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North Texas Rep. Colin Allred on climate policy, China, Ukraine and resetting US-Africa relations

FILE - Rep Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Allred says he'll run for the U.S. Senate in 2024, becoming an early challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Rep Colin Allred, D-Texas, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in June 2020.

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Colin Allred sat down with KERA’s Christopher Connelly to talk about a range of domestic and global issues at a recent World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth event at the Dallas College Richland Campus. The Dallas Democrat sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He’s also launched a campaign to replace Sen. Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate in 2024.

Below is an edited excerpt of the conversation’s focus on foreign affairs issues.

On how far the U.S. should be willing to commit, financially and otherwise, to support Ukraine in its effort to repel the Russian invasion.

Allred: Well, this is not our war and it won't be our peace agreement. This will be determined by the Ukrainians.

It's been inspiring to me to see a young democracy defending itself against the brutal dictator [Vladimir Putin] who's trying to recreate and reconstitute the Soviet Union. We just can't accept that. The cost for us isn't in terms of dollars, it's in terms of the world order. It's in terms of whether or not we're going to go back to the days that you can roll tanks across a border and just take whatever you want.

I think we do obviously have to think about what is going to be the endgame, but the endgame will be dictated on the battlefield.

I think we have to continue to support them in their fight for freedom, and it's not just the United States. I think President Biden has done an admirable job of bringing really the free world together in rejecting this Russian aggression…their war crimes. This is Russia's war of choice. Vladimir Putin started it. He could end it tomorrow.

I grew up learning about the United States being the leader of the free world. And that's what we are. And we can't allow this to happen. So to me, our support for Ukraine has been vital. It's been the right thing to do is to continue to support them. I believe that they will win.

Now, the question is, where will the boundaries be at the end? I think it likely will be that Russia may have some gains in the end from what they've done. But knowing the Ukrainians and having worked with them now for a year, they will never stop. There will be no period in which they accept [Russian control of territory taken from Ukraine], including Crimea. And so whether it's ten years from now or 20 years from now, 50 years from now -- they literally told me this — they will get that territory back.

Connelly: You're part of the newly launched U.S.-Africa Working Group. There's been something of a reset under the Biden administration with regards to the U.S. approach to sub-Saharan Africa. He held a summit of African leaders in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia in April. Why is this happening now?

Allred: What we’re seeing in the global South – Africa, but also Latin America as well — is the rise of Chinese influence. And they're using that influence for malign purposes through predatory lending, through corruption. …And you have countries that are already trying to battle corruption. They have the Chinese coming on top of that and adding more.

Also, we're seeing a fatigue with the Chinese approach in Africa. That does create an opening for us if we are able to take advantage of it responsibly, because what we are coming with is a very different set of tools: Tools to help you grow your workforce. It's tools to help you improve education in your country. It's tools to help you empower women and girls. It's tools to deal with pandemics before they can break out like Ebola and things like that.

And it's not predatory. Our interest isn't in that they're going to then give us access to a rare earth mine. It’s that, then [African partner nations will] be a more stable and productive world partner and global partner and trading partner. … African leaders want us to come in and do more. They want us to be more active. They don't want to have only the choice of China or nothing.

And so we need to play a much more active role and not just see it as a place where you get raw materials from. [We need to] see it as a place that is the fastest-growing region in the world, that has everything economically to become a really important power in the world, but can go one of two ways in terms of the kind of governance and order that it will be. It could be either autocratic and restrictive, and we've seen some African countries go down that road. Or it could be democratic and broad. And so we need to encourage the best angels, and be a productive partner

Connelly: China takes up most of the oxygen when it comes to any foreign policy discussion in the U.S. Is there just one thing that you would point to that is of greatest concern for you when it comes to China?

Allred: Well, it's the obvious answer, but I'll give it anyway: It's Taiwan and the status of Taiwan.

The Chinese are clearly moving towards trying to reacquire Taiwan, by force if necessary. They've failed in terms of trying to manipulate the elections.

Xi Jinping is in legacy mode. … and I think he sees Taiwan the final jewel in his crown. But I think he's also seen the global response to Russia's war in Ukraine. And I hope he's taken pause from that.

What we want, ultimately, is not a military conflict with China. And I have I'm not someone who has any interest in that. We do have to deter them, and there's multiple ways to deter: to be strong enough militarily that they know that a military conflict would not be in their interest.

We also have enormous economic tools. China's basically building things for the American and the Western market. And so if we are having a full decoupling of our economies, they're not going to have anybody to sell that stuff to. They've got a lot of mouths to feed. We have a lot of leverage over them, much more so even than we do with Russia, who is much more kind of carved off their economy from ours.

Connelly: On climate change, we saw the latest report from the IPCC that said time is almost up to do something to prevent the most catastrophic warming. But it means not developing new fossil fuel projects, and cutting U.S. emissions to be carbon neutral by 2040. You represent a state that has vast oil and gas companies, it’s a big part of the economy here. So how do you work to move Texas toward keeping the global temperature from rising to a point where things get really bad?

Allred: I'm incredibly concerned the state of the climate. I've got two young boys. I think about what world we're going to leave to them.

Certainly we're already experiencing so many of the effects and it's costing us hundreds of billions of dollars a year in forest fires, storms and droughts.

But we are an energy state and we will always be an energy state. And we are leading in renewable energy as well, which is one of the reasons why it's strange that the legislature is attacking renewable energy in Austin. We're the Number One wind power state in the country; the Number Two solar power state in the country, and we have the capacity to grow that.

Our energy leadership can come in multiple facets. But it's also true that natural gas is going to have a really important role to play in the reduction of emissions. If we replace coal power and natural gas, but we have a reduction of emission.

The Inflation Reduction Act, [which passed] at the end of the last Congress, is the biggest investment in of climate change policy in American history. We’ll have a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030 from just from the Inflation Reduction Act.

And it's incentive based. The incentive is to capture these greenhouse gases. The incentive is to try and move to cleaner and more efficient uses in your home [and] in every capacity of our life from our transportation to the way we generate power.

For Texas, we can lead in a proactive way on being the very best at methane capture and making sure that we're not having any methane leaks from areas where we're extracting natural gas.

Natural gas has become even more important since the war in Ukraine…It’s more important than it's ever been. So I don't think it's going anywhere, but we can find important reductions and we need to work on the technology that is starting to come online of carbon recapture to try and find ways to, you know, be really aggressive about this. But it has to be done in a way that's realistic.

I think we have to be aggressive and do what we can. We have to tell people the truth, which is that it's not like we're going to move away from oil and gas in the next five years, the next ten years. It's going to be a part of our mixture of energy that we're going to continue to have. We have to find more efficient ways to do it, to capture it, and hopefully at some point to recapture it.

Watch the full conversation:

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, considermaking a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.