February 2021 has been a disaster for Texas. Winter storm Uri rolled through on February 11, bringing ice, sleet, snow and sub-freezing temperatures clear to the Gulf of Mexico. The freezing weather first caused a 100-car pileup in north Fort Worth that left six people dead, then it crippled power and water lines throughout most of the state. At this writing, some people have been without power, heat, and water for at least a week.
Some people have frozen to death in their homes.
And while Uri brought the arctic weather, something more nefarious caused the infrastructural damage and death — political malfeasance.
My family and I did not lose power during the winter siege, and we didn’t lose water until late in the week. By then the snow was thawing and we were able to catch snowmelt in buckets to use for flushing toilets. A couple of raids on Albertson’s and Home Depot got us enough drinking water to make it through the water stoppage. (Well, that remains to be seen.)
Supermarket shelves have been empty as stores faced broken water lines, power outages, and delivery delays.
But we haven’t been in the dark, freezing in our home. Millions of Texans have. And that’s unconscionable.
I will tell you right now, I’m not very knowledgable about infrastructures. I know when the water service stops; I know when I flip a switch and lights don’t come on; I know when chunks of pavement fall out of bridges. Like most people, I can tell when something doesn’t work.
I’ve lived here for 24 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of something called ERCOT — the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The name itself is now a mockery. Reliability? Come on.
Here’s ERCOT’s search engine blurb: “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas operates the electric grid and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of the state.” Well, 75% is about how much of the state lost power. Note that one scary word in the blurb — deregulated.
ERCOT is really Texas’ attempt to maintain some type of misguided isolationism from the rest of the country. While other states share power, importing and exporting energy across state lines, Texas does not. At least the big central bulk of Texas does not. El Paso and some other places in far western Texas and some others in eastern Texas are not part of ERCOT. They fared well during Uri.
The Houston Chronicle says,“Texas’s power grid . . . occupies a unique distinction in the United States in that it does not cross state lines and thus is not under the oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“That has long been a point of pride with Texas politicians who in the 2000s chose to deregulate the state’s power market and allow power companies, not state regulators, determine when and how to build and maintain power plants.”
Former Texas governor and U.S. secretary of engergy Rick Perry thinks that’s a good idea. “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry said. “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”
Most people I know would go for a little regulation if it meant keeping the power and water on during a winter blast. And that bit about a resilient grid? The thing broke at the first sign of abnormal stress.
Of course, Perry’s remark is shorthand for fear of that GOP bugaboo, socialism. I hate to tell him and fellow Trumpers, but the U.S. has been a social-capitalist democracy since 1933.
Do you expect to collect retirement after age 65? Do you want to drive on publicly maintained highways? Do you want to use public utilities like, say, water? Do you want the fire department or police to come when you’re in trouble? Do you want the city to fill potholes in your neighborhood streets? Do you want kids to use public schools? Gee, you’re practicing limited socialism.
Post-Reagan Republicans equate the term “socialism” with Stalinist “communism” (or “Red Fascism”) to scare older Americans away from federal oversight and regulations that would prevent them from pocketing extra profits.
Millennials and Gen Z’ers don’t really care about “isms.” They want their basic utilities to work. They want governments to provide the basic necessities of modern life. The definitions of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have expanded since the drafters of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed them unalienable in 1776.
George Washington didn’t have electricity at Mount Vernon, but if he had — and it got cut off — he’d want it back. Pronto!
By definition, the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” now include basic functioning utilities, including internet service. And, dare I say it, health insurance.
And without deregulation please. There a more than a few families in Texas right now who like some energy regulations. They’ve been handed electric bills for $10,000 or more, including for days they were without power. Seems their electric plans were tied to the vagaries of the market. Who in their right mind would allow such a plan on market in the first place? Greedy, predatory, politicians, that’s who.
And speaking of politicians, you heard the one about the junior senator from Texas who fled the state during the ice blitz for the warmth of Cancun, then blamed it on his daughters. Oh yeah, most of the parents I know run off to a resort spot when the going gets cold.
Ted Cruz, Trumper that he is, totally abdicated his responsibilities during the crisis. Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke, the former democratic U.S. representative from El Paso who nearly unseated Cruz for the senate seat in 2018, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) both set to work arranging help for Texans in need. AOC physically came to Texas and helped raise nearly $5 million for relief.
The devastating year of 2020 is now 14 months long. Covid, George Floyd, the Trump insurrection, and now Uri have bled together.
They’ve all shown that we, as a nation, are in trouble. The United States is rife with systemic racism. Racism is plainly evident in the demographics of victims of both Covid and Uri. Our medical infrastructures are fragile. And our utility and transportation infrastructures even more so. Our democracy, too, as we’ve seen in the last few weeks.
And we’ve elected way to many people to public office who they can shirk their public service obligations.
We’ve got to do better than this, folks.
We have to.