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Texas Was “Seconds and Minutes” Away From a Monthslong Blackout, Grid Company Says

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  • 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)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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