Republicans rule the Lone Star State. This is true in Austin, the state Capitol, where the Legislature meets every two years, including now. It is true about the GOP leader who sits in the governor’s chair every four years, for at least the last couple of decades. And it is a fact that Texans send more Republicans than Democrats to Washington, D.C., to represent them in the U.S. House and Senate.
So, where were Texas leaders when an Arctic chill spread across Texas, depriving power to millions? Senator Ted Cruz got on a plane for Mexico. However, he cut his family vacation short after photos of his airport getaway surfaced.
Governor Greg Abbott went on Fox News to play politics. He shifted blame for the failure of his state government to properly regulate the unique electric grid that provides energy for most of Texas. Instead of taking responsibility, Abbott blamed wind turbines that froze during the storm. He also fed the Fox News beast lies about the Green New Deal.
Perhaps competing for which GOP pol can blow the most smoke and hot air, former Governor Rick Perry said Texans would rather suffer a blackout than let the federal government regulate their energy needs. He served a spell as Energy Secretary in the recently departed Trump Administration. What was Perry doing in D.C. if he was not regulating the energy needs of Americans?
Contrast the games Republicans play with the reality-based response from the Chairman of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats. Carroll Robinson released a statement on Feb. 19 when his coalition sent out their weekly newsletter. The organization published the newsletter even though another cruel winter storm may slam Texas again.
This is Robinson’s statement, which was made in the wake of revelations that the Texas power grid, divorced from the rest of the United States, almost collapsed, possibly for months:
With all the challenges confronting all of us and our families, the editorial staff of the newsletter believed that it was critically important that we still put out an issue this week.
We want all Texans to know that you and your families are in our prayers.
We also want to make it clear that raising the price of electricity during a winter storm to charge Texans more for heating our homes is immoral and should be illegal since we did not cause this problem.
It is not the fault of Texans that electricity generating companies and their fuel suppliers did not prepare for a winter storm we all knew was coming.
ERCOT should not be allowed to authorize price increases during a winter freeze or summer heatwave. This is the first reform that needs to be made at ERCOT.
Second, all of our electricity infrastructure across the State from the grid, its power lines, and poles to power plants, windmills, and solar farms must be weatherized against the cold and hardened to withstand hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, and heatwaves.
Third, Texas electricity generating companies must make arrangements to have access to excess fuel and generating capacity to get to one hundred and ten percent (110%) of the maximum capacity that would have been necessary to keep electricity on during this most recent winter storm.
In addition to reforming ERCOT to modernize, weatherize, harden, and make our electrical system, in Texas, much more reliable and sustainable, we need TxDOT to invest in stockpiling salt, sand, and deicer in much greater quantity, strategically stockpiled across the State to help keep our highway system open to keep our economy moving especially as it concerns the delivery of food, water, and other essential emergency supplies.
Cities and counties also need to stockpile similar salt, sand, and deicer supplies to keep their streets, roads, and bridges open during harsh winter weather or they should partner with TxDOT through mutual aid agreements to secure the supplies they will need. (It is no longer “may” need.)
If it was not clear before, hopefully, it is now clear that Texas government needs a different mindset and planning model. Texas needs new leadership in the public (as well as private and philanthropic) sector that is planning, preparing and building for what is coming-the future-and not politicians living in an ideological past.
What we all now know in Texas is that incompetent government leadership does not work no matter the size of government. We have seen it with the failure to fairly and competently get Texans vaccinated against COVID-19 and we have just seen it again with the failure to keep our electricity on and the unconscionable decision to increase the price of electricity during a winter storm. These failures are both incompetent and immoral.
Texas government can’t keep living in the past while technological innovation, artificial intelligence (A.I.), the impact of the pandemic, and climate change continue to reshape our economy and the world around us.
It was bad this time but it will probably be even worse the next time if we don’t start implementing real solutions as soon as the weather allows. We can’t take decades to fix the problems with our electrical power system, in Texas. We need to implement real fixes over the next thirty-six (36) months.
Even though policymakers aren’t thinking about it yet, the Legislature needs to make sure that insurance companies don’t take advantage of Texans whose homes have been damaged by water pipes that have burst and other physical damages resulting from the winter storm. This is going to be a problem over the next few months as well as the likely increase in cost for homeowners and renters to secure affordable property insurance.
Finally, we need a real infrastructure bill from Congress. One that will not just repair our infrastructure system from roads, bridges, highways and our public transit systems, seaports, and airports but a bill that will help build a new and modern nationwide electrical system and modern roads, bridges, and highways that make electrical and autonomous vehicles a widespread reality on our streets and highways all across the nation.
We can do better in Texas. Haven’t you had enough?