The Texas politicians most responsible for not preparing for the state’s ice storm disaster have a long history of supporting deregulation and the free market, while taking money from oil and gas companies.
Although Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) blamed progressive energy policies for the devastating power outages that hit his state during freezing winter weather, experts have pointed to other factors, including lax regulations that let the energy industry cut corners on winterizing.
Officials who oversee the energy industry have also been the recipients of energy industry campaign donations.
Republican governors have benefited from fossil fuel donations for years. And the three members of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), which regulates energy production, received 60 percent of their campaign donations, some $6.6 million, from fossil fuel companies during the 2010-2016 election cycles.
Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen's Texas office, blames “overall the Texas political attitude of laissez-faire. Also the Legislature, [former] Governor [Rick] Perry, the PUC [Public Utility Commission], and the industry, drillers, pipeline owners and [energy] generators today."
Midland Energy is the largest single donor to Abbott and to Perry, his predecessor, who was tapped by Pres. Trump to run the Energy Department. Midland’s founder, Syed Javaid Anwar, has said he is friends with former Pres. George W. Bush, who hails from Midland and reportedly refers to Anwar as “J. Daddy.”
Anwar told E&E News that he identifies as politically conservative, supporting free markets and casting doubt on climate change.
As of 2018, Anwar reportedly had donated more than $1.7 million to Texas Republicans. Abbott got more than a million dollars of that, including both cash and airplane rides.
Anwar has also given more than $400,000 in campaign contributions to RRC Chair Christi Craddick.
Although Craddick has said “energy is non-partisan,” her agency bio says she was “raised in a strong conservative household” and “has fought against Washington’s one-size-fits-all environmental policies that would kill jobs and stifle energy production growth.” Craddick comes from a wealthy Midland family that's in the oil business. As a lawyer, she “specialized in oil and gas.”
According to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the RRC failed to require proper winterizing of energy industry equipment, prioritizing commercial customers over residents. Jenkins told the Texas Tribune, “Other states require you to have cold weather packages on your generation equipment and require you to use, either through depth or through materials, gas piping that is less likely to freeze.” The RRC did not respond to requests for comment from the Tribune or TYT.
A Year of Missed Opportunity
If you could pinpoint a single time when the current disaster in Texas could have been avoided, it would be 2011. Two bills, SB 1133 and HB 1986, could have required Texas to winterize and regulate most energy generation, ranging from oil and natural gas wells to wind turbines. SB 1133 did not require winterization; it only recommended it, leaving it up to companies to decide. HB 1986, which would have required regulation of energy generating companies, was killed in committee.
Together, those bills would have winterized energy production and delivery in Texas enough to have withstood the winter storm that left 12 million people without drinkable water, left two million without power for days, created food shortages, and damaged millions of homes. So who killed the bills?
According to the present and past directors of Public Citizen's Texas office, there is a long list. It includes Perry, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst (R-TX), past and present legislative and agency officials, and the RRC.
But a complete list of those responsible would include virtually every Texas official with any power over the last few decades. According to Public Citizen’s Shelley, “The reality here is there is blame everywhere and everybody is at fault… Our leadership and industry has a chokehold on our state and now our people don’t have power and water.”
The former director of the Public Citizen Texas office, Tom “Smitty” Smith, told TYT that irresponsible regulation has been more of a problem than deregulation. He said some aspects of deregulation have been positive.
“Without deregulation we would have never seen Texas become a leader of renewable energy in America,” Smith said. “That was not the truth before deregulation… We need to regulate properly for our health and safety and for protection against winter storms and climate disasters.”
Smith added, “What you hear in a committee hearing is not what you hear in the back room. [Publicly] they will tell leadership it will cost too much money and it happens so infrequently it isn't worth it.”