GOP Leaders Set Sights on Energy Industry
to Take Fall for Failed State Power System
February 21, 2021
Governor Greg Abbott and legislative leaders are taking aim at the Texas oil and gas industry that they'd vowed to protect with taxpayer-funded investigations into the power grid crash that turned the Lone Star State into a winter wasteland last week.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick gave a preview on what to expect from a Texas Senate probe into the unprecedented disaster when he said on Saturday that an unspecified CEO for an energy company had claimed that it "hit the jackpot" with the ability to charge substantially higher prices for minimal production during the freeze last week.
Texas lawmakers will discover with their probes that the weather disaster was a product of lax regulation, negligence and pound-foolish policies that failed to anticipate the true needs of a rapidly-growing state. But the investigations will give GOP leaders and legislators a hook to hang the blame on an industry that will be willing to fall on the sword because it has no choice.
Patrick's calling out of the unnamed power firm executive shows that he already knows that the Senate investigation that he's launched will end with the private utilities and related firms that manage the Electric Reliability Council of Texas for the state. The Public Utility Commission will be an inevitable target of the inquiries in the Senate and the House as the state agency that has ERCOT in its jurisdiction.
Shakeups in staffs at the PUC and ERCOT could give Republicans an opportunity to say they've taken actions to make sure that a catastrophe like the deep freeze doesn't happen here again. The attempt to use ERCOT as a whipping post could be a tough sell, however, in light of the fact that the ruling Republicans have allowed private interests to run the Texas grid relatively independent of typical government oversight.
Any legitimate investigation will turn up answers that already are evident - that the buck in the Texas power system debacle stops in Austin with the Republicans whose experiment in the outsourcing of energy infrastructure to companies that are in business to make money has proven to be a monumental bust.
Abbott and Patrick have been rewarded with millions of dollars in campaign cash from the industry that they're targeting now in separate House and Senate investigations that will devour precious time in a regular session that the Legislature already has put off for six full weeks mostly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislative investigators will find that the table for the Texas power collapse killer Texas freeze had been set with the deregulation of electricity in the mid-1990s when the state agreed to let the industry run the power grid as a nonprofit organization that would be substantially less transparent than an official agency of the state.
The Republicans who'd taken over were in denial on the threat of climate change when they refused to heed warnings from Democrats in 2011 on the need to make ERCOT's existence subject to review by the Sunset Advisory Commission like all of the state's other regulatory agencies like the PUC.
GOP leaders passed on the chance to take a serious look at ERCOT during the interim before the regular session in 2013 when the PUC would be up again for Sunset review. The Republicans paired ERCOT and the PUC for sunset purposes in 2011 with the next review not until the biennium in 2024 and 2025. GOP leaders said at the time that they hadn't found any interest within their own ranks for an examination of the power grid despite pleas by Democrats to do so.
more to come ...