Houston Needs Bipartisan Effort to Protect Vital Energy Jobs

As a veteran leader of Harris County’s labor movement, I’ve frequently found myself on the opposite side of the table from energy industry executives. In my decades of service with the Harris County AFL-CIO Council, I stood with my union brothers and sisters in their strikes against area refineries and petrochemical plants, because they were fighting to support their families.

Today, I stand with these same valuable workers who justifiably fear losing good jobs that are critical to our region’s prosperity.

As politicians in Washington continue their focus on the transition to green jobs, it’s crucial to remember that Texas’ energy sector represents a major economic engine not just for the State but the country at large. Texas’ oil and natural gas industry is directly responsible for the creation and sustainment of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs that boost economic activity nationwide. Here in Houston, the energy sector employed over 237,000 people in 2020, and its continued growth is key to our long-term prospects. 

Every energy sector job supports an additional 2.7 jobs in other industries. At a time when supply chains are stretched to their limit, the interconnectedness and interdependency of our economy has never been clearer. The energy sector also helps keep state and local governments funded, with the oil and natural gas industry contributing $13.9 billion in taxes and state royalties last year in Texas alone. This is equivalent to $38 million every day, which goes toward funding police, schools and other vital local services. 

Concern over climate change and the need to ensure reliable access to energy that can support our growing economy make it inevitable that renewables will play a larger role in our energy mix moving forward. But Houston must remain a  centerpiece of America’s energy infrastructure when so many communities across the country depend on the jobs and economic prosperity created by our energy sector. 

A drastic transition that is guided more by ideology than pragmatism risks leaving thousands of families behind. The economic devastation that occurred when heavy industry left the rust belt offers a stark warning for what happens when  jobs and local economies disappear en masse. To avoid history repeating itself, we must take steps to protect Houston’s energy jobs and the prosperity that they bring to working families. 

Any move that eliminates energy jobs overnight will have a negative impact on the local economy. At a time when recovery is the top priority, America cannot afford to limit economic opportunities while also limiting production and raising energy costs. There is no denying America’s approach to energy is changing. But it is irresponsible to turn our back and completely ignore the immense value of Houston’s energy sector and its continued contribution to the American economy.

Harris County has always led our nation’s energy sector. It’s time for all our elected representatives, regardless of party affiliation, to stand up and defend the workers who rely on this vital industry. Working together, we can and must implement smart energy policies that protect our planet, and our jobs.

What do you think?

Written by Richard Shaw

Richard Shaw is a longtime Houston labor leader, having served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO Council from 1995 to 2017.


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