On Monday, the Texas House passed the omnibus power grid weatherization bill in a near-unanimous vote. It went back to the Senate, who refused to concur Thursday, and now the legislation responding to the February winter storm must be negotiated behind closed doors and reported back to both chambers by Saturday in order to pass.
Many experts have called the House compromise version weak while the Senate version only moderately better when it comes to mandating weatherization of electric and natural gas facilities that froze over last February and caused millions of Texans to face days without electricity and hundreds to lose their lives. The difference lies in how both chambers define natural gas facilities required to weatherize and the penalties for failing to do so.
The Senate was the only chamber to have a bill originating from them pass the full body containing a weatherization mandate for natural gas supply facilities, Senate Bill 3. The penalties were high, up to a million dollars a day, but the minimum fine was barely a third of the cheapest cost for weatherization of a natural gas facility. Senators also left it up to the Railroad Commission, an agency subject to regulatory capture, to establish and enforce the weatherization rules.
The Texas House did not change much, except for what they defined as the natural gas supply facilities that needed weatherization. They narrowed it down to those directly connected to power plants, which means wellheads are excluded, as identified by the “Supply Chain Mapping Committee” created in SB 3. The mapping committee has 6 months to identify the facilities followed by the Railroad Commission who has 6 months to write the rules. That means next winter, none of the gas facilities have to weatherize. Far worse is that no timeline was given to enforce the weatherization mandates. An attempt to do so by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) was rejected in a near party-line vote. The House also made it quite difficult to fine above $5,000 unless a major and repeated violation occurs, effectively gutting the enforcement.
The House has yet to appoint conferees on SB 3 and any conference committee would have to come to a final report by midnight Saturday. Clock is ticking for a bill that is already certain to not do enough to meet the problems laid bare from the February winter storm and a decade of neglect and inaction from the state government.
Because of the Legislature’s refusal to go far enough on weatherization or address demand-side issues, blackouts will not be prevented the next time Texas faces an extreme weather event, be it next summer or winter.