The recent winter storm catastrophe that hit Texas left dozens dead, with the full death toll likely to not be calculated for months. In addition, millions were left without power as the Texas power grid was never properly winterized despite warnings after the last major winter storm. The disaster has left a lot of residents wondering what the state plans to do about preparing us for the next storm. Here’s what’s happening in the already very busy Texas Legislature.
The state senate will hold its first hearings on the disaster on Thursday and Friday, with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick vowing to make avoiding a similar fate in future winters a priority.
“I want to make it very clear. To the industry, we want the right answers. If you don’t send the people that can give the right answers, we’ll subpoena those people,” Patrick said in a press briefing on Monday.
“When I see people who die of hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning, when I see the disruption to the business community, the people who can’t get a hot meal, can’t get water — and we’re pretty far along that way and working hard on that — but this cannot stand and we’re not going to let it stand.”
Patrick, who is responsible for setting the Texas Legislature’s agenda, called attention to the failure of all Texas power systems, including frozen gas wellheads. The Texas House of Representatives Business and Commerce Committee will also hold hearings on February 25 and 26, with members of the public invited to submit written comments and questions here.
One thing likely to be on the Legislature’s agenda is the future role and power of ERCOT. The actions of the governing board of Texas power have come under intense public scrutiny since the lights went out. Governor Greg Abbott has called for the resignation of the leadership, but even though five ERCOT board members announced their resignations on Tuesday, it does not fix the problem of ill-prepared power generators that failed.
Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrolton) is looking to hold electric companies accountable for not following the advised winterization fixes proposed in 2011. She is reviving HB 2571, which died on the House floor in 2015 and was proposed by her predecessor Eric Johnson. Current Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R-Orange) was among those who voted against it.
“For everyone who is saying this current situation isn’t partisan. You are 100% wrong,” Beckley said on Twitter. “Go look at every single situation that had caused this from deregulation on. I am sitting at home between outages and filing what I can before the cutoff so that we can do something.”
The bill would use climatologist projections to compel companies to follow recommended improvements, with an eye toward using government resources to help companies carry out costly infrastructure overhauls.
The future is also on the mind of Rep. Rafael Anchia, who has been a loud voice about the failures of the Texas system in the wake of the storm. In addition to his many biting comments about Republican buck passing when it comes to ERCOT, he’s filed HB 928. It would establish a Texas Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission to study the ongoing effects of climate change on the state. Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, has argued that the severe winter storms we’re seeing in America are caused by the heating of the Arctic disrupting normal climate systems.
“Climate change is real and is the overriding challenge of the 21st century,” reads Anchia’s bill. “Climate change poses immediate and long-term threats to this state’s economy, sustainability, security, and way of life. Countless scientific studies have concluded that greenhouse gas emissions are a leading contributing factor to global warming and addressing climate change requires a two-pronged approach that includes the reduction of activities that contribute to global warming and adaptations to mitigate the impacts of climate change on this state.”
Addressing the root climatological cause of Texas’ storm woes is likely to be a sticking point in the Republican-led state government. Shortly before the storm hit, Abbott released his budget, which was devoid of any mention of climate change.
The skyrocketing electric bills that have hit some Texans in the aftermath of the storm is another prime concern. Residents found that their bills had jumped by thousands of dollars as providers passed the cost of overages onto consumers. The wholesale price of electricity rose with the demand on the power grid, topping out at $9 per kilowatt hour from its average of 12 cents. The sudden spike in bills is a result of Texas’ deregulated electricity market, which can pass savings onto customers when the price is low but does not insulate them from surges.
Abbott has called addressing this pricing issues a “top priority” as the Legislature begins hearings. The governor has issued a temporary order to prevent disconnections for non-payment at this time, but the shape of legislation to deal with the issue has not been set at this time. The only thing certain right now, is that a lot of work is needed to prevent another incident of this magnitude.