BY: Tiara Starks
Residents in Texas were not used to the Arctic-like conditions that swept through the state. The state is known for its energy independence even though that cuts into an even bigger problem. Over the last few years, Texas has been resistant to changes and regulations that would help insulate the power grids from extreme temperature fluctuations.
The imbalance between Texas’ energy supply and demand caused prices to increase from roughly $20 per megawatt hour to $9,000 per megawatt hour in the state’s wholesale power market.
Two days prior to the storm that hit Texas, one of Houston’s chief elected officials warned her constituents to prepare as they would for a major hurricane. Many took heed: Texans who could, stocked up on food and water, while nonprofits and government agencies set out to help those who couldn’t. Texas’ power grid collapsed as well as its water systems. The state was already under a lot of heat due to its lack of energy regulation and was forced to seek aid from other states and humanitarian groups for its residents. This also allowed for unethical practices to prevail.
The winter storm knocked out power and water resources for millions leading to merchants using this as an opportunity to take advantage of residents by spiking prices for essential supplies. Later, a system was set up for residents of Houston to report any suspicion or obvious incidents of price gouging. According to Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, Over 450 complaints came through the system in less than 20 hours. The act of price gouging is characterized by selling resources such as fuel, food, medicine, lodging, etc “at an exorbitant or excessive price” during a state or federal disaster declaration, an illegal practice that left many wondering about the ethics surrounding merchants. Violators would be required to reimburse and can face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation and upwards of $250,000 if the victims are elderly.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is the state-controlled electric grid operator which has taken most of the blame for the blackouts. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot had spoken unfavorably of the operator in a statement: “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours. Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather.”
On Mar. 12, CPS Energy, the nation’s largest municipally owned energy utility was trying to prevent large electricity bills for its customers and announced it filed a suit against ERCOT in Bexar County District Court to protect its customers from excessive, illegitimate, and illegal prices. The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas’ Independent Market Monitor concluded that ERCOT’s mistakes exceeded the mandate of the PUC by continuing to set high prices for its customers long after the storm had initially subsided. Harvey. Lee Loftis, director of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas said “All 254 counties will have been impacted in some way by the freeze. That is just unheard of.”
According to an op-ed written by Ross Ramsey, the executive editor and co-founder of digital news publication who disagreed with the notion that the energy and utility companies are the only ones to be blamed, there is more work that officials should be doing and are also instrumental in how the storm was mishandled, saying:
“They’ll [government officials] will be grilling regulators and electric generators and utilities, as well they should, but the buck stops in the big, domed Pink Building where most of the elected officials work. Heads will surely roll, and smaller heads farther down the organization charts always roll before the big heads do. People you’ve never heard of, or who you hadn’t heard of two weeks ago, will lose their jobs. They should.”
This winter storm is considered one of the costliest disasters in the state’s history, exceeding the $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey and in addition to the state’s mishandling of COVID-19, it’s become more apparent that there are more issues beneath the service than anyone could’ve imagined.
Texas as a Policy Failure
BY: Orianna Jaylin
The Green New Deal & The Green Scare
At a time when the Green New Deal had yet to become a talking point surrounding the Texas storm, Republican politicians and pundits had demonstrated their steadfast fascination with the failed bill. The Green New Deal is a comprehensive plan to combat the effects of climate change,introduced by Representative (NY-14) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House and Senator Ed Markey (MA) in the Senate. It ultimately failed in the House but has garnered significant acclaim, with bipartisan opposition as well.
The Green New Deal, despite being confined to 14 pages, is packed full of broad proposals. It is a non-binding article that calls upon Congress to take aim at climate change with respect to business regulations, employment, infrastructure, and civil liberties. Some proposals range from Medicare For All to battling food insecurity to securing civil liberties for the various indigenous communities that populate the country. And what is the overarching idea? The climate crisis and its various interconnections. The Green New Deal proposes a shift into renewable energy with a goal of decarbonizing our nation by 2050.
Now it is not in the interest of this piece to advocate on behalf of the Green New Deal—that is a job for PACs and lobbyists, but in the wake of the Texas power crisis disinformation has deceptively infiltrated the recent discourse on the Green New Deal. On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Tucker Carlson remarked:
“The Green New Deal has come to the state of Texas, and we are here with the report. How’s it working out so far? The good news is all that alternative energy seems to have had a remarkable effect on the climate as intended. last night, parts of texas got the temperatures that we see in Alaska. In fact, the same as they were in Alaska so global warming is no longer a pressing concern in Houston. We solved that problem.”
He went on to say
“Rather than celebrate and benefit from their state’s vast natural resources, politicians took the factional route and became recklessly reliant on so-called alternative energy, meaning windmills. 15 years ago, virtually no wind farms in Texas, last year roughly a quarter of all electricity generated in the state came from wind. Local politicians were pleased by this, bragged about it like there was something virtuous about destroying the landscape and degrading the power grid.”
Carlson is presupposing that the reliance that Texas has on green energy is a preview of what is to come if a Green New Deal is passed and labels the use of such energy as the catalyst for the outages. What Carlson failed to note is that the Texas power grid’s reliance on wind energy ranges between 10 and 25%. On top of that ERCOT, the operator of Texas’s power grid failed to adequately regulate leaving the door open for subcontractors to not winterize. So this really becomes an issue of non-renewable energy sources and how their blatant inability to prepare left millions in the dark. Maybe we do need a Green New Deal?
The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, also put his two cents in. This makes sense, he is the governor, what else would he be doing? Flying to Cancun? Abbot claimed “This [Texas power outage] shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America, our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis…It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” As it so happens and as substantiated by utility boards, fossil fuel pipelines froze, which sent Texas into a frenzy. And it makes no sense to make such an outlandish claim: if green energy accounts for just 10% of the power grid, in what world would that lead to massive shutdowns?
These are Green Scare tactics. The Journal, “Upping the Anti-,” writes
“The Green Scare is a label activists use to describe the heavily politicized counter-movement designed by major corporations and the state to attack the environmental justice and animal liberation movements with propaganda, legal processes, infiltration, harassment, and a general climate of suppression. This suppression serves two functions. First, the state is attempting to criminalize and destroy elements of the well-organized and dedicated animal liberation and radical environmental justice movements. Second, the Green Scare supports the interests of industrial capitalism in de-legitimizing the environmental movement in general.”
Are we not seeing this happening today with Carlson, Abbot, and others on the right? There is a sweeping agenda to make the truth something that can be questioned. Whether you see the Green New Deal as too much or too little, we should all be able to agree that the climate crisis is happening. The right warps and weaponizes the public’s perception of politicians on the left and proposals like the Green New Deal as a means to downplay and keep concerns of climate change in the dark. Texas froze over and a narrative is being pushed that green energy and the acknowledgment of the climate crisis is unnecessary. And no, this is not exclusive to the right. The right simply perpetuates falsehoods and confusion while neo-liberals push the idea of reform, which is simply a blanket term for stagnation. For example the Clean Air Act, which was designed to dramatically decrease air pollution, allowed exemptions to existing industrial facilities which allowed for a large chuck of pollution to still be legal. Additionally, the Green New Deal and some Congressional Democrats are proposing a high speed rail, a fast (so-called eco-friendly) rail system with connections across the U.S., which would not only ruin Indegious land but would also cause unlivable conditions.
You might be asking the question: what is the point? What is the point of the seemingly never ending politicized discourse about climate change? Well, for corporations and politicians with their hands in the private sector, it is disaster capitalism. For us everyday Americans, it is simply a disaster.
Disaster capitalism is a phrase coined by author Noami Klein in her best-seller, “The Shock Doctrine.” This is a book that everyone should read, but to quickly survey it, disaster capitalism can be observed as a type of economy in which corporations and politicians with private interests impose free-market policies in the wake of shocks. These shocks can include pandemics or freezing temperatures, such as in Texas. These are exploitative measures being taken in the wake of panic for economic gain.
And this is happening now with Texas. Due to the overwhelming deregulation allowed by ERCOT, after they scheduled blackouts to help curve impending outages, energy prices soared. It was not like the 50 cent price hike in cereal that your mother complained about at the grocery store— some prices spiked by 10,000% (no, this is not a typo). The Texas Tribune writes: “Texas’ utility regulator had an opportunity Friday to eliminate some of the $16 billion that the state’s grid operator erroneously overcharged power companies during last month’s deadly winter storm — but the board of the Public Utility Commission chose not to do so.” The New York Times reported “My savings is gone,” said Scott Willoughby, a 63-year-old Army veteran who lives on Social Security payments in a Dallas suburb. He said he had nearly emptied his savings account so that he would be able to pay the $16,752 electric bill charged to his credit card—70 times what he usually pays for all of his utilities combined. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
And this all could have been prevented. Private energy companies could have prepared themselves and winterized. But where was the incentive? Why would they dig into their pockets to prioritize the people when they could benefit in a short term off chance?
We should be reminded of Cristian Pineda, an 11-year-old Texan who died in his bed at night after attempting to stay warm under a pile of blankets. We should be reminded of Carrol Anderson, a 75 year old man from San Antonio, died in his truck as he went to retrieve his spare oxygen tank. We should be reminded of Mary Gee, a grandmother from Texas, who died of hypothermia after her heat was shut off. We should also be reminded (though no one should be reminding you of this) of the homeless population, which has grown massively during the economic fallout brought by Covid-19. We would like to thank the many organizers in Texas, who have managed to find temporary housing for many homeless people during the freezing conditions.
Policy going forward?
Policy changes can help remedy some issues right now, but policy and voting patterns cannot fix the issue in the long term. Will some bill that gets through the Senate dismantle the exploitative nature of corporations? No, because these proposed neo-liberal reforms often serve to perpetuate the issue as opposed to eradicating it. This is not an issue intrinsic to a particular party, but instead to the manifestation of our political hemisphere. We are left with many questions and very few solutions: Why are essential resources privatized? What if we nationalize the energy sector? Is that achievable within our current political framework? Is revolution necessary? The issue also brings forward questions about our political landscape come considerations about our current leadership. Let’s think about Ted Cruz, who was preparing to go on vacation to Cancun during the Texas outages. Obviously, he couldn’t call the Senate in for an emergency hearing, but his absence serves as a metaphor for the ways in which politicians who have their hands in the private sector always manage to evade issues while their constituents reap the problems that they continue to spur.