Republican lawmakers in Texas are discovering something novel: diatribes about cancel culture and owning the libs don’t keep their constituents warm at night when the state’s entire power grid fails. Naturally, Texas Republicans quickly manufactured a new boogeyman, fingering unwinterized wind turbines and even the Green New Deal as the real agents of misery.
On Fox News Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed renewable energy sources like wind and solar for the blackouts and offered, “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” To be clear, the state’s natural gas, coal, and nuclear transmission systems have also frozen over—and they account for a much greater share of the state’s electricity supply. In fact, The New York Times reports that wind generation has actually “exceeded projections” in recent days. Abbott, still searching for a scapegoat, is also calling for investigations into and reforms of the organization that runs the state power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.
But Texas Democrats have something beyond scapegoating in mind, particularly those running larger cities that GOP lawmakers and state officials have consistently used as punching bags to score political points. They see an opportunity to shift the balance of power at the state level that has eluded Democrats for years.
“Those in the Legislature and those in the executive branch of government have been spending too much time trying to run cities and counties and not enough tending to state issues,” Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston, the state’s largest city, told the Times. “And now it’s coming back to bite them. Before you can try to run my house, you’ve got to make sure you’re running your own.”
Turner is among those that have been warning of a potential power grid catastrophe for years. The state had a test run in 2011 following a winter storm that also caused statewide outages, and Turner, then a state representative, spent the next year sounding the alarm bells about the lack of oversight by GOP-appointed state regulators.
As Democratic State Rep. Chris Turner noted of the sudden focus on ERCOT, “No one should be pretending that the cause of this catastrophe is some mysterious entity that is somehow detached from state government. … This entire episode represents a catastrophic failure of leadership.”
Ana Sandoval, a Democratic member of the San Antonio City Council, notes that it’s not like the power outage and subsequent water shortage exist in isolation.
“A lot of areas of Texas probably already felt like it was in an emergency before the blackout — Covid case numbers, peak hospital numbers and the vaccine scramble,” Sandoval told the Times. “State leaders need to take the blindfold off and realize energy is not just about economics. It’s a life-and-death issue.”
The fact that governing truly is a life-and-death issue is something that circumstances like the pandemic and the sweeping power outages keep bringing home for voters in Texas right now. Democrats in major cities had already spent the past year battling with Abbott over implementing stricter COVID-19 mitigation measures.
And now state GOP leaders like Abbott are searching the horizon for scapegoats, while know-nothing yahoos like former Gov. Rick Perry are declaring that Texans will happily suffer the pain of blackouts to keep federal regulators out of the state’s business.
“Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry said.
Republicans obviously think statements like that are good politics—it came straight off the website of GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
With that type of response following the decades of Republican deregulation that resulted in catastrophe, it’s fair to think Democrats just might have a political opening in the state.