- 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)
Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media
The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.
The Social Media Child Protection Act
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.
The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.
The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.
Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.
“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued.
“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”
While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.
The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.
Backlash and Support
Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.
Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.
“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.
Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.
“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”
Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.
“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,” he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.
A Growing Movement
Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.
In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding “the right age for a child to start using social media.”
“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”
Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”
His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”