Texas Republicans will use federal disaster aid to help pay down Texans’ sky high electricity bills as the state recoups from last week’s deep freeze, according to The Guardian.
Millions were subject to blackouts as the cold weather overwhelmed an unprepared state grid, by design independent of federal oversight. The outages contributed to dozens of deaths and a crisis over safe access to water that continued as temperatures rose.
On Saturday, Joe Biden declared a major disaster, releasing funding to help. On Sunday, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told ABC’s This Week the president was “eager to go down to Texas and show his support” but would be careful not to disrupt relief.
Reports have proliferated that some Texans whose power stayed now face enormous bills, as private companies seek to capitalise. The New York Times reported one case in which a 63-year-old military veteran living on social security in the Dallas suburbs faced an electricity bill for nearly $17,000, 70 times what he would usually pay for all utilities combined.
Scott Willoughby told the newspaper: “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”
To help people in Willoughby’s situation, the state will use federal funds, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.
“The current plans with the federal assistance bill are to help the homeowners both repair, because we have a lot of water leaks, a lot of water damage, pipes bursting, but also [pay] their electricity bills as well,” he said.
Host Dana Bash challenged him, saying: “I’m hearing you say that the federal government is going to help to bail out, and to pay bills in a state which is in part in this mess because it wants to be separate from the federal government. That’s kind of rich, don’t you think?”
McCaul dodged the question, saying instead Texas needed to prepare for more extreme climate events. The deep freeze, he said, was “just a preview of what to expect if the United States doesn’t confront the climate crisis head on”.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner believes the state should be responsible for providing such release, according to the report. Turner told CBS’s Face the Nation: “The bill should go to the state of Texas. When [people are] getting these exorbitant electricity bills and they’re having to pay for their homes, repair their homes, they should not have to bear the responsibility.”
The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, called an emergency meeting of state lawmakers to discuss the problem, saying in a statement they had a responsibility to ensure Texans “do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills”. On Sunday he announced measures to protect energy consumers.
McCaul noted that his state’s power grid “was set up … to be independent of federal oversight and regulations. That’s very good with things like cybersecurity, not so good when it comes to an Arctic blast like this one.”
“In 2011, the state legislature after we had a really bad freeze came out with a bipartisan report with recommendations to the energy companies as to how to winterize our operations,” the Republican added, and The Guardian noted that those recommendations were not followed.
“So when it happened our entire energy system was not winterized for sub-zero degree temperatures,” McCaul said. “That is what we’re going to be taking a look at, these recommendations that were made in 2011.”
Image: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX). (Screengrab / Michael T. McCaul / YouTube)