Texas’ Republican leaders are trying to avoid responsibility for the disastrous blackouts by passing the buck to ERCOT. However, the Republican state government is still responsible for overseeing ERCOT, a responsibility they have spectacularly failed. Meanwhile, Texas Democrats have been trying to tackle the issues with the state’s electrical grid for years but their efforts have died in the GOP-majority legislature.
“State leaders don’t get to say that they didn’t see this coming,” tweeted Beto O’Rourke. “ Energy experts and State House Dems, among others, were warning of this for years.” Politifact rated his statement as true.
In 2011, after Texas endured cold-induced blackouts over Super Bowl weekend, then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner introduced a bill designed to prevent such outages from occurring in the future. HB 1986 would have required the Public Utilities Commission to ensure that ERCOT had sufficient reserve power to prevent blackout conditions. The bill never even received a hearing. In 2015, shortly before being elected mayor of Houston, Turner filed another bill to address issues with ERCOT. HB 3343, which would have created additional steps to ensure adequate power during times of high demand, also died in committee.
Turner has not forgotten about HB 1986 and brought it up in the wake of the 2021 blackouts, urging lawmakers to finally take up the legislation. “You need to dust off my bill, and you need to refile it,” Turner said at a press conference last Friday. “Because it’s not about just holding hearings. It is about recognizing that in the state of Texas, ERCOT is a closed system. And that’s the way leadership for a number of years have wanted it to be.”
Turner is not the only state House Democrat who tried to fix ERCOT. Former state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat from Houston, filed legislation in 2013 that would have required an independent organization to determine how much reserve capacity ERCOT needed. Like Turner’s bills, Farrar’s bill died in committee.
Overall, at least half a dozen bills related to energy reliability issues were filed after 2011 and went nowhere.
Texas Democrats didn’t need to be prophets to see the problems with ERCOT that would later lead to disaster. Cold weather in 1989 and 2011 also resulted in major outages in Texas and exposed vulnerabilities in the grid. A 357-page federal report filed after the 2011 blackouts even identified many of the issues that would later cause a much worse catastrophe a decade later, such as the lack of proper winterization.
Texas had at least ten years to prepare for a storm like this. During that time, many Democrats did try to take action to prevent a repeat of 2011. But they could only do so much in a GOP-dominated state government. Meanwhile, Republicans like Greg Abbott largely ignored the issue, instead focusing their attention on bathroom bills and Chick-fil-A. Their negligence had disastrous consequences, and they should be held accountable.
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