Man-made disaster: Capitalism and Republicans failed the people of Texas
People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Customers waited over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still have no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. | David J. Phillip / AP

Winter storms, freezing temperatures, and a failed power grid have left millions of Texans fighting for their lives this week. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz being caught attempting a family vacation to the warmth of Cancun, Mexico, while his constituents faced a humanitarian disaster is the epitome of an unequal system at work. The tragedy in Texas could have been avoided.

Lyin’ Ted: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s lame explanations for why he and his family escaped to the warmth of Cancun, Mexico, while his constituents in Texas were struggling to survive are rapidly crumbling. Here, the media catches Cruz at the airport with suitcase in tow. | via Twitter

The seed for this catastrophe was planted some time ago in the soil of capitalist greed and Republican mismanagement. The GOP’s decades of putting the interests of wealthy elites and energy companies above the welfare of the people are now on full display.

More than four million Texans were left without power in their homes due to freezing temperatures and a historic snowfall. The high demand for heat by residents attempting to stay warm was too much for the state’s isolated power grid to bear, causing a collapse and widespread blackouts. One could claim this was just an unlucky, once-in-a-lifetime incident that no one could have prepared for. But the fact of the matter is, this was all preventable.

Back in the 1930s, the Texas power grid was once under the name “Texas Interconnected System.” In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Power Act, which gave the Federal Power Commission authority to oversee interstate electricity sales. Texas didn’t have much state level regulation under the old Texas Interconnected System, and utility companies liked it that way. With the collusion of state lawmakers, they worked hard to avoid being subjected to FDR’s federal rules by avoiding energy sales across state lines.

Fast forward to today and the majority of the Texas power grid is still deregulated, with 90% under the control of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which was formed in the wake of another major blackout in 1965. The stand-alone power grid in Texas today remains intentionally isolated from neighboring states—still for the purpose of avoiding federal regulation. This prevents Texas from importing power from other states in times of need, such as the one going on right now.

Being deregulated makes for a much more competitive pricing market, trading on supply and demand—charging customers a lot more in peak usage periods, for instance. This also means that making the investments to build out a more reliable infrastructure system is sacrificed at the altar of profit. Companies aim to bring the cheapest form of energy to the market with the lowest cost to their own bottom line.

All of this was by choice.

As former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (who lost out to Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race) rightly assessed in comments to the press: “So much of this was avoidable. Going back to the deregulation of our electricity grid in Texas, which has created an incentive to actually not weatherize or protect against these events.… We are nearing a failed state in Texas. And it has nothing to do with God or natural disasters. It has everything to do with those in positions of public trust who have failed us.”

The Texas disaster was man-made.

Instead of addressing an outdated electrical grid, right-wing political leaders, who have overseen the Texas energy sector for decades, would rather place the blame on renewable energy and the Green New Deal.

Gov. Greg Abbott got on Fox News falsely claiming that dependence on wind and solar power was the main culprit of the state’s power failure. Abbott said the disaster “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.”

Of course, the governor contradicted himself in that same interview when he had to admit that wind and solar power only accounts for 10% of the Texas power grid. The majority of power generated in Texas comes from natural gas, coal, and nuclear power—all of which failed when temperatures went into the single digits.

This denial of reality and the attack on renewable energy speaks to a deeper issue that not only puts Texas in continued peril but the entire country—that is the politicization of climate change by the right wing.

Due to climate change, severe weather of all varieties becoming more and more the norm. According to scientists, global warming has caused cold Arctic air to plunge southward more often, down through the U.S. Midwest and into the South. This means states that don’t usually see blistering cold weather will begin to see more of it. As reported on the site Carbon Brief, a growing body of research is uncovering the ways in which rapid Arctic warming can lead to harsh winters, summer heatwaves, and even floods and droughts across the mid-latitudes.

To avoid federal regulation, right-wing Texas politicians and utility companies colluded in the 1930s to cut the Texas power grid off from the rest of the country. To this day, it remains separate. | AP

The failure of the Texas GOP leadership to prepare their system for the extreme cold was not just an accident, but a defiant rebuke to this research and warning. Now, Republican leaders are politicizing this tragedy, just as they did with the deadly pandemic that still ravages the world.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made it clear where the right wing stands when he boldly claimed, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” and that, “those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals.”

“Radical proposals” is clearly code for climate change legislation.

Perry was also the U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2017 to 2019 under Donald Trump. Trump’s administration was opposed to climate change research and seemingly valid science in general.

The right wing’s denial of climate change isn’t just due to ignorance; it’s connected to money. The profits of millionaire fossil fuel companies would be at stake, and since the Republican Party has long been in financial bed with these industries, they continue to protect them to the detriment of the environment and, as this week has shown, human survival.

Perry, Abbott, Cruz, and other GOP leaders have made it clear that they are willing to sacrifice the lives of working people to keep the status quo. They, and those like them in power, pose a threat to the country as climate change rapidly changes how we live (and possibly die) as the days of inaction carry on.

As thousands in Texas continue to be without electricity, and millions more without drinkable water, it has to be made clear that this crisis was not an isolated incident. Instead, we must treat it like a costly lesson on what is at stake for our future if we don’t make changes, including in leadership, that puts the people and the environment over profits.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.