US storms offer a warning to ill-prepared governments

How mass power outages have left millions in Texas questioning state leadership.

 

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At least ten people have died in Texas this week after a winter storm caused widespread blackouts. Much of the state is on a power grid distinct from the rest of the country to avoid federal regulation and, as cold temperatures slowed down natural gas production, millions were left without power and heat.

Texas governor Greg Abbott went on Fox News on Tuesday 16 February to say that the episode demonstrates why fossil fuels are necessary and to slam the Green New Deal, a policy proposal put forth by progressives to combat climate change. Yet wind power makes up only a small percentage of energy production in Texas and Abbott later walked back on the statement.

[See also: How to pay for a Green New Deal]

Abbott next proceeded to blame the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit that oversees the state’s power grid. Abbott said it had been “anything but reliable” and that he would call on the state legislatures to review the company’s preparations and decisions.

But a future investigation does little to change the fact that the state government failed to prepare for a storm. They had been warned by a federal report following a significant storm a decade ago to develop the state infrastructure for winter –  yet the state left the decision of whether or not to upgrade equipment to power companies, which chose immediate profit over long-term security.

Not only do hundreds of thousands of people consequently still not have the resources they need to stay warm, but crisis is begetting crisis. So many Texans are dripping water to keep frozen pipes from bursting that cities have warned that water levels are now so low that the water may be unsafe to drink.

[See also: Would there have been a Donald Trump presidency without Rush Limbaugh?]

Communities have tried to step in where the state has not. Volunteers in the city of Austin paid for hotel rooms and delivered food to the homeless. A nonprofit in Houston called the Texas Relief Warriors cooked for those in need, and a Dallas recycling centre offered up firewood. Some bought up sandwiches for the express purpose of giving them away to those who were suffering most from the blackout. 

It is, of course, heartwarming to hear that, even amidst a storm and power outages, people have found ways to help those in still greater need than themselves. But just as GoFundMe is not a substitute for health insurance, the charity of volunteers and neighbours is not a policy solution.

On Thursday 18 February, meanwhile, it was reported after hours of speculation that Ted Cruz, one of Texas’s two senators, had left the state on a flight for Cancun, Mexico. In 2013, Cruz also opposed relief for Superstorm Sandy, the weather event that hit Democratic-voting states, and has previously tweeted mockingly of Californian power outages.

The speculation itself was a sort of a metaphor: in this time of crisis, people were there for each other. But where were their leaders?

[See also: Why should Joe Biden be different when US foreign policy has always been dictated by self-interest?]

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor. 

She co-hosts our weekly global affairs podcast, World Review

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