By Peter Kelly-Detwiler - Storyteller in Residence
As Director of the not-for-profit group Environment Texas, Luke Metzger has been a leading voice for the environment in Texas for nearly two decades. It has not always been an easy task and many of the challenges have been significant. However, they have not been insurmountable, and Luke can point to some big victories during his tenure here.
Among these wins, Metzger has orchestrated campaigns to gain permanent protection for Big Bend’s Christmas Mountains, helped to force several large oil conglomerates to cut air pollution at three refiners and chemical facilities, and consistently advocated for clean energy in Texas.
Over the past 18 years, Metzger has lobbied consistently for a cleaner state energy portfolio. Efforts here are too numerous to mention, but critical initiatives have included programs to phase out coal plants, a campaign to double the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard and initiate the CREZ (Competitive Renewable Energy Zones), and garnering support for legislation to double utility spending on energy efficiency programs and provide rebates for electric vehicles.
Current priorities include efforts to persuade cities, colleges, and businesses to commit to fully supplying their needs with renewable energy, pushing for the addition of more on-site solar on schools and big box retail stores, and advocating for the PUC to adopt rules promoting energy storage.
It’s a big agenda, but Metzger has always set ambitious goals for himself and his organization. Along the way, he has been recognized for his efforts, receiving recognition and multiple awards for his consistent passion in advocating for the environment of Texas.
The first step on Metzger’s path to his present vocation began way back in Germany, where he was a self-described ‘Army brat’ spending a good chunk of his young life in Germany where his Boy Scout troop took him on trips to spirited him away to the Black Forest and the Alps – excursions that made memorable impressions and imprinted on him a deep appreciation of the great outdoors.
Chernobyl made a deep impression too, and he saw what happens when a poorly designed and dangerous energy resource fails. Metzger recalls “I was a ten year old in Germany when Chernobyl happened. We were told not to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as result of the contamination.”
College at USC further raised Metzger’s environmental awareness. “I remember the frequent smog where my campus was a few miles from the San Gabriel Mountains, and you couldn’t see them on many days. So I got involved with environmental activism in college and decided upon graduation to pursue it as career.”
After working at CalPIRG in Santa Cruz, Metzger moved to Texas in 2000, joining USPIRG as a Field Organizer. He recalls that the task was simultaneously daunting and invigorating.
“I was excited about the incredible renewable opportunities and the challenge of Texas as the biggest polluting state in the country.”
In 2006, Metzger brought his passion and talents to Environment Texas, where he has served as Director for the past 12 years.
Metzger has worked with TREIA since 2005, when he collaborated with former Executive Director Russell Smith on numerous initiatives. A year ago he was invited to become an Advisory Board member to “fill the environmental slot.” Metzger’s job is to represent the sustainable movement that began in the environmental community and that has since broadened to community and corporate sectors.
“Its roots are still with environmental groups. Some of strongest supporters are still within the environmental community. So it’s important to liaise with the members to ensure environmental issues are not taken for granted.”
At TREIA, he has participated in the long-term planning, and also been involved in hiring decisions. He currently works with the marketing committee. TREIA, he says, has a critical role to play in the ongoing energy revolution, since it serves as a key forum for information sharing and development of a common mission.
“There’s a lot of activity in Texas in renewables, but no one place to stay on top of what is happening, or to be able to communicate with companies and leaders on the issues. TREIA is a clearinghouse to get all key leaders together through the board or settings like GridNEXT. It helps members know what the trends are and the opportunities are… and to share ideas and work collectively towards that vision.
At the same time, Metzger observes that TREIA is a helpful vehicle for understanding different points of view and appreciating how other stakeholders in the energy community think about the important issues.
“What I appreciate about TREIA is it does bring together so many different groups. Environmental groups and companies such as Vistra which owns coal and the (utility) CPS, so we are not just preaching to the choir –we can bring together a cross section of energy and renewables and industry. By being in the room together and talking together and inspiring together, that helps make that vision actually possible. It’s a really unique opportunity too be with major industries and learn. We have to nudge them. It makes me a far more effective advocate to understand their positions and find areas of common ground and understand their perspective better.”
Metzger believes that it is critical for Texas that TREIA’s ambitions are met, as it addresses a huge problem while creating enormous opportunities. He observes that Texas is still a national leader in carbon emissions.
“We’d be the 7th biggest polluter if we were a country. If we can get to 50% by 2030 (Author’s note: up from 18% today), that would have a huge impact. And since Texas is home to many Fortune 500 companies on this planet, what we do here really can change the world. We can create new business models and technologies that we can then export to the world.”
Amen to that.