Commentary: Make liquefied natural gas industry pay their share of taxes

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The oil and gas industries are among the most wealthy and powerful in Texas. They own almost everything, including politicians, including our imaginations, especially RGV elected officials. Some of these officials are so dazzled by that oil and gas wealth that they are considering tax breaks for projects like the Texas LNG and the Rio Grande LNG projects proposed at the Port of Brownsville. As if any petroleum or fossil fuel project needs tax breaks. Spoiler alert: They really don’t.

LNG is liquefied natural gas, but there’s nothing truly natural about drilling and mining for methane gas. Also, these LNG companies are private companies. That means they do not and will not share their profits or wealth with us, with local communities, with poor people. That’s why we should always make them pay all of their taxes. Those taxes pay for roads, for using water, for schools, for local infrastructure and services like firefighters. Rich industries that make a ton of money should pay their fair share, and never receive tax cuts or tax abatements.

Cameron County can increase your residential property taxes, so all regular homeowners have to pay more tax. The county could also reappraise property at higher values, which would increase the amount of tax we pay without increasing the rate of tax. It seems that county commissioners want to make residents pay more taxes so they can give tax breaks to the gas Industry. Why? So that the gas industry can take more profits. Does this hurt or harm Cameron County and the RGV? It hurts us.

The Cameron County Commissioners Court is considering giving a $34 million tax cut over 10 years to the Texas LNG terminal and a renewal to the $373 million tax abatement for the Rio Grande LNG terminal at the Port of Brownsville. These projects will destroy and pollute land. They will pollute our water and our air. This pollution will harm our health. Our risks of cancer, asthma and COPD will increase significantly here in the RGV.

A man fishes along Texas State Highway 4 on Thursday, April 4, 2024, as NextDecade Liquid Natural Gas development company continues construction at their Rio Grande LNG export facility in Brownsville. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

LNG methane. This fossil fuel gas contributes directly to global warming, to climate chaos and to climate catastrophe. LNG plants and terminals produce tons of poisonous and polluting chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, a known cancer causing chemical. If completed, Texas LNG and Rio Grande LNG will become the largest sources of pollution by far in the Rio Grande Valley. Both projects are destroying indigenous sacred land of the Carrizo Comecrudo people. Texas LNG would obliterate a sacred site known as Garcia Pasture. LNG terminals are not only polluting, but they are also dangerous. Don’t let anyone fool you, these projects are not safe. Freeport LNG exploded in Quintana, Texas, on June 8, 2022. It was later determined that the accident was caused by understaffing and consistent disregard of safety rules and a lack of proper safety equipment. All LNG terminals will have a catastrophic accident. It’s only a matter of time.

Freeport LNG did not employ enough workers to keep the facility safe. Just how many jobs are these LNG terminals supposed to have? Well, Texas LNG wants to avoid $3.4 million in taxes a year for 10 years in exchange for providing around 35 full-time jobs for regional local residents once completed. That does not seem like a good deal. Rio Grande LNG claims it will have 250 permanent full-time jobs. But, their agreement with Cameron County claims to provide only 88 of those jobs for local residents. So, Rio Grande LNG wants to save $373 million in taxes for only 88 local jobs? That is a terrible deal for Cameron County. Also, what is the purpose of a tax abatement deal? Usually, the purpose is to attract and incentivize a company to locate here. But, these projects don’t have anywhere else to go! They don’t need to be incentivized to come here; they are already here. So, giving them a tax break only means that they get to keep their money while local residential taxpayers have to make up the difference for the county through paying higher property taxes. This is a terrible deal for residents.

We should demand that the Cameron County commissioners reject these terrible tax abatement deals. Make your voices heard! You can make public comments at the Commissioners Court meeting at 9:30 a.m. on June 4 in the Dancy Building at 1150 E. Madison St, Brownsville.

Christopher Basaldú of Brownsville is a member of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and a member of the South Texas Environmental Justice Network.