Nel's New Day

February 18, 2021

Faulty GOP Governance Destroying Texas, Killing People

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport REUTERS/Stringer

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went to the top of the news on Thursday, and not in a good way. His trip to the sunny, warm Ritz-Carlton in Cancún ($309 per night) roiled his constituents, many of whom were freezing—sometimes literally to death—in Texas with below-freezing temperatures and no electricity or water. Cruz claimed he was being “a good father” by taking his children on a well-deserved vacation because of a “tough week”; his wife’s texts give a different story of escape from their “FREEZING” house. Heidi Cruz invited friends to come along on their getaway. Not until photos of Cruz and stories of his runaway dominated the media did he decide to return on Thursday. Critical hashtags included “#FlyinTed” and “#FledCruz,” and he was called Ted “Cancún” Cruz. Winning his 2018 election against Beto O’Rourke with under 51 percent of the vote, Cruz has indicated a goal of again become a presidential candidate in 2024. Opponents will have lots of material for response.

Because of regulations at the private school where Cruz’s daughters attend, they are not permitted into the classroom for a week after international travel unless they take a COVID-19 test three to five days after returning. Either way, they cannot go back to school next week. Before Cruz left on his trip, he said as many as 100 people could die this week. His advice before his departure:  

“This storm is dangerous, and there’s a second storm expected to hit this week, which will make things even worse, so if you can, stay home. Don’t go out on the roads. Don’t risk the ice… We could see up to 100 people lose their lives this week in Texas. So don’t risk it. Keep your family safe and just stay home and hug your kids.”

Cruz also commandeered Houston police to get him to and through the airport as he headed out on his vacation.

Exhibiting the attitude among millions of far-right Republicans, Tim Boyd, the now-resigned mayor of Colorado City (TX), posted on Facebook about people with no power:

“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!… If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!… Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic].”

After loss of electricity and running water came boiling advisories for seven million Texans, empty grocery shelves, and canceled deliveries to food banks and schools. According to Austin resident Jeff Goodell, “People wandering around with handguns on their hip adds to a sense of lawlessness.” Lack of power made ranchers and farmers destroy tens of millions of dollars of goods. Fruit and vegetables have frozen in the Rio Grande Valley, and dairy farmers daily pour $8 million worth of milk down the drain because they can’t get the milk to dairies. Hospitals face deadly horrific conditions, and last Monday, Harris County, including Houston, reported over 300 carbon monoxide poisonings.

Even with a thaw in Texas, which isn’t happening for a few days, people will suffer from lack of running water. Disruption in about 590 public water systems in almost 60 percent of the state’s counties affect almost 12 million people of the state’s population of 29 million. Houston asked people to not run water because “it is needed for hospitals and fires,” according to the city’s mayor. Earlier in the week, people were told to leave faucets dripping to keep pipes from freezing, but now they are asked to turn them off, leaving pipes to burst. Only 135 labs in the state can test water to determine when people should stop boiling it, if they are fortunately enough to have power to boil water.

For losing presidential candidate Rick Perry, death is better than have federal government involved. He reassured people that “the sun will come out.” Texas conservatives find regulation unacceptable, but they asked for charity from U.S. taxpayers for the disasters they personally cause. President Joe Biden sent generators, diesel, blankets, and water to Texas “at their request,” according to Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary.

Publicity probably forced Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop blaming the loss of wind power—seven percent of the missing energy from the big freeze. Of the total power shortfall of over 30,000 megawatts, only 2,000 came from wind. Instead, Abbott moved on to attacking his own energy department who maintain the missing energy comes from lack of winterizing power-generating systems, primarily from fossil fuels. The state refused to provide any fiscal incentives to power plant operators in preparation for winter: the state’s power companies get more money if they don’t weatherize all their plants and shut down some of them in winter.  

According to Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa, Abbott is following a “pattern” of “lack of foresight and inability to manage.” Hinojosa cited lack of action for displacements during Hurricane Harvey, no planning for the coronavirus crisis, and “abysmal” handling of vaccine distribution. The loss of energy supply is being compared to the fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Lack of deregulation, i.e., mandating electrical equipment upgrades or weatherization, comes from reliance on free markets.

Deregulation in the 1990s created a grid emphasizing cheap prices instead of good service. Last summer, Cruz said California couldn’t “perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.” Now he tried to run away from the disaster in a state with the highest rate of uninsured, double the U.S. average in child poverty, and a greater unemployment rate than the federal rate.

Mayors in Texas cities are lobbying for the Democratic stimulus plan, writing Congress about “budget cuts, service reductions, and job losses. Sadly, nearly one million local government jobs have already been lost during the pandemic. … The $350 billion in direct relief to state and local governments included in President Elect Biden’s American Rescue Plan would allow cities to preserve critical public sector jobs and help drive our economic recovery.” Cruz opposes “blue-state bailouts” even for his red state and voted in December against the stimulus package.

Texan GOP leadership so adamantly refuses any involvement with Democrats that the 60 generators and fuel stays at the airport because Republican officials refuse to distribute them.

Proving that governments can manage reliable energy with regulation, the ten percent of the state not under the control of the mis-named GOP-appointed Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has had minimal outages despite also being hit by the storms. For example, El Paso, at the extreme left side northwest of Alpine, had about 3,000 outages, 1,000 of them for about five minutes. Outside ERCOT, regions invested in cold-weather upgrades after the 2011 big freeze while ERCOT assumed that cold weather wouldn’t return. The GOP control in Texas opposes regulations, but almost 70 percent of people in El Paso voted Democratic.

Fox network’s Tucker Carlson was an early spreader of the lie about Texas being “totally reliant on windmills” because “the Green New Deal came to Texas.” The much maligned “Deal” was only a proposal pushed to a 2019 vote in the Senate by Republicans so they could vote it down. Carlson may end up in court over his falsehoods: Bloomberg News is calling for lawsuits like the ones for Fox’s lies about the 2020 election.

More information about the Texas debacle. 

February 16, 2021

Climate Change Creates Havoc in the U.S.

The biggest story in the past few days has been the weather. In just the United States, about 150 million people—almost half the population—was under winter storm warnings. Texas may have been the worst problems across nation with more than 4.2 million customers losing power, many of them for extended periods of time. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for the red state so that FEMA can provide help.

On Fox network, anti-Democrat and anti-Biden Tucker Carlson declared wind energy was completely responsible for the electricity shortage because the “windmills froze.” He called wind turbines “fashion accessories” while ignoring their success in freezing areas such as Iowa and Denmark. Wind turbines help power thousands of homes in the interior of Alaska during the winter as well as in the Baltic, northern Scotland, and other cold areas.

Authorities explain that rolling blackouts to spread the power across more customers became necessary after natural gas, a fossil fuel, froze inside pipelines not made for the current weather conditions in Texas. Compressors for the pipelines and coal piles froze as gauges and instruments did at natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants. In some areas such as Dallas, the temperature as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit was lower than Anchorage (AK). Plummeting temperatures caused spikes in use of electricity, leading to outages for unknown lengths of time. With the severe shortage of power, companies prioritized gas for heating homes and businesses instead of generating electricity, leaving people with electric furnaces, 60 percent of the population, in the cold with no electricity. Pipes will freeze because the shortage of electricity means no running water. Cell phone service is disappearing because backup generators at towers are freezing or running out of fuel or both.”

Meanwhile wholesale prices for natural gas went up as much as 4,000 percent. In northern Texas, the cost of a megawatt-hour went from an average of $18 to $300; Houston saw an increase in megawatt hour from $22 to $9,000. The increase in price was partly responsible for the lack of electricity: power management “shed load”—cut off customers—instead of dealing with the cost spikes.

A serious issue in Texas is its insistence on operating its own power grid, managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), for 90 percent of the state’s electricity serving 26 million customers. Texas is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the country. Outside Texas, power company revenues pay to have generators on call during times of high demand, Texas electricity customers pay only for the power actually provided. Prices are lower during normal times, but the grid reliability suffers during times of spiking electricity demand.

Daniel Cohan, a Rice associate professor of environmental engineering, call ERCOT “an island.” In desperate circumstances, the state has nowhere to go to more energy, and the state hasn’t maintained its grid. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, said, “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.”

The map (left) shows the widespread liability of a separate grid with lack of regulation. 

ERCOT’s predictions for the winter, using past winters, assumed it had sufficient resources and expected to lose about 8,600 megawatts in the winter for a peak demand of 58,000 megawatts. Instead, 34,000 megawatts went offline at the same time as a peak of 69,000 megawatts in the storm.

Texas built its own grid after the 1935 Federal Power Act regulated interstate electricity sales. ERCOT operates outside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and assumes natural gas will always be available. Instead the liquid froze. As of Monday afternoon, over three-fourths of ERCOT’s gigawatts offline were from gas and coal. Yet publicity blames the wind and solar energy while using the current chaos as an excuse to raise utility rates. Ten years ago, when fossil fuel power underperformed, the conservatives falsely called the outages “a direct consequence of the Obama administration’s agenda to lay siege to the coal industry.” In that decade, Texas drillers have burned off massive quantities of natural gas–$750 billion worth in just 2018—instead of using it for the grid.

What Tucker Carlson doesn’t know—or refuses to admit:

  • Wind turbine outages are responsible for less than 13 percent of Texas’ power shortages.
  • ERCOT predicted wind turbines would produce only 10 percent of the state’s winter electricity; less than half the share of 22.9 percent in the summer.
  • Over 80 percent of the power shortfall came from problems at coal- and gas-fired plants.
  • During the power shortage this week, wind turbines exceeded expectations because of the winds generated by the storm spinning the blades faster than usual.

As of Tuesday evening, the weather has killed at least 25 people in the U.S. from tornadoes, fires, car crashes, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. In Louisiana, a man died after he fell on ice and hit his head. The windchill went from Canada into Mexico, and snow fell on the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Snow covered over 73 percent of mainland U.S., the largest area since records began in 2003. All except three of the 48 mainland states had snow.

Delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries slowed the distribution as did the inability of people to get to vaccination sites. Medical personnel frantically looked for people to vaccinate after power and generators failed. The 2,000 record lows included -26F in Sioux Falls (SD) and -38F in Minnesota, and at least 20 cities experienced their coldest weather in history. More records are expected. 

Over 2,700 U.S. flights were canceled with 800 at Dallas-Fort Worth and 700 in Houston. Another 1,300 flights were delayed. In just Alabama, 100 school systems closed. San Antonio canceled all its flights.

The Dallas Stars postponed a National Hockey League game against the Nashville Predators, and the Houston Chronicle failed to print the paper after the plant lost power, something that didn’t even happen during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Abilene (TX) shut off water services at all three water treatment plants. At -16F, Tulsa (OK) had 113 broken water line since Sunday, and a parked patrol car couldn’t move because of frozen water around its wheels.

In Oregon, the coast stayed warm and wet, but much of the rest of the state was hit. About 330,000 people lost electricity, the largest number in recorded history. Heavy snow and ice brought down trees and branches, and the resulting blocked storm drains may cause flooding. Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order preventing price-gouging in nine Oregon counties because of unusual increases in lodging rates for temporary stays while power is out in homes.

Carlson’s next false claim may be that record low temperatures prove the fallacy of global warming. The rapid heating of the Arctic, however, pushes the North Pole’s cold air further south. It’s all part of climate change. Winter storms have been strongly increasing in the U.S. Northeast since 2008 as Arctic has heated up at a rate over twice the world’s average. Cold air around the North Pole, an area of low pressure tightly circulating during winter like a spinning top, is moving because of interference to the jet stream, strong winds at lower elevations than the polar vortex. Arctic warming causes a shift in the jet stream which then hits the polar vortex. Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said, “Where the polar vortex goes, so goes the cold air.” In the past month, Europe has also seen huge gusts of snow.

The storm will likely continue across the nation on Wednesday with a return to average or above-average temperatures within seven to ten days. Wednesday, however, the sun will be out at my house on the Oregon Coast.

One bright spot: The United States no longer blocks assistance from states based on their politics. Biden promised unity, and the red state of Texas was the first to receive federal assistance. He made a call to red state governors Greg Abbott (R-TX), John Bel Edwards (D-LA), Andy Beshear (D-KY), Laura Kelly (D-KS), Bill Lee (R-TN), Tate Reeves (R-MS), and Kevin Stitt (R-OK). The call repeated that his administration is ready to answer requests for federal assistance and deploy federal emergency resources to help people in the storm.

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