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The problem with Abbott trying to politicize Texas' energy troubles

Wait, are we to believe rascally liberals snuck into Texas and overhauled the state's energy policies while Republicans weren't paying attention?
Image: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visits Lake Jackson on Sept. 29, 2020.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visits Lake Jackson on Sept. 29, 2020.Marie D. De Jes?s / AP

The reports out of Texas are heartbreaking. The Lone Star State, slammed by a harsh winter storm, is experiencing widespread power outages, which in turn is having drastic consequences for families and communities. This includes, tragically, a rising death toll.

It was against this backdrop that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) took the time to appear on Fox News last night to complain about, of all things, renewable energy. Pointing to his state's ongoing difficulties, the Republican governor declared, "This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states."

Other Texas Republicans seemed eager to echo the talking point. "This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source," Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tweeted yesterday. "When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn't there when you need it."

Part of the problem is the Republicans' rhetoric doesn't appear to make any sense. As a Washington Post report explained:

The governor's arguments were contradicted by his own energy department, which outlined how most of Texas's energy losses came from failures to winterize the power-generating systems, including fossil fuel pipelines.... Although renewable energy sources did partially fail, they only contributed to 13 percent of the power outages, while providing about a quarter of the state's energy in winter. Thermal sources, including coal, gas and nuclear, lost almost twice as many gigawatts of power because of the cold, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state's electric grid operator.

The Texas Tribune stressed related points, explaining that renewable energy simply isn't the principal problem the state is experiencing right now. The article quoted Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who explained that it was Texas' natural gas industry that's "failing in the most spectacular fashion right now" -- a sentiment that was echoed by a senior director at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

What's more, by most accounts, this was a breakdown waiting to happen, largely because Texas has long failed to prepare for such conditions.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle the state's grid collapsed this week "in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union. It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances."

But I'm also baffled as to why Republicans like Abbott and Crenshaw would expect anyone to believe their claims. If we were talking about a state that had completely abandoned fossil fuels as sources of energy, and struggled with a systemic breakdown after relying completely on renewables, then we could at least have a conversation along these lines.

But we're not. We're instead talking about Texas.

Clumsy efforts at stoking a dumb culture-war fight notwithstanding, the Lone Star State is dominated by Republicans at every level. It hasn't elected a Democratic governor in nearly three decades. Who, exactly, imposed the Green New Deal -- or energy policies in line with the Green New Deal -- on Texas? When? Are we to believe rascally liberals snuck into Texas, overhauled the state's energy policies, and shut down the oil and gas industries while the GOP-led state government wasn't paying attention?

Or are Texas Republicans trying to exploit a crisis to deceive the public, blaming policies they haven't even implemented for an energy breakdown?