Citizens protest tax abatement – Port Isabel-South Padre Press


By AYLEEN CANIZALES
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

The Cameron County, Texas Commissioners’ Court held a regular meeting at the Cameron County Courthouse on 1100 E. Monroe St., Brownsville, Texas on Tuesday, June 4, 2024 at 9:30 a.m. The meeting was a discussion and possible action to move forward with a tax abatement for liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies Rio Grande LNG, LLC. (RGNLG) and Texas LNG Brownsville LLC (TXLNG) was on the court’s agenda. The public was given the chance to express their support or opposition to the abatements, and they had plenty to say.

David Keane, Senior Vice President of Policy and Corporate Affairs at NextDecade RGLNG, presented to the court the benefits to the abatement, stating RGLNG would not only bolster the local economy through job creation and increased revenue but also emphasized their commitment to considering the project’s economic impact on the community, stating they are “leading with safety.” The presentation also stated that RGLNG would be the number one taxpayer during the current amended abatement.

Adam Prestidge, Executive Vice President, Head of Business Affairs for Glenfarne LNG (developer for TXLNG), opened his presentation to the court by stating they are committed to being community partners “financially, socially and environmentally” and believes that TXLNG “will have a positive impact.” Prestidge assured the county commissioners that TXLNG is “not a big corporate business” and despite worries of LNG production on the environment, they are the “lowest emitting project in the country.” The presentation then highlighted that TXLNG would be the second highest taxpayer despite the 40% tax abatement.

By paying 60% of taxes owed, TXLNG stands to circumvent an estimated $34 million. Similarly, RGLNG, benefitting from this amended abatement, is projected to save approximately $373 million in taxes.
During public comments, citizens that approved of the abatement commented on the benefit of the economic contribution that TXLNG would bring, saying that the Rio Grande Valley has high rates of poverty.

Daniel Silva, CEO of Rio Grande Valley Partnership, supported the LNG projects, saying, “The economic growth for the area is substantial…there are still taxes that are going to be paid.” Although many came to comment in support of the projects, the turnout for the opposing side was overwhelming.

Representatives from various organizations, non-profits and concerned citizens passionately advocated against granting the tax abatement for LNG projects. They highlighted the detrimental impacts such projects have on both the environment and local community. Among the concerns raised were the loss of wildlife habitats, ecosystem degradation, air quality deterioration, exacerbation of the climate crisis, destruction of Indigenous historic sites and adverse effects on investments in ecotourism, among other issues. The opposing side also raises concerns regarding the depreciation of the value of the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) due to inflation.

The primary argument from the opposing side, however, asserts that these projects are already established and have intentions to utilize the Port of Brownsville. They argue that tax abatements are intended to incentivize industries, and therefore, they do not perceive a necessity for such incentives in this case.

Jared Hockema, City Manager for the City of Port Isabel (PI), told the court that despite representatives of these companies stating these projects were a “green project,” the U.S. Court of Appeals-D.C. Circuit stated otherwise. The issue was remanded to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which voted that the projects did not meet environmental standards, yet were approved. Hockema commented that litigation is still pending with FERC in the circuit court on the matter, and that meanwhile the well-being of citizens is put at risk.

“There is no need to provide an incentive to a company that is bound and determined to come,” Hockema said, bringing his comments to a close by asking the court to use their “common sense.”

Bekah Hinojosa, representing the South Texas Environmental Justice Network, has been a leading advocate against LNG projects in the Rio Grande Valley. She opposed the abatement, emphasizing that the companies proposing these projects have had ample opportunity to present their anticipated economic impacts for Cameron County. Hinojosa argues that the same privilege should be extended to the opposing side, allowing them to present their findings on the adverse effects of LNG projects.

Juan Mancias, Tribal Chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo indigenous tribe native to south Texas, stands as a prominent voice among those opposing LNG projects in the Rio Grande Valley. He concluded the discussion on the opposing side by firmly expressing his opposition to these corporations, saying, “They cannot be destroying what God has created.” Mancias passionately conveyed to the commissioners the ongoing exploitation of land and resources, lamenting that, “532 years later,” the cycle persists, with resources being extracted and sold to Europe.

David Carza, Commissioner of Precinct 3, extended gratitude to both sides for their active involvement in the discussion. He clarified that Cameron County does not own the land in question, and thus the county lacks “control over it.” Garza emphasized the county’s commitment to budgeting for the future and prioritizing the best interests of its residents. He then motioned to approve the tax abatement, acknowledging the gravity of the decision saying, “I have to live with my decision today.” The motion passed with a vote of 4 to 1 in favor of the abatement.

In response to the vote, Hinojosa issued a statement, stating, “The Cameron County commissioners have once again ignored their constituents by approving a tax abatement for a dangerous fossil fuel project widely opposed by the community. We will continue to do everything in our power to prevent these LNG facilities from proceeding with their plans, which would lead to habitat destruction, pollution in our low-income community, and threats to fishing and shrimping, all at the expense of Cameron County taxpayers.”





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