Editorial: State officials must be held accountable for mishandling the winter storm disaster

This week, Texas experienced extreme weather conditions that resulted in millions of residents losing electricity, heating capabilities and safe running water.

State officials and energy company leaders need to be held accountable for mishandling the situation, which has led to dangerous living conditions for millions and the deaths of at least 12 people.

A lack of planning for disasters and investment in fail-safe measures as a result of bad leadership and mismanagement are to blame for this disastrous response. Weather experts forecasted the winter storm, and officials could have taken steps to prevent statewide power outages and water shortages.

The crisis Texas is experiencing was preventable.

More than 100 vehicles crashed Feb. 11 on southbound Interstate 35W in Fort Worth, and six people died. While the exact cause hasn’t been confirmed, icy and slick road conditions due to overnight freezing rain were a factor.

If it wasn’t apparent more than a week ago, it’s even more apparent now that more must be done to protect Texas residents during extreme winter weather.

According to reporting by The Texas Tribune, power generation companies have few regulations, and Texas’ historic isolation from federal oversight led to the energy crisis.

Energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune the decision to not upgrade equipment and to remain isolated from the out-of-state power grid left the power system vulnerable to frigid temperatures.

But this isn’t the first time Texas experienced winter storms.

In 2011, after experiencing unusually cold and windy weather, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation released a report stating Texas generators “were generally reactive as opposed to being proactive in their approach to winterization and preparedness.”

The signs were there, and warnings were issued that a disaster like this was possible. Texas leaders failed to make the decisions necessary to ensure the power systems are properly winterized.

Despite the cost of winterizing power infrastructures, much more money and time are going toward repairing the damage done by burst water pipes, and the lives lost in fires and due to carbon monoxide poisoning can’t be given back.

The Dallas Morning News reported this weather event could be the most costly in Texas history.

Camille Garcia, Insurance Council of Texas communications director, told the Dallas Morning News this event will likely be costlier than Hurricane Harvey, which amounted to about $20.1 billion with inflation.

For decades, the Republican party has failed to embrace alternative energy and maintain durable energy infrastructure.

Texans have felt the brunt of mishandled disasters since March when the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared. Texas’ coronavirus response flopped, and as of Friday, there are over 227,726 confirmed active cases.

According to previous Shorthorn reporting, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference Wednesday and said power outages occurred because natural gas-fired generators and wind generators were stalled due to mechanical issues or a lack of fuel for gas generators to produce power.

Renewable power remains offline because of freezing conditions or lack of sun for solar power.

Abbott has announced a full-scale investigation into the state’s stand-alone energy utility company, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, whose leadership he appointed. But investigations into every branch of Texas’ leadership are needed to prevent similar disasters in the future.

Texas residents can write or email their local government officials to voice their concerns.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Katecey Harrell; Editor-in-Chief Cecilia Lenzen; associate news editor Spencer Brewer; Samantha Knowles, life and entertainment editor; sports editor Adrian Rodriguez; news reporter Thevnin Rumende; and copy editor Jill Bold.

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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