AUSTIN – Wind, snow, sleet, ice, record-low temperatures, road closures and power blackouts made the second half of last week unusual for most of Texas, even for winter.
Power grid manager ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ordered providers serving the bulk of the state to implement rolling outages to compensate for electricity shortages. Gov. Rick Perry was out of state while the Arctic cold front raged, but he had this to say about the outages:
“Because of winter weather conditions that have created an unprecedented demand on the state’s energy grid, many Texans across our state are experiencing power outages today,” Perry said. “Texas power and emergency management experts are working very closely with ERCOT and various utility providers to ensure power is restored as quickly as possible. Until that happens, I urge businesses and residents to conserve electricity to minimize the impact of this event.”
For millions of Texans, minimizing the impact of the event translated to work and school closures or late starts, and for those who did get out on the road, strandings and accidents were all too common.
Heavy demand for electricity even prompted the purchase of needed power from Mexico. The Public Utility Commission said it would investigate how ERCOT’s power management decisions affected ratepayers. The PUC, which oversees ERCOT, may revise procedures on how to handle such events in the future.
Three Senate committees meet
With bad weather hitting or threatening to hit, the Senate managed to assemble February 1-3. Three of the body’s committees conducted hearings: Finance, chaired by Steve Ogden, R-Bryan; Education, chaired by Jane Nelson, R-Grapevine; and State Affairs, chaired by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.
The powerful Senate Finance Committee, which met February 1, 2 and 3, heard budget presentations from agencies and non-profits that provide food, health care, shelter and other services.
Prompted by the projected $27 billion state revenue shortage, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony focusing on the possible effects of altering the 22:1 students-to-teacher ratio mandated by state law.
Protecting private property rights and addressing eminent domain issues are on Gov. Perry’s list of emergency issues. The Senate State Affairs committee laid out and considered SB 18, an eminent domain bill authored by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. At the conclusion of testimony the committee voted favorably for the bill. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said the bill would protect homeowners and landowners, but others said that as currently written, the way the bill is worded may still put landowners at risk in eminent domain takings.
House committees to be named
Meanwhile, the House met each day, February 1-4, adjourning after a short 30 minutes in session on Thursday, February 4, with abnormally rough weather continuing to spread across the state.
Before adjourning, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, had not yet named committee chairs and members. The lack of committee assignments to date, however, has had no sullying effect on this aspect of every House member’s job: bill filing. As of February 3, House members had filed 1,132 bills, not including some 300 resolutions of various types.
AG seeks to send EPA packing
On February 1, Attorney General Greg Abbott publicized a letter he wrote to President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, urging them to reverse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent stepping in to police greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) emissions at smokestack industries and power plants in Texas.
“I can think of no better way for the White House to demonstrate its commitment to ending job-killing regulations than by rescinding the EPA rules Texas has challenged. Congress, too, has the opportunity to act now to save jobs and increase confidence in the future of our economy by ordering the EPA to cease its efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions through the ill-suited means of the Clean Air Act,” Abbott wrote.
Abbott said he wants the Texas Commission on Environment Quality to resume its enforcement role.