Speed Reads

frozen texas

The oil and gas industry has been very generous to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Will that sway his outages response?

When the Texas power grid buckled under the strain of worse-than-expected winter cold, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) went on Fox News and blamed frozen wind turbines for what was mostly a problem with natural gas–fueled power supply. Then he savaged the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the Texas-only power grid. But he has notably "gone easier on another culprit: an oil and gas industry that is the state's dominant business and his biggest political contributor," The Associated Press reports.

Abbott, in office since 2015, has raised more than $150 million in campaign contributions — the most of any governor in U.S. history — and "more than $26 million of his contributions have come from the oil and gas industry, more than any other economic sector," AP reports. In a news conference Thursday, Abbott mostly blamed ERCOT for assuring state leaders Texas could handle the storm.

ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission, whose three-member board is appointed by Abbott. But the Texas legislature is broadly responsible for energy policy. And everyone knows what would have to be done to avoid a repeat of these blackouts and water outages: Winterize the state's power generators and plants, as the state was advised to do after 2011 winter blackouts, and 1989 winter blackouts before that.

Abbott on Thursday urged the Texas legislature to make full winterization mandatory, not voluntary, for the private companies that generate and feed the Texas power supply. That would be really expensive. And Abbott wasn't clear about who he envisions footing the bill: taxpayers, consumers, or the oil and gas companies that fund his political career.

ERCOT, power suppliers and retailers, and state commissioners will soon be hauled before legislators for "all of the shaming and blaming" they can dish out, Ross Ramsey writes at The Texas Tribune. "But the end of that show is the wrong time to stop paying attention; it's the time to start."

That's when Abbott and legislators will decide if "swapping light regulations and low energy costs for the risk of leaving Texans exposed to the harshest winter weather is worth it," Ramsey writes. "If the public keeps paying attention, it's probably not. If the public leaves the details to legislators and the usual crowd of special interests, the state might do what it did last time: Waggle those fingers, write a report, and put the matter away until it gets cold again."