra Club Gulf Coast Campaigner, from Brownsville; Josette Hinojosa, an environmental activist, from Brownsville, Michael Bueno, a clean energy advocate, from Raymondville, Patricia Rubio, of the Another Gulf Is Possible group, from Harlingen, Christopher Basaldú, PhD, member of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, from Brownsville, and Jerry Ruiz, a teacher, volunteer, and enviro-human rights activist, from Brownsville. The commentary appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the authors.

Editor’s Note: The two images accompanying the above guest column show environmentalists protesting liquefied natural gas export terminals coming to the Rio Grande Valley. They were provided to The Rio Grande Guardian by the Sierra Club.

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