The Lonely Star State


Texas has long prided itself on its individualism, its independence and its deep natural and human resources. That approach has often enabled the Lone Star State to “go it alone” without much-demonized federal oversight or intervention. Last week, the state’s single-mindedness and Mother Nature collided, and Texans all over the state suffered.

Most of the United States is powered by regional energy systems, which enable participating states to draw from or pool energy resources during times of distress. Texas is different. Energy in Texas is largely under the control of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s electric load. Under ERCOT, Texas created an independent network of utilities, all within its state borders, so that it could avoid federal regulations and national utility guidelines, which allowed Texas energy companies to reap large profits. Last week, as the weather in Texas got cold very fast, demand for energy surged beyond worst case projections, and the system broke down. Texas suddenly experienced the cascading emergencies of cold, snow, ice, loss of power and freezing pipes, resulting in misery and death. Now, people are wondering whether state leaders compromised communal safety for corporate gains, and why it is that the Texas power grid is designed for profit while power grids elsewhere are focused on service to consumers.

Texas, which was briefly independent before entering the United States, retains an ethos of extreme anti-federalism and ultra-small government. The state legislature meets every two years. There is no state income tax and regulation of business is minimal.

Independence is an issue of pride. Indeed, as people throughout the state were freezing and dying of hypothermia, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Texas Gov. Rick Perry was quoted as saying, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” Still other Texans tried to blame the grid failure on green energy efforts and wind power, though those sources account for only a small fraction of energy generation in the state.

Fortunately, some Texans are willing to speak up and challenge the bravado that obscures judgment and impedes meaningful change. We encourage Texas leaders to listen to those voices and to consider alternative approaches for the benefit of its citizenry.

While independence is a good thing, and state pride is admirable, the federal government isn’t all bad. Joint action, regional cooperation, national policies and programs can all be helpful and make life and its challenges more manageable. We hope that political leaders in Texas will learn from this experience. Although the process may take time and require an attitude change in addition to the expenditure of some of the state’s deep resources, we encourage Texas to embrace the notion that we are strengthened by working together rather than by going it alone.

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