Congress demands answers from Abbott over grid failure

by | Feb 23, 2021 | Policy, Winter Storm

Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Reps. Marc Veasey of Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher of Houston, are conducting a probe into Gov. Greg Abbott and why Texas’ electrical grid was unprepared to handle last week’s snowstorm.

In a recent letter to the governor lead by Energy and Commerce Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, members picked apart Abbott’s response to the crisis, including the governor’s visit to Fox News in which he spread lies about wind and solar energy being the chief culprit behind the blackout. 

“These statements either suggest a lack of understanding of the Texas power grid’s fundamental operations or were an attempt to shift blame away from the very real issues that have existed within the state’s energy structure for years,” read the letter.

“The response to this ongoing crisis raises significant questions regarding Texas’ grid design, preparation, and whether the state is taking appropriate action to aid citizens in this crisis,” the letter continued.

The members of Congress criticized Texas’ isolated power grid for being unable to import enough power from other states while it was under extreme stress — an issue of resiliency they said would be needed to be solved in the face of changing climate and more frequent extreme weather events. 

Lawmakers also requested Abbott answer several questions relating to the crisis, including why Texas failed to implement weatherization recommendations made by a 2011 federal report that was conducted after a snowstorm caused blackouts in Texas that same year.

Another question by the members focused on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state-run corporation that oversees Texas’ isolated power grid and which has become the main scapegoat for Texas Republican as they seek to deflect blame from their decades-long governance of the state — including repeatedly ignoring both federal warnings and legislation from Democrats that aimed to prevent blackouts like those in 2011. 

“You have called for an investigation into ERCOT,” the members wrote. “If you proceed with an investigation, what authorities are the basis for your request? Please define the scope of that investigation and whether it will include any formal recommendations on how to prevent such an event from reoccurring. Please also identify the entities responsible for the investigation, explain their jurisdiction and authorities, and identify any measures in place that will ensure that the investigation is independent and adequately resourced.”

Members of the energy committee said they had “broad jurisdiction” over energy policy and requested Abbott deliver the answers before March 22. 

On Friday, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher spoke with MSNBC about the probe and said Texas’ electrical grid suffered from both a lack of oversight and poor leadership in the state.

“I think what we’re seeing now is a massive failure of our system,” Fletcher said. “And it’s both the grid, and ERCOT, the Public Utility Commission, but also our elected leaders and state government. The governor, the legislature oversee this system.”

Photo: Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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