When Texas froze over in February, more than 4 million people lost power to their homes over the course of a week-plus, Sen. Ted Cruz fled to Mexico (never forget), and hundreds of people died. At the time, everyone was searching for someone to blame. In June, a commission of former state and federal utility regulators published a report on the freeze with recommendations for preventing this from happening ever again. The report even noted the state’s failure to better prepare for the freeze after a similar winter energy outage took place a decade prior, per the Texas Tribune.
Some things did happen in response. Over the summer, the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott passed two bills related to the study and fortification of the state’s energy grid in anticipation of another freeze. However, the bills were underwhelming, missing some of the report’s most vital recommendations. For example, one of the bills requires power plants to be weatherized, but not the natural gas providers that fuel them (which did contribute to the outages).
That these laws were missing key improvements to avoid another week-long rolling blackout was public knowledge when they passed, but was apparently news to a few Texas senators who, during a Senate Business and Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, almost perfectly enacted the hot dog car sketch from I Think You Should Leave. Per the Texas Tribune, emphasis mine:
In a committee hearing Tuesday, Texas senators were furious that natural gas companies won’t have to better prepare their facilities for extreme weather before this winter and rebuked the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s massive oil and gas industry, for not fixing the problem sooner.
“Wait a minute,” state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, told Wei Wang, executive director of the Railroad Commission. “You haven’t done it yet?”
But the “loophole” that lawmakers spent the hearing condemning and the slow timetable for winterizing the state power grid were part of legislation they approved during the regular legislative session in the spring.
A real “GOTCHA” moment if I’ve ever seen one. And it gets better! As the article states, the loophole bill in question, S.B. 3, called for a committee to plan the state’s energy infrastructure by September 2022, and gives the Railroad Commission 180 days to finalize its weatherization rules. It also allows gas companies to opt out of weatherization if they don’t voluntarily declare themselves to be “critical” infrastructure. Yes, every senator voted for this bill.
And yet, several senators could not contain themselves as they abdicated responsibility for policy problems they approved, and instead opted to lambast Wang during the hearing, who, yes, absolutely has agency to move the grid winterization process along, but is at the very least following policy approved by, uhh, the very people getting upset at him following said policy.
From the Tribune again, emphasis mine:
Senators told Wang they want the Railroad Commission to move more quickly to require gas companies to weatherize their equipment.
“I recognize the urgency,” Wang said.
“I don’t think you do,” said state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. […]
Wang told the committee that the Railroad Commission’s proposed rule to implement weatherization standards “mirrors the language in SB 3.” That didn’t stop senators from demanding immediate action by the commission.
“We’re not going to mince our words. I’m going to start naming railroad commissioners’ names if it’s required,” state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told Wang. “And your job ought to be at stake.”
Campbell, who at one point Tuesday threatened to shake up the Railroad Commission’s responsibilities, asked Wang: “Why are you not demanding that [natural gas companies] prepare if they’re one of the players?”
Yes, these outraged lawmakers are surely looking like Tim Robinson characters. Just a bunch of people dressed in hot dog suits, looking around for someone else to blame for smashing their hot dog car into a glass storefront full of people. But given the tone of the senators in the Tribune piece (and this choice righteous tweet), it’s not even clear that they care that they were the ones who crashed the car, or even if they realize they’re the ones who did it. I’m sure it’s easy to want to blame a commission that should have weatherized the grid about a decade ago, and easier to draw attention away from yourself by blaming others, but they’re responsible for this lack of urgency and common sense precautions.
I’m kidding, really, when I say they don’t realize they’re to blame. They likely know all of this, and if they don’t then they definitely know better. I don’t take them for stupid, even if they might consider their constituents to be.
It’s just immensely frustrating to read a report like this from where I sit. It’s not uncommon — legislators looking for a scapegoat for their own poor policy choices. But to read about these people complaining that nothing has been done to jumpstart these processes to avoid another energy deep freeze, as if they and our governor didn’t have an opportunity to jumpstart these processes themselves, is rich.
“Wait a minute, you haven’t done it yet?” This is also what Texans have asked about our leaders for the past eight months since the freeze. The difference is that we know exactly what they’ve been doing instead: vilifying immigrants as vectors of disease; attacking trans kids; suing local entities over mask mandates; banning American history in schools; protecting the racist mythos of Texas; preventing marginalized people from voting; stopping pregnant people from seeking abortions. The list goes on and on. And the worst part is that when this hell freezes over a third time, the people responsible will be pointing fingers once again.