- 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)
Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
- Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
- Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
- In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.
Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.
Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.
She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.
Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”
She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress.
Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Others Back Bennett’s Account
Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction.
Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.
Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation
Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.
On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)
House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination
- The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
- Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
- The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.
House Approves Equality Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places.
The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers.
Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.
But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.
A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.
Support and Opposition
Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.
Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.
Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.
Shift in Public Opinion
Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.
“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”
Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.
A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)
Former Aide Accuses New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was accused of sexual harassment by his former aide Lindsey Boylan in an essay she published on Medium Wednesday.
- Boylan claimed she was subjected to inappropriate remarks and behavior from the governor for years, including an instance in 2018 where he allegedly kissed her without her consent after a meeting.
- Boylan said Cuomo created an administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
- Cuomo denied the allegations, but Boylan’s essay comes as numerous current and former top officials have recently accused the governor of engaging in intimidation and creating a hostile work environment.
Lindsey Boylan Details Allegations Against Cuomo
A former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) published an essay Wednesday accusing him of sexual harassment, expanding on allegations she made in December. The aide, Lindsey Boylan, first made the accusations in a Twitter thread about women being harassed in the workplace.
“Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years,” she wrote. “Many saw it, and watched.”
At the time, Boylan did not provide any more details to the media, and Cuomo denied the allegations.
“I fought for and I believe a woman has the right to come forward and express her opinion and express issues and concerns that she has,” he said at a press conference after the accusations surfaced. “But it’s just not true.”
In her essay, published on Medium, Boylan accused Cuomo of subjecting her to several years of deeply uncomfortable situations, including an instance after a meeting in 2018 when he kissed her on the lips without her consent.
She claimed that Cuomo “would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs” and that over the years, “His inappropriate gestures became more frequent.”
These alleged actions also included one time in October 2017, where she said he sat across from her on a jet and said “Let’s play strip poker.” Boylan outlined a number of other inappropriate actions and comments she claimed the governor made. She even embedded screenshots from emails and text messages that she said supported her story. However, she said her fears got worse after the kiss in 2018, and that she “came to work nauseous every day” until she eventually resigned in September of that year.
Notably, Boyland additionally stated that Cuomo’s “pervasive harassment” extended to other women as well, and that he would make “unflattering comments about the weight of female colleagues” and “ridiculed” them about their romantic relationships.
This kind of behavior, she said, was part of the culture Cuomo created in his administration, “where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”
“He used intimidation to silence his critics. And if you dared to speak up, you would face consequences,” she said, stating that after she first tweeted the accusation in December, two other women reached out to her but were too afraid to speak.
One allegedly told Boylan she lived in fear of what would happen if she rejected Cuomo’s advances, and the other said he had instructed her to warn people who upset him that they risk losing their jobs.
Cuomo’s press secretary Caitlin Girouard responded to the allegations in a statement Wednesday by reiterating the governor’s past remarks.
“As we said before, Ms. Boylan’s claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false,” she told reporters.
Girouard also disputed Boylan’s story about the jet ride, sharing a statement from four current and former administration officials who were on one or more of the four flights in October 2017 that Boylan had taken with Cuomo.
“We were on each of these October flights and this conversation did not happen,” the four officials said.
Boylan is by no means alone in some of her specific accusations. Cuomo’s last few weeks have been mired in scandal after a top aide revealed his administration had withheld nursing home data on COVID-related deaths. In the aftermath of the revelations and Cuomo’s handling of it, numerous top officials have accused the governor of intimidation, bullying, and fostering a toxic workplace.
Many of those accusations surfaced after New York Assemblyman Ron Kim (D), who has been an outspoken critic of Cuomo, claimed that the governor threatened to “destroy” him on a call last week.
Cuomo said Kim was lying about the conversation, but shortly after, many current and former aides and other insiders gave The New York Times similar accounts of aggressive behavior and intimidation.
Also on Wednesday, Karen Hinton, another ex-Cuomo staffer, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News that echoed many of Boylan’s claims about a toxic work environment for women.
That claim also appeared to be supported up by three people who worked in the governor’s office at the same time as Boylan. They told The Times it was true that Cuomo would make inappropriate remarks and comment on people’s appearances.