Politics

What Matters: The power’s back on in Texas but the crisis continues


But just like mayors get in trouble when streets aren’t plowed or trash isn’t picked up, governors get blame when the state power system fails, even though the power systems operate largely on their own. Or in the case of most of Texas, entirely on its own.

The government also gets the blame when it can’t quickly mobilize to help people who are stuck in a major natural disaster get warm, get fed and flush their toilets. The weather is going to do what it’s going to do, but the warnings that climate change will cause more and more freak weather events have been getting louder for years, and it is the job of the government to be ready to relieve these crises.

Taking responsibility. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he takes responsibility for the failure of his state’s unique power system — formed in 1970, long before he was in politics — to plan for the catastrophic ice and cold that shut his state down and turned off the lights.

The system commonly known as ERCOT, is more formally, and inappropriately this week, called the Electric Reliability Commission of Texas.

“I’m taking responsibility for the current status of ERCOT. Again, I find what has happened unacceptable,” Abbott said, and called on lawmakers to change the system and noted top officials overseeing it were not from Texas.

“So part of my charge to the legislature is to restructure the way the board of ERCOT works, and to restructure the membership of the board to ensure that the membership is going to be more responsive to the people of Texas,” Abbott said.

Also blame-casting. The first step is admitting you have a problem, although here Abbott is saying it’s actually an ERCOT problem.

Earlier this week, Abbott, along with other Republicans in the state, actively tried to pin blame for power outages on wind energy, feeding a partisan line against renewables, rather than own up to issues with natural gas. Read more on that from CNN’s Eric Bradner.
Clearly Abbott needed to move the conversation along after editorials like this from the Houston Chronicle, published Thursday: Texans shivering in the dark are facing many shortages right now — lights, heat, tap water, gasoline — but the most vexing deficit is a critical shortage of leadership in Austin.

Power’s on. Water’s off. The good news in Texas is that the majority of Texans have power again

The bad news is that up to 12 million are facing water disruptions and told to boil water.

What FEMA is doing. In a press release Thursday, FEMA said it has “729,000 liters of water, more than 10,000 wool blankets, 50,000 cotton blankets, and 225,000 meals staged in Fort Worth, Texas.” Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood Randall also told reporters the agency has given Texas 60 generators.

Another freeze is in the forecast. Hopefully the word is out that even if the power fails, it’s not a good idea to warm up in your car. Houston’s hospital system says it’s seen 100 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning since Monday. Get the latest here.

What’s next for Texas power? We will be hearing a lot in the coming months about deregulation and natural gas, which appears to have more to do with all of this than anything else.

I’ve spent some time trying to understand the US power system over the last few days and I’m still confused. This incredible map on real-time energy usage at the Department of Energy is transfixing but did not exactly help. Look at all the different bubbles in Florida!

Free markets. Texans who elected to eschew public utilities and buy their electricity wholesale, normally at a savings, are now facing huge bills. The company actually told its users to look elsewhere for power — prices could rise up by factors of 10 during the storm — but it’s hard to switch when the power companies are overwhelmed.

Hoarding has consequences. Even with an isolated power grid like the that services most of Texas, things are still interconnected. Abbott issued an order to encourage natural gas to be distributed inside the state, which sounds great for Texans, but sent gas prices even higher and also affects other states — and also Mexico, which is largely reliant on US natural gas.

Power interruptions in Mexico halted some production for GM and Volkswagen. It’s all interconnected.

One-party rule has a downside

It’s their fault. Texas Democrats, who keep hoping to gain some hold in the state’s power structure, have been all over the place blaming Abbott and Republicans, who run the state, for not preparing better for freak weather events that climate change is making more frequent.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, laid blame for the state’s problems squarely at the feet of the state’s ruling party and its proud individualism.

“Our state government has failed us,” Doggett told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin Thursday.

“Our local leaders, our mayors, our county judges, just as they did with the Covid epidemic, they’re working overtime to try to make up the difference. And now Texas, with state leaders that are always attacking the federal government, are relying on assistance from the federal government that we’re calling for to try to bail them out of a situation that should never have occurred, that could have been prevented and adequate notice provided but they just did not do that.

2022 preview. Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who is considering a challenge to Abbott next year, told Anderson Cooper Wednesday that people don’t want to hear partisan sniping. But he also said Republicans are entirely to blame.

“The decision to deregulate our electricity grid in the first place and not to require additional capacity in emergencies like these, nor to connect to the rest of the national grid so that we can draw down power we needed, these are all decisions made by Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, their predecessors and other statewide elected Republicans,” O’Rourke said.

“But I think most Texans right now don’t want to deal in blame, but want to make sure that we can get online and prevent this from happening again. So that means investing in weatherizing our power generation and transmission lines.”

Today in Ted Cruz. The US senator and bête noir of US politics fled the state’s cold weather intermittent power for the warmer climes of Cancun. He was busted on social media.

And no, he wasn’t trying to explain to Mexico why the Texas governor was now hoarding natural gas Mexico relies on. He was, in the midst of the pandemic, hoping to let his girls spend some time with their friends. Cruz headed back to the States. The girls are staying on vacation with their mom.

The inverse of Texas is California. Compare these efforts by Texas Democrats to the efforts by California Democrats, the ones who control everything in that state, to protect their governor, Gavin Newsom, who seems likely to face a recall election in June. Stay tuned on the recall, but remember the last California governor to face a recall effort, Gray Davis, suffered that humiliation after a deregulated energy market experiment led to rolling blackouts. (That’s how Arnold Schwarzenegger wound up in politics.)

Newsom’s major political crime is the arrogance of attending a fancy dinner when the state was supposed to be hunkering down. But the state has also suffered during the Covid pandemic despite more stringent guidelines than other sates.

Other states have other problems

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defends controversial vaccine deal with developer — and threatens to pull vaccines if officials don’t like it.
US attorney’s office in Brooklyn and FBI scrutinizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration’s handling of data surrounding Covid nursing home deaths.

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