Money is the root of all evil. Especially in politics. Learn how to trace the money behind a political decisions. Who is donating? What do they want in return?
The power generating equipment wasn't winterized to deal with extreme cold, although experts had warned of this danger a decade ago. Why did Texas political leaders not require Texas power utilities make sure their equipment would work in cold weather as in other states like Iowa with even colder weather.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers. It is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission, whose three members are appointed by Republican Governor Abbott. The oil and gas lobby is Abbott's second largest source of donations. Could there be a connection? Let's follow the money.
Follow the money
1. Who is involved?
"Texas power providers Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Entergy Corporation have been hit with a $100 million lawsuit accusing them of gross negligence in the death of a child whose family suspects he suffered hypothermia when they lost electricity and heat in their mobile home during a historic cold snap." - Yahoo
"More than 1.8 million energy customers in Texas are without power, with The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) initiating rotating outages. ERCOT says that the rotating outages will likely last through the morning and could continue until the weather emergency is over. ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness." - Newsweek
2. What is their role?
"The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers -- representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load. As the independent system operator for the region, ERCOT schedules power on an electric grid that connects more than 46,500 miles of transmission lines and 680+ generation units. It also performs financial settlement for the competitive wholesale bulk-power market and administers retail switching for 8 million premises in competitive choice areas." - ERCOT website
3. Where is the interaction between politics, regulation and corporate profits?
"Oil and gas built and enriched Texas, and with that its politicians, including those who became president. But none has reaped campaign contributions on the scale of Abbott, who in six years in office has raised more than $150 million from donors, more than any governor in U.S. history. Texas’ energy interests are the biggest backers of his political rise, and he has not ruled out a White House run in 2024. More than $26 million of his contributions have come from the oil and gas industry, more than any other economic sector, according to an analysis by the National Institute on Money in Politics."
"ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission, whose three members are appointed by Abbott. While ERCOT manages most of Texas’ power grid, the commission and the Texas Legislature make key policy decisions that have factored into the ongoing crisis." - MyRGV News
4. Who are the donors? Independent expenditures?
Use sites like Open Secrets, Maplight and Follow The Money to trace who is donating to a politician. These donations could be from an individual to a candidate, or routed through a lobbyist or Political Action Committee (PAC) to a candidate. Learn more about political disclosure requirements.
Public records show from Open Secrets and Follow The Money show that Republican Governor Gregg Abbott received over $120m in donations since 2014 for his races to be Governor.
The Oil & Gas industry lobby is his second largest industry donor group with donations of $21m.
These donors include Valero Energy, Vistra Energy, Philips 66, Centerpoint energy and NRG Energy.
"Abbott appointees made 'astonishing' cuts to power reliability team before deadly Texas storm. As winter approached in 2020 and power companies prepared for cold weather, Gov. Greg Abbott’s hand-picked utility regulators decided they no longer wanted to work with a nonprofit organization they had hired to monitor and help Texas enforce the state’s electric reliability standards.
The Texas Public Utility Commission is led by Chairman DeAnn T. Walker who is an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) per her public bio.
The multi-year contract between the Public Utility Commission and the obscure monitoring organization, the Texas Reliability Entity, was trashed. Over the next months, right up until the crippling storm that plunged millions of Texans into the dark and cold, the state agency overseeing the power industry operated without an independent monitor to make sure energy companies followed state protocols, which include weatherization guidelines." - MSN
Corporate profits vs public safety
"After the state’s last major freeze, during the 2011 Super Bowl held in Arlington, Texas, a federal analysis found that energy producers' procedures for winterizing their equipment “were either inadequate or were not adequately followed” in many cases. The report repeatedly cites another Texas freeze, in 1989, as a clear warning.
A decade ago, the report on the last Texas failure lists a number of ways to winterize an oil well or a natural gas device and the estimated costs. Winterizing 50,000 wells — just under a third of the number of total natural gas wells active in Texas — was estimated in 2011 to cost as much as $1.75 billion. By comparison, the Texas oil and natural gas industry paid $13.9 billion in taxes and royalties last year alone, according to figures from the Texas Oil & Gas Association.
ERCOT is overseen by the Texas Public Utility Commission, whose three members are appointed by Abbott. While ERCOT manages most of Texas’ power grid, the commission and the Texas Legislature make key policy decisions that have factored into the ongoing crisis. Girding power generators against fierce winter weather is essential in colder climates. In Iowa, where wind farms supply 40% of the state’s electricity, windmills have been turning all week despite temperatures that dropped to minus 17 degrees in Des Moines. In Texas, grid officials say they can't speak for why power generators here don't do the same." - WSLS
Support groups monitoring political donations
Free Speech For People has developed the Free and Fair Elections Amendment to end the big money dominance of our elections. This proposed amendment sets limits on federal campaign contributions and spending; prohibits corporate spending in the political process (as existed prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC); requires Congress to develop a system of public campaign financing for all federal candidates who qualify for the ballot; and allows the States to set reasonable limits on campaign contributions and spending in state and local elections. The amendment overturns Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings which have so threatened our democracy.
Takeaway: Corporate profits that come at the expense of public safety and cause deaths are a disgrace. Watch for political donations that lead to safety regulations being cut.
Image credit: Maria Cantu