Opinion

Texas can't PR its way out of climate change

Greg Abbott's 'see no evil' strategy for climate change isn't working

Just under a year ago, Texas was hit with an unusual cold snap that knocked out power for millions of the state's residents. Natural gas supply lines and numerous power plants froze up, and a galloping collapse of the entire power grid was only narrowly avoided with massive rolling blackouts. Hours of power loss led to 246 deaths as Texans froze in their homes or asphyxiated trying to stay warm with gas stoves.

This week, Texas has been hit with another cold snap — not as bad as the one from last year, but enough to give its power system a stress test. Result: Gas supply infrastructure froze, leading to a sharp drop in production, power losses, and venting of dangerous pollutants. Texas clearly isn't ready for another deep freeze.

And that's not the unavoidable fate of a large, southern state in winter. It turns out the Texas Republican Party, and especially GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, have intentionally done very little to winterize their state's grid.

Instead of fixing the system as quickly as possible after last year's disaster, Abbott and his party passed a small-bore reform filled with exceptions at the behest of big donors from the natural gas industry. Since then, the governor has relied on propaganda and distraction to deflect blame and, apparently, hoped for a mild winter. He didn't get his wish, and even if Texas escapes another serious blackout this year, Abbott and his party have set Texas up for disaster.

Abbott and his ilk won't want to admit it, but this kind of wildly erratic weather is classic climate change. Just days prior to this recent cold snap, Texas experienced unusual heat, with record temperatures in Waco and Dallas and overall the hottest December since 1889. Then (likely because climate change has disrupted the jet stream) the state got a sudden blast of Arctic air from the far north, and temperatures plummeted.

Bloomberg reports:

[Y]et again, instruments froze, output plunged and companies spewed a miasma of pollutants into the atmosphere in a bid to keep operations stable … nearly 1 billion cubic feet of gas was burned or wasted due to weather-related shutdowns, according to filings with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. At the same time, production plunged to the lowest level since the last freeze, BloombergNEF data shows. [Bloomberg Green]

This is also classic Republican corruption. Experts and journalists have been warning for months that the Republican grid reform package was far short of what is needed. The Texas Tribune explained back in November that the Public Utility Commission, which oversees power producers, granted an exception to weatherization rules if companies "document their efforts to comply, explain why they couldn't, and submit a plan to do so later."

Meanwhile, the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the natural gas industry, pushed back its weatherization deadline into 2023 and has even allowed gas producers to opt out if they decline to label themselves as "critical infrastructure." That exact move was a major factor behind the blackout last year, as tons of natural gas companies were not so labeled and thus had their power cut off when electricity ran short.

Why are the GOP-made "reforms" so inadequate? The Tribune reports that while Texas Republican senators lambasted the railroad commission in a public hearing, the same lawmakers voted for its sluggish deadlines and numerous exceptions after an intense lobbying campaign from the gas industry. Texas' WFAA News reports nine key Republican politicians who were centrally involved in "reform," including Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, got a combined $4,098,120 in campaign contributions from the energy industry after that legislative session — nearly twice what they got in the same period in 2019.

Instead of working on useful policy, then, Abbott is focused on messaging. The Tribune reports he has intervened continually with state regulators, including his own appointees, demanding positive spin. He's held numerous press conferences to reassure the state everything is fine. "For many Texas energy officials and experts," the Tribune observes, "the line has blurred between Abbott's executive leadership on the power grid and his 2022 reelection campaign."

The line was similarly blurred in last Texas legislative session, which was chock-full of culture war madness that will play well at the polls but do little, nothing, or worse than nothing to improve Texans' lives. Republicans passed a sweeping bill attempting to prevent as many Democrats as possible from voting, a de facto ban on abortion, restrictions on the teaching of the history of racism, and a law preventing social media companies from kicking people off their sites. Abbott also personally intervened to prevent private businesses from requiring vaccination of their customers. This is just how Republicans govern now: vested interests writing most of the policies and the shrieking lunatics of the base kept hypnotized with a drip feed of owning the libs.

During the 2021 blackout, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried to sneak down to Cancun to escape the cold, only to get caught and slink back home with his tail between his legs. A year later, Cruz and every one of his state party colleagues might as well have stayed down there from that day to this, for all the good they did for the people of Texas.

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