- The company that manages Texas’ main power grid, ERCOT, said Thursday that the state was only “seconds and minutes” away from being in the dark for months.
- ERCOT is largely being blamed for not having precautionary measures in place to account for weather that resulted in a days-long loss of electricity for millions of Texans this week.
- Meanwhile, a Dallas County judge is pinning much of the blame on Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and former Gov. Rick Perry (R).
- “If they don’t take responsibility and fix this by putting winterization guidelines [in place]… this will happen again,” the judge said. “The fault lies with those two individuals alone.”
Blackouts Could Have Lasted Months, ERCOT Says
Millions in Texas went without power for three days as snow, ice, and extreme cold wreaked havoc on their communities. Now, officials with Texas’ main power grid have said the state was only “seconds and minutes” away from being in the dark for months.
Since the blackout, which at one point left over 4 million Texas homes and businesses without electricity, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has shouldered much of the blame.
Two federal agencies have since launched an investigation into the blackout. Notably, they will examine ERCOT’s preparation and the precautions it had in place ahead of the snowstorm. They also plan to investigate how ERCOT responded once the storm hit.
In an interview with the Texas Tribune, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said the company acted quickly to reduce a surging power load by implementing rolling blackouts, saying that if it had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”
“ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn’t worse is because of those grid operators,” Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at a Texas oil and gas software information company, told the Tribune.
Johnson noted that if the grid had fully overloaded, fires and exploding power lines could have potentially caused infrastructure damage that might have taken months to fix.
That said, ERCOT’s rolling blackouts were far from successful. While ERCOT may have prevented a monthslong blackout, many utility companies were unable to restore power in the standard 15 to 45 minutes that usually comes with rolling blackouts.
Without power for days on end, other problems began to emerge. For example, there have been multiple reports this week of deaths and hospitalizations from carbon monoxide poisoning as people try to keep themselves and their children warm.
Friday morning, Texas reported just under 200,000 outages.
Dallas Judge Pins Blame on Gov. Abbott
In addition to ERCOT, Texas lawmakers have faced national scrutiny over the blackouts.
In a CNN appearance on Thursday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins pinned that blame directly on Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
“[Abott and former Gov. Rick Perry] and their team passed the regulations to tell people whether or not they need to winterize,” Jenkins said. “They chose not to tell companies to winterize — that need to winterize — which in a regulatory environment for a commodity is telling people not to winterize.”
“They consciously chose to do rock-bottom prices for large commercial enterprises. I’m not saying that’s necessarily saying that’s a bad choice. But the bad choice was to do that, so much that it was at the expense of reliability for residential customers and all of us in extreme weather.”
Following a separate 2011 snowstorm, federal regulators found that similar blackouts could have likely been avoided if grid equipment had been winterized. It then recommended taking such measures to prevent future outages.
El Paso’s grid, which is operated by a different company than ERCOT, complied by implementing such measures. Of the millions of blackouts in the state this week, El Paso only contributed to about a dozen cases because of the precautions it took.
In 2011, the Texas-legislature — backed by a signature from then-Gov. Perry (R) — passed a law that required the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas to analyze “the ability of electric generators to respond to abnormal weather conditions.”
Now, Jenkins is accusing PUC of failing to implement the requirements stipulated by the law. As Jenkins noted, all three of PUC’s current members were directly appointed by Abbott.
“[Abbott and Perry] are now trying to blame it on… ERCOT,” Jenkins told CNN. “They could easily fire that company and hire another one.”
“But if they don’t take responsibility and fix this by putting winterization guidelines for gas lines that are frozen underground, and for energy generators that haven’t worked because they’re not winterized, this will happen again. The fault lies with those two individuals alone.”
Tuesday, Abbott said, “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”
He has since called ERCOT’s reform a top priority for the Texas legislature.
Part of that reform will likely include ensuring that ERCOT’s board is comprised only of Texas residents. Earlier this week, it was discovered that five of the company’s 15 board members lived out of state.
“They do shoulder the responsibility for not modernizing the gas pipeline system,” Jenkins said. “There’s plenty of blame to go around, but at the top of the food chain it is the governors…”
See what others are saying: (Texas Tribune) (Newsweek) (KLTV)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.