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Newsclips - February 26, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2021

At Capitol hearings, blame for Texas outages is spread all around

In their first effort at getting to the bottom of an energy calamity that left millions of Texans in the dark and dozens dead amid subfreezing temperatures last week, state lawmakers Thursday heard from utility executives, grid operators and regulators — and found fingers pointing in lots of directions. With a dash of introspection — all the players expressed sadness at the tragedy that unfolded in Texas, and some even hinted they bore some of the blame — the exchanges between lawmakers and witnesses in simultaneous hearings by Texas House and Senate committees doled out plenty of criticism: An official with the state grid operator said the bulk of the outages came from the impact of the weather, and said there is currently no legal authority to force companies to winterize.

The chief executive of a Houston-based utility said that his company had warned state officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott's chief of staff, that the grid was vulnerable and that they had to do a better job communicating with the public. State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, pointed out to several power generator executives that they had failed to communicate with ratepayers as the calamity was unfolding. In some ways, the simultaneous hearings amounted to a legislative version of a TV procedural in which suspects are grilled by police in separate interrogation rooms. Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, told Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, that his testimony was being contradicted in another hearing taking place simultaneously in the House. Creighton said representatives of power generation companies “have been pointing the finger at (grid) mismanagement” during the House hearing. Magness said he hadn't seen any of the data that the generators were using to make the assertion. “They have not shared that with me,” he said. “I’ve only heard it from members of the Legislature.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 26, 2021

‘Who’s at fault?’ Texas lawmakers grill regulators, energy industry over power crisis but get few answers

Lawmakers grilled energy industry stakeholders for hours Thursday as they reviewed the many failures in the state’s energy system last week that left millions of Texans shivering in the cold for days without power. The first hearings in the Texas House and Senate since the crippling storm included lots of questions and finger-pointing but no solutions, at least not yet. Power generators, electricity providers and regulators blamed unprecedented winter weather, a failure of communication and a lack of coordination among energy industry players for the outages and the suffering of Texas residents. But much of the lawmakers’ fire was aimed at regulators.

In the Senate, the Business and Commerce Committee had first crack at Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages power to 26 million Texans. Magness was questioned by senators for five hours. His testimony was followed, and sometimes contradicted, by DeAnn Walker, chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT. ERCOT, a nonprofit that operates the state’s electric grid, has been widely criticized by the public and state officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, since last week’s power outages. Five of its board members resigned Tuesday. The Public Utility Commission, a three-member body appointed by Abbott, had largely escaped criticism. State lawmakers changed that as they grilled the commission’s chairwoman in the first day of legislative hearings about last week’s crippling outages. Some senators seemed frustrated that the state doesn’t require power plants, wind turbine operators and other generators to weatherize — that is, to make sure their equipment can withstand extreme heat, cold and wind. Many generators’ equipment froze up and failed in last week’s cold, as it did in 2011. That storm also prompted hearings by state lawmakers. And it sparked a law that required power plants to submit plans on how they weatherize, which ERCOT then reviews. But the law doesn’t address what must be in those plans. Magness explained that ERCOT has no regulatory authority. That falls to the Public Utility Commission, he said. “We’re accountable to the PUC for everything,” Magness said. But Walker, the commission’s chairwoman, contradicted Magness’ testimony. “To say we have the amount of power that was implied is just wrong,” she said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

Days ahead of Texas' deadly blackouts, 'the warning signs were there'

On Feb. 10, five days before frigid temperatures left Texas in the dark for days, the state’s grid manager released its forecast for power demand, predicting it would spike to more than 70,000 megawatt hours that coming Sunday - an all-time record for Texas in winter. The forecast from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, went little noticed among the general public. But for energy traders, who live and die by the surpluses and shortages of the market, the demand prediction was dangerously close to all the power that would be available in perfect conditions — let alone during the freakish cold snap meteorologists were predicting. “ERCOT’s own forecast was showing major capacity deficiencies,” said Adam Sinn, president of the electricity trading firm Aspire Commodities. ‘“How could ERCOT not see this coming? It was so obvious.”

To what degree ERCOT missed the signs of the coming chaos, or just chose to stay quiet as the crisis approached remains unclear. But by the time the Feb. 10 forecast was released, ERCOT’s options already were limited under the state’s deregulated electricity markets, in which power generators determine when they run and how they maintain their plants. In a system in which prices drive both production and planning, the roots of the crisis can be traced back to November, when ERCOT released its winter forecast. The grid manager predicted that seasonal power demand, or load, would peak at about 58,000 megawatts — far below the nearly 69,000 megawatts reached Sunday, Feb. 14, just before the system began to fail. Had the forecast accounted for the possibility of more severe weather and projected, say, a peak demand of 65,000 megawatts in February — near the previous record — generators might have been better prepared to take advantage of higher prices in both the futures and real-time markets, said Aneesh Prabhu, an analyst with S&P Global Platts, an energy research firm. “That’s how supply and demand work,” he said. “No construct will help you mitigate risk when you miscalculate the load by 20 percent.”

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E & E News - February 25, 2021

Fringe weatherman advised Abbott before deadly Texas storm

Days before a historic snowstorm crippled his home state, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sought advice from an unusual source: Joe Bastardi, the go-to weather forecaster of Fox News host Sean Hannity. It was a big deal for Bastardi, who had never counseled a governor ahead of a storm. But he came highly recommended. Both Hannity and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested that Abbott talk to Bastardi, a veteran meteorologist and climate science critic who has appeared several times on Hannity's show. "I reached out to Gov. Abbott and said, 'Listen, this guy knows his stuff, and you ought to talk to him,'" Cruz told Hannity during a recent visit to Hannity's nightly Fox News program. By Bastardi's telling, the conversation with Abbott wasn't groundbreaking or controversial. "I said this is a winter version of a Category 5 hurricane," Bastardi told E&E News. But the move has raised questions among some scientists as to why Abbott consulted with an outside meteorologist — particularly one with inaccurate climate views — when Abbott had the option of touching base with weather experts in the government.

"That just confuses the information environment," said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former senior NOAA official. Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment. How Bastardi put himself in such a position says a lot about the polarization of U.S. science and politics. Bastardi is the author of "The Weaponization of Weather in the Phony Climate War." (Hannity wrote the book's foreword.) He frequently appears on Fox News to mock Democratic climate policy, and he likes to publicly spar over global warming with television personality Bill Nye. He has claimed that the Earth will be in a cooling pattern by 2030 despite a library's worth of science asserting the opposite is true. One time, Bastardi, 65, won a National Amateur Body-Builders' Association contest. Notable, too, is that Bastardi works for the private weather forecasting company WeatherBell Analytics LLC, which has clientele including many energy companies. After talking to Abbott, Bastardi said he wants Texas to do more work with private weather forecasting companies such as his. That's in spite of evidence that Texas had plenty of official warning of this month's crippling snowstorm, which knocked out power for millions and killed 80 people. Days beforehand, state and national forecasters said a historic and potentially deadly storm was about to hit the state. The National Weather Service started sounding warnings about the cold temperatures 10 days before the storm, according to a forecast analysis by the Capital Weather Gang of The Washington Post. And those warnings became increasingly dire leading up to the cold snap. The Texas Division of Emergency Management was holding statewide conference calls before the storm, and Texas' weather service was hosting webinars.

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State Stories

Texas Monthly - February 25, 2021

Chris Hooks: Who’s responsible for the Texas blackouts?

Afew years ago, a series of newspaper articles shone a harsh spotlight on the foster care system in Texas. Investigative journalists with the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News documented stomach-churning stories of cruelty and neglect made possible by an overstretched and underfunded child-welfare system. Turnover among case workers at Child Protective Services was sky-high, in part because of staggering caseloads that virtually guaranteed at-risk kids would fall through the cracks. In 2015, a federal judge wrote that Texas’s system was one in which “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm.” In 2016 alone, 217 kids died of abuse and neglect in Texas. Elected officials expressed shock and anger. Ahead of the 2017 legislative session, Governor Greg Abbott pledged to take urgent action to overhaul the “broken system.” Lawmakers berated child-welfare leaders during committee hearings at the Capitol, providing clips to be used in local TV news broadcasts. “Nothing is more important than protecting the children of Texas,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. In a letter to the head of CPS, Patrick wrote that the state leaders would “not tolerate” the agency’s “totally unacceptable” failures any longer. It was a good show. Such a good show, in fact, that it was almost possible to quiet some nagging questions: Didn’t the politicians pass the rules and budgets that starved CPS and kept it from retaining a competent workforce? Didn’t the policymakers have much better access to the inner workings of the foster care system than any reporter? Weren’t those in power ultimately responsible?

They were, of course. And they had no real reason to act surprised. The systemic problems that were hurting and killing so many kids were outlined in a 1996 report commissioned by Governor George W. Bush, a 2004 report by the comptroller’s office, and a 2010 report commissioned by Governor Rick Perry. Little changed then, nor in 2017. That year the Legislature put a bit more money into CPS, and Patrick urged churches to adopt more foster kids in a video he posted on his website. Lawmakers also partially privatized the system despite warnings from some advocates that doing so would create dangerous conflicts of interest. By 2020 the agency was in another crisis, with children removed from their parents sleeping in agency offices in record numbers for lack of any other place to send them. That’s the way our state government works, more often than not. Elected leaders do their best to ignore real problems that only they can solve, giving them more time to micromanage the affairs of city governments and argue over who should use which restrooms. When someone forces them to acknowledge what isn’t working—as was done in the case of CPS by a crusading federal judge, journalists, and advocates—many state officials profess to be shocked by the shoddiness of the systems they oversee. And then, more often than not, they make token changes and move on. From the standpoint of self-preservation, this approach works wonderfully. State leaders rarely have to pay the piper because many Texans don’t need or expect much from state government from day to day beyond, say, highway maintenance. If the state is congenitally inept, many Texans can say that’s a problem that’s happening to somebody else. But what if something were to happen that exposed Texans from all over the state and all walks of life to that ineptitude? On the night of Sunday, February 14, as Texas plunged into darkness and cold, as the lights and water went out, state government’s incompetence stopped being somebody else’s problem.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

Cornyn pushes to help states weatherize power grids after being stuck in D.C. during Texas winter storm

Texas Sen. John Cornyn was snowed out of the Lone Star State as deadly winter storms ravaged the state earlier this month. He was unable to return home to Austin after attending former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in Washington, D.C., he told reporters Thursday. The trial ended on Feb. 13, and by then Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had already issued a disaster declaration in all of Texas’ 254 counties. The freeze did not start to cause massive outages across the state until Feb. 15. After he was unable to return to Austin, Cornyn decided to go back to Washington to work remotely, he said. He announced Thursday that he will be introducing legislation to allocate grant funding to help Texas and other states prepare their energy grids for future adverse weather events.

Cornyn tried to return home to Austin, where his wife, Sandy, had traveled days ahead of him in order to receive her COVID-19 vaccination, but all his attempts were in vain — he even spent the night in Atlanta after his connecting flight to Austin was canceled. “The roads were treacherous, so we looked at perhaps going to some other locations where the airports were still open and driving,” Cornyn said, “but of course the advice we had from public safety officials was: Don’t do that, that’s dangerous. Stay off the roads if you can.” Cornyn did not receive the same heat as Cruz, who was lambasted last week after he and his family flew to Cancun as thousands of Texans remained out of power, water and food. Cruz returned a day after pictures of him on the flight circulated throughout the internet. He later admitted the short trip was “obviously a mistake” but said he was just trying to be a “good dad” to his daughters, who asked for the vacation. Cruz was roasted by late-night show hosts and former Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke, who said Cruz was “”vacationing in Cancun ... when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he’s elected to represent and to serve.” When asked about Cruz’s trip, Cornyn agreed with his fellow senator. “He said it was a mistake. And I think — I think he called that one correctly,” Cornyn said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 26, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Government failure on a grand scale

There has been a lot of talk about a market failure that left millions of Texans in the dark last week. While we await the results of investigations into precisely what made the lights go out, there is another massive failure unfolding in slow motion in our communities — one that should be noted and corrected. We’re talking, of course, about vaccine distribution. Giving a shot is a relatively simple task. It takes only a few seconds and virtually everyone can get it safely. So giving millions of shots should have been a relatively straightforward endeavor. The operational obstacles here are about scale, not complexity. The goal should have been efficiency and clarity. Set ‘em up and knock ‘em down. At least, that’s the way it should have been. It hasn’t worked out that way. A project that should have been marked by simplicity, speed and clear communication has instead featured complexity, delays and confusion.

This is government failure on a grand scale, and given that America surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths this week, mistakes here have been deadly. There’s a joke going around: if you want vaccine distribution done right, give it to Amazon. Everyone will have a shot by Wednesday. Or Monday if they have Prime. But in reality, the joke is on us. We watched the federal government buy up all the vaccines. We sat by, wishing and hoping that someone in the Trump administration knew what they were doing, that the nation who knew how to send a man to the moon would know how to queue up its citizens and jab them in the arm. But despite billions in funding and a full year to plan such a project, nothing about the task has gone smoothly. And it’s not just the feds that have fallen short. State, county and city leaders are not operating from the same playbook. There is confusion, mistrust and finger-pointing now because there wasn’t clarity, simplicity and good communication from the outset. Some good has been done and should be noted. But broadly the rollout hasn’t been what we have a right to expect.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

Costco, Zales, Jared, Kay Jewelers the latest to raise minimum wages

While Congress considers raising the U.S. minimum wage, retailers continue to make decision to pay their own employees a higher entry level pay. Costco and Signet, which owns several jewelry chains including Zales, Kay, Jared, Piercing Pagoda, said on Thursday they will raise their minimum wages. Costco, which operates 558 stores in the U.S, is going to $16 an hour starting wage from $15 – higher than Amazon’s $15 minimum and Walmart’s $11. Walmart last fall increased some wages in its stores to a minimum of $15 in bakery and deli departments.

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek announced the wage hike, which begins next week, while testifying at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Thursday. President Joe Biden has said he wants Congress to adopt $15 and such a move would raise wages for 3.5 million Texans. Signet is raising its minimum to $15 an hour, saying it’s a continuation of bonus pay during the pandemic. “We believe that raising our minimum wage is the right thing to do,” said Signet CEO Gina Drosos said in a statement Thursday. “Our team showed incredible agility, creativity and compassion this past year – learning new capabilities that accelerated our transformation, exceeded customers’ expectations and delivered the best holiday season we’ve had in nine years.” Drosos has led the company since 2017 with a culture she says “puts our employees first.” The higher wage at Signet’s 2,900 stores will be rolled out over the next 12 months, the retailer said. The company, which has a large corporate operation in Irving, also set up a fund to help support employees.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

David Sibley: I co-authored the law that deregulated the Texas electrical grid. ERCOT didn’t cause winter outages

“Misinformation rides the greased algorithmic rails of powerful social media platforms and travels at velocities and in volumes that make it nearly impossible to stop,” New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel recently wrote. Then, no matter how incorrect the misinformation is, it becomes “information.” We’ve seen that a lot recently as state leaders, the public and many others have loudly blamed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas for widespread power failures during statewide subfreezing temperatures. I write to defend ERCOT and set the record straight on what is information vs. misinformation.

First, it’s important to understand exactly what ERCOT does, and doesn’t, do. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers who represent about 90% of the state’s electric load. It schedules power on an electric grid that connects more than 46,500 miles of transmission lines and 680-plus generation units. When generation drops to dangerous levels, like it did in the early hours of Feb. 15, ERCOT tells transmission companies, municipal utilities and electric cooperatives how much energy must be shed to keep the grid stable. Those entities decide how to reduce demand and which customers have their power cut. ERCOT is not a state agency, but it answers to the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Texas Legislature. Texas just suffered through the worst winter storm in a century. As a result, electricity for much of the state was disrupted for hours and days. As bad as this was, it could have been much, much worse. Quick action by ERCOT engineers in the middle of the night on Feb. 15 saved many lives. Had they not acted when they did, the whole grid would have collapsed. Full service to the state could not have been restored for months. Imagine how many lives would have been lost if that disaster had occurred. Within two hours on that night, as the winter storm worsened, electric generation massively failed as plants stopped operating. Texas lost 41% of electricity produced by natural gas, coal and nuclear plants. Some wind turbines froze, compromising that source of electricity. Interestingly, in the days after the crisis developed, solar production doubled. On a normal February day, Texans need about 54,000 megawatts of electricity at peak demand. Early on that Monday morning we needed over 70,000 megawatts as heating our homes required more energy. When generators started going down, ERCOT was managing a full-blown disaster. Given the tools ERCOT had, it did an excellent job.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

In Houston, Abbott will lobby for more disaster aid and Biden will refrain from lecturing Texas on its grid failure

Gov. Greg Abbott will use President Joe Biden’s visit to Houston on Friday to lobby for more federal aid as Texans recover from last week’s epic grid disaster, which left millions without electricity, heat or drinkable water. Biden will bring empathy and reassurance of help from Washington, but no lectures about the dangers of under-regulation or the wisdom of putting the state’s power grid under the watchful eye of the federal government. “He’s going to be spending the day traveling with Governor Abbott and surveying the damage,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “The president doesn’t view the crisis and the millions of people who have been impacted by it as a Democratic or Republican issue... There’s plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations, and I’m sure that’s one that will be had. But right now we’re focused on getting relief to the people in the state.”

Abbott, in Corpus Christi to roll out a plan to expand vaccination efforts targeting Texas seniors, said that he and Texas emergency management chief, Nim Kidd, will brief Biden on the challenges across the state from last week’s “winter disaster.” “We will express our gratitude for the major disaster declaration already declared, but also explain the need to expand that to additional counties,” he said. Last Thursday, with millions of Texans still shivering in frigid, dark homes, Abbott asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for all 254 counties. Late Friday, Biden signed off on a declaration for 77 counties, adding 31 more on Monday. The declaration authorizes FEMA to provide grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners. Texas is not alone in getting only partial relief so far for last week’s winter storms. On Wednesday, Biden approved a major disaster declaration for 16 counties in Oklahoma, out of 77, despite the governor’s request for a statewide declaration.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

Before winter storm, Lina Hidalgo warned of Category 5 hurricane conditions. Was she right?

On Feb. 12, the Friday before harsh winter weather cut off power and water to millions of Texans, killed dozens of people and caused billions of dollars in damage, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo advised residents to prepare as if a Category 5 hurricane was on the way. “I just want to make sure that everybody knows that if the models are right, we’re about to see an incident the likes of which we have not seen in 30 years — a very high probability of power outages, dangerous conditions outside, road closures. The same type of thing we would see in a Category 5 hurricane,” Hidalgo said at a press conference. Her critics were quick to paint the comparison as hyperbolic.

The toll of last week’s winter storm still is coming into focus, but it already has become clear the damage rivals that of a major hurricane. Roughly 1.4 million customers lost power in the Houston metro area. Nearly 80 people across Texas died from hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and other storm-related causes, according to an Associated Press tally as of Monday. Grocery stores, facing food shortages, imposed limits on certain items including eggs, milk and bread even days after power was restored. And a water crisis unfolded as nearly the entire Houston area — and more than 14 million people across the state — were ordered to boil their water before drinking it, even as many lacked running water or the electricity to operate their stoves. It is too early to tell if the winter freeze will prove costlier statewide than Hurricane Harvey, which inflicted $125 billion in damage concentrated in southeast Texas. What is evident is that both storms left behind widespread property damage: County and city officials estimate that tens of thousands of Houston-area residents have burst water pipes or other damage from last week’s weather, a total that does not include the many residents who shut off their water without reporting damage to local government.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

How Texas fails the mentally ill

Ann Wallace sat on the couch in her west Houston home on a winter evening in 2015, with her husband, Don, 86, by her side. They had just finished dinner and were ending their day as they had so many others: watching the news and worrying about their son, Don. Before his first psychotic break at 35, Don had built the kind of life any parent would be proud of. He’d graduated from Texas A&M University with a mechanical engineering degree, married his college sweetheart and had a beautiful baby girl. He was so close with his parents that his father was his best man at his wedding. But suddenly, Don, their Don, disappeared. He started hearing voices, seeing spies. He believed that people were after him. His parents tried repeatedly to get him help, but in 2014 he went off his medication, threw a rock through a window and took a swing at a police officer. He was committed to Rusk State Hospital three hours north of Houston over his parents’ objections. They counted the days until his release. Only one more week. Suddenly, the phone rang. “There was an assault in the dining hall,” said the caller, a nurse at Rusk. “Don’s unconscious.”

As Don died slowly, his parents repeatedly asked state and hospital officials what had happened to him. But years later, they’re still searching for answers, along with thousands of other Texans. A yearlong Houston Chronicle investigation found that the Wallaces’ son was housed in a secretive system that has suffered for years from underfunding and insufficient oversight. Texas’ mental health system is strained beyond capacity, with waitlists for hospital beds that stretch on for sometimes up to a year. The state’s lack of oversight is so extreme that officials were unable to say which private hospitals received state funds for bed space to help reduce the waitlist. The state just started collecting that information in September. The state’s 10 public mental hospitals are supposed to be a kind of last safety net for the ill and indigent, but many of them are chaotic and dangerous places, where police visit up to 14 times a day. And that’s for people lucky enough to find a bed. Budget cuts in the mid-2000s— and a law that streamlined the process of finding someone incompetent to stand trial — left the state unable to keep up with demand for psychiatric hospital beds, creating a shortage that has left some mentally ill people awaiting trial languishing for months in county jails with little support. While the state has tried to expand its bed space and its funding for community mental health programs, it hasn’t done so fast enough. Some 3.3 million adult Texans — about one in nine adults — suffered from mental illness between 2017 and 2018, the latest data available, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly 840,000 of them reported having unmet needs during that time. Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials repeatedly denied the Chronicle’s requests for interviews with mental health leaders, including Timothy Bray, association commissioner for state hospital systems, and Dorthy Floyd, former superintendent of Terrell State Hospital who has served as the chairwoman of the Dangerousness Review Board. The board determines if a patient can be moved from a maximum security mental facility to one with minimum security.

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Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2021

More than a week after the freeze, some Houstonians still don't have water

More than a week after the paralyzing winter freeze in Texas, Fifth Ward residents Melissa Turner and Brittney Brown still need bottled water to survive. The apartment dwellers are not alone. They are part of a swath of Fifth Ward residents near the 1900 block of Benson Street, many elderly or with children, who cannot find fixes for pipes that burst in the extreme cold. Turner, who lives with her 12-year-old and 17-year-old kids, said she goes through up to three cases a day for basic needs such as washing and flushing toilets. Brown said the neighbors mostly have been on their own, looking for the coveted cases among a limited supply at area stores. “It’s really stressful to have to deal with all that, but I try to deal with it the best I can, from day to day,” said Brown, who does not have her own transportation.

The residents were provided a reprieve Thursday as community organizers, Houston police and local activists doled out food and more than 400 cases of water to the neighborhood. It is unclear how many people are suffering similar circumstances in Houston. The city does not have a way to track burst pipes on private property aside from 311 requests, and not all residents report those issues. As of Thursday morning, the city has received 10,476 calls for water service requests, which account for everything from fire hydrants to water main breaks to home leaks, according to Public Works. The stark need in this historically neglected community was a reminder to activists and local leaders that the impact of last week’s freeze continues for likely thousands of residents. “In case you’re wondering ... not everyone has gotten back to the ‘normal,’” said Chrishelle Palay, the executive director of the Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition. “This is (especially) true for communities that are always forgotten during ‘normal’ times.” Community organizer Amatullah Contractor discovered the neighborhood’s immense need Wednesday. She saw a friend, Marcel McClinton, post on Twitter that drivers were needed to help deliver water, and she volunteered. She drove to Benson Street to help a resident. When she revealed the water supply in her trunk, residents surrounded her within minutes in search of help.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

Houston Democrat chastised for mentioning climate change at Texas power grid hearing

State Sen. John Whitmire barely got the word “climate change” out of his mouth before the Republican chairman of the committee looking into last week’s electricity grid failures interrupted him. State Sen. Kelly Hancock, a North Texas Republican, told Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, he wanted the committee to focus on what happened last week and not get into a discussion about things like climate change. “This is a discussion where we can chase a lot of rabbits. We can go in a lot of different directions,” Hancock said.

Hancock said he wanted to focus on what was predicted and whether we should have known what was coming “rather than get off into a climate change discussion at this point.” Whitmire set Hancock off after he asked a meteorologist that had been called to testify if the state should expect more frigid weeks like it last week because of the impact of climate change. The exchange came during the first hearings in the Texas Senate on the deadly storms from last week that left millions of Texans without power and running water. Lawmakers say they are determined to get to the bottom of why the state wasn’t better prepared.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

CenterPoint: Customers should expect higher natural gas bills

CenterPoint Energy said Thursday that its customers should expect higher natural gas bills after short supplies and high demand sent natural gas prices soaring during the recent winter storm. The utility, which has about 1.1 million gas customers in the Houston area, said it spent an additional $1.25 billion buying natural gas last week as temperatures plunged into the teens — and lower. CenterPoint executives said the company will seek a review from the state Railroad Commission, which oversees natural gas utilities, to pass the added costs onto customers. The increases would likely come in the the third quarter, which begins in July, executives said. The amount the bills might rise has yet to be determined. "The company is reviewing all available options to lessen the bill impact to customers," said Alejandra Diaz, a CenterPoint spokesperson.

CenterPoint disclosed the higher natural gas costs during a call with analysts after releasing its earnings for the fourth quarter and all of 2020. The company said its fourth quarter profits rose 27 percent to $200 million from $157 million in 2019. Revenues rose slightly, to $2.05 billion from $2.02 billion in fourth quarter of 2019. For the year, the CenterPoint said it lost $773 million in 2020, compared with $791 million profit for 2019. Annual revenue declined about 2 percent to $7.42 billion from $7.56 billion. Natural gas spot prices surged last week as bitter cold spread across the nation, creating high demand for natural gas for both heating and power generation. Railroad Commission officials said they would work with utilities to prevent customers from getting unusually high bills in coming weeks. “Texans have gone through enough hardship during this winter storm without having to worry about unexpected additional energy costs,” Commissioner Wayne Christian said in a statement. “Our agency will do everything in our power to ensure utilities have plenty of time to get caught up on these unexpected expenses, so consumers are not unduly burdened.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2021

Ken Herman: Placing blame, finding solutions for the power outages that crippled Texas

Your Texas Legislature, in separate, simultaneous hearings on the House and Senate side, went to work Thursday on what, inevitably, is being called “Wintergate” by some. The Senate Committee on Business and Commerce met in the Senate chamber. The House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees met in joint session in one of the House’s underground meeting rooms. Witnesses from all sides of the energy equation planned to shuttle between hearings as our elected leaders did an after-action review of an act of God (perhaps depending on your views on climate change) that was complicated by the failures of humans. In the hearings, the goal was to figure out which humans failed. Or, more precisely because this was a complicated web of failure, which humans failed the worst.

On the House side, State Affairs Chairman Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, got things going by noting “to call this unacceptable would be a severe understatement. It was an unmitigated catastrophe that will take years to unwind and will affect Texans for years,” Paddie said, still, somehow, understating it, especially for families who lost loved ones. On the Senate side, Chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, opened with a prayer, standard procedure for floor sessions but highly unusual for committee hearings. “And so we call upon God, in this time of suffering, of death, of destruction, Father, we pray for your comfort. … This is about the people of Texas, regardless of race, age, creed or political party,” Hancock prayed. Thoughtful, but God knows nothing that happens at the Capitol happens regardless of political party. And this disaster is ripe for it. If you’re a Republican who's not a fan of renewable energy sources, this event proved why they’re an undependable source. If you're a Democrat who thinks deregulating the electricity biz was a bad idea, this event proved your point. So much went wrong that there’s evidence for pretty much whatever point you want to prove.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2021

Abbott: Texas poised to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of a statewide program to vaccinate homebound seniors Thursday, saying he expects vaccine shipments to ramp up in the coming weeks, which will allow Texas to move on to new tiers of vaccine recipients "sometime in March." Texas currently allows COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers and other first responders, those 65 and older and 16 and older with underlying health conditions. It's not clear who will be next in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine in Texas. The state's Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel will determine the next group, which must be approved by Dr. John Hellerstedt, the commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"The good news is there's going to be a record amount of vaccines available across Texas this week, with increasing numbers going forward," Abbott said, speaking from a fire station in Corpus Christi. The state is set to receive 1.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week, which will include second doses and vaccines that were delayed due to last week's winter storms. Abbott said President Joe Biden has told him that the state will receive even more than that "in the coming days." The increase in supply will allow the state to expand beyond those currently eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Abbott said, adding that he expects the Texas to move beyond 1A and 1B groups in March. "With the amount of the vaccines that we are getting, I would anticipate it being very soon," he said. Abbott also said the increase in vaccinations could lead to the end of coronavirus restrictions, including the statewide mask order. Most Texas businesses, including restaurants, must keep their occupancy rates at 75%. Businesses in areas where coronavirus patients make up more than 15% of available beds must reduce occupancy to 50%. Bars in those areas must close and elective procedures must halt.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2021

'This just feels insufficient:' Austin City Council gets few answers on winter storm

On Thursday, the Austin City Council gathered to address last week's winter weather meltdown – council members got little opportunity to grill utility officials on what happened that led to much of the city losing power and water and what's being done to make sure it doesn't happen again. Morning briefings from utility executives Sidney Jackson of Austin Energy and Greg Meszaros of Austin Water included a brief question-and-answer period, with each council member limited to a single inquiry or comment. The meeting's design was for the council to approve financial assistance to residents staring at scary bills from the storm and not to get a thorough explanation on last week's events. "This just feels insufficient... "There's so much that we've been downloading over the last several days. I have so many questions I don't even know where to start to be honest with you," Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said.

Alison Alter, the council member representing Northwest Austin, had tough words for Austin Energy. She said 40% of her district lost power from Feb. 11-14, even before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, commonly known as ERCOT, ordered Austin Energy to cut the lights on 220,000 homes throughout the city to prevent the state grid from collapsing. Utilities in other cities received similar requests. The early outages in Alter's district were the result of iced tree branches and other vegetation interfering with power lines – a situation Alter suggested Austin Energy failed to quickly address. "I think it's really important that this council sends a very clear message to the community that we are intent on investigating what happened and understanding what went wrong, what went right, and how we can move forward," Alter said. "I want to be really clear on Austin Energy that this is not just about ERCOT. We in some sense experienced two emergencies connected by the weather." Later in the meeting, Alter said she was interested in knowing why residents in her district were not alerted to the outages through the city's reverse 911 system.

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KXAN - February 25, 2021

Rep. Joe Moody announces formation of criminal justice reform caucus, more efforts on police transparency

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said he will be co-chairing the criminal justice reform caucus in the House, a bipartisan group formally created Wednesday, with counterpart chairman State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. The group will help focus efforts, like passing police transparency laws, in a truncated legislative session packed with priorities, Moody said. The caucus was “born out of a lot of frustration at the end of last session,” he added. State representatives Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, and James White, R-Hillister, are vice-chairs on the caucus. Moody discussed the caucus and transparency reform efforts during a live panel discussion on increasing law enforcement transparency hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

“The Public Information Act should be driven by the public. Our default setting is we want more information,” Moody said. “The default setting for the government shouldn’t be to restrict our access to that information.” The panelists discussed transparency issues that will, or should, be addressed in the current legislative session. Those reforms include better public access to police body camera footage, stronger enforcement of custodial death reporting laws and another effort by Moody to reform the so-called dead-suspect loophole. That loophole has allowed law enforcement agencies to keep records secret in cases where a suspect died in custody. Agencies are not required to release records in cases that have not resulted in a conviction or deferred adjudication. Since the case of a person who died in custody will never be completed, those records, including video of the incident, can be suppressed. Moody and others trying to revise the loophole ran into a headwind last legislative session, when law enforcement unions, namely Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas–one of the state’s largest and most powerful, opposed the legislation. “I’m very disappointed that when we were trying to get to the bottom of something that was important, in terms of transparency efforts, that we were met with that type of dishonesty,” Moody said. “We addressed every single one of their concerns, and they turned and told us all that we hated cops and wanted to see more dead cops. That’s essentially what they turned to.”

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KXAN - February 25, 2021

Missing in Texas: ‘John and Joseph’s Law’ could require police to report to NamUs

Standing on the side of a packed street in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, David Fritts held his son’s picture and talked to anyone who would listen. The photo was a more recent one of Joseph smiling. Fritts would show it to shop owners along the border and people crossing from Texas. He would tell them that he was 5’10”, with brown hair and brown eyes and was last in the Laredo area. “It’s really hard to describe the feeling of looking for your son with a picture and showing it to people … at one moment you’re determined and the other you feel so vulnerable,” the father described. “A lot of people were so kind … really caring people saying, ‘Oh I’m so sad,’ and they would look at the picture and say, ‘Oh, that’s your son, isn’t it?'” He would make the trip countless times, even going to Costa Rica because Joseph loved to surf. “Weeks turned into months,” Fritts said. “As time passed, especially after his brother Jordan’s birthday … we were all realizing how dire it was.”

Joseph was Fritts’ middle child. “He was so full of life and had so many great friends and always lit up the room. He was just such a character,” he said, smiling. Fritts recalled how he excelled in college and then how proud he was when he joined the Marines. Joseph had let his dad know that he was going to Mexico near the Laredo border and even shared his location information. Several days passed where no one could reach Joseph. Fritts said that’s when he started to worry. “We always talked to each other. We were really close … so I knew something was wrong,” he recalled. His family filed a missing persons report on Nov. 3 with the Houston Police Department. Fritts then drove to San Antonio to check with the Mexican Attorney General if Joseph had used his passport and crossed the border. He had not. Fritts then drove to Laredo and ended up finding Joseph’s car at a shopping center at the border, but there were no signs of his son. His family then filed missing persons reports in Laredo and Mexico. “This is really a difficult situation for a parent to be in and really just consumes you in every way,” Fritts explained. After almost two years of searching, on Sept. 20, 2019, Fritts finally got the call from Houston police telling him that Joseph’s body had been recovered in the Rio Grande River in Laredo.

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WFAA - February 26, 2021

Houston prepares to welcome President Joe Biden, First Lady

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will touch down in Houston on Friday. His visit is planned to focus on winter storm recovery and COVID-19 vaccines. One of the biggest needs from the winter storm was access to basic things like water and food. At the Houston Food Bank, sources tell KHOU that Biden will be thanking volunteers for helping Texas recover. We’ve seen the lines across Houston full of people desperate to find food and water after the winter storm. Now, those struggles will be seen on a national stage.

“Gov. (Greg) Abbott, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to coming down to Houston to be with you," Biden said. Biden will also make stops tomorrow at Harris County’s Emergency Operations Center and NRG Park. That’s where one of the first FEMA megasites in the country is vaccinating 6,000 people a day.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 26, 2021

Another ERCOT board member resigns after Texas winter storm, power outages

Another Electric Reliability Council of Texas board member has resigned following the winter storm that left millions without power. Clifton Karnei, executive vice president of the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc., resigned Thursday, a spokesperson for ERCOT confirmed. Karnei’s resignation comes after six other board members vacated their seats following backlash about their living outside of Texas. During a Thursday hearing in the Texas House of Representatives, ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said he’d learned a longtime board member had resigned, but did not provide a name.

It was not immediately clear why Karnei resigned, but Magness said “I think that has to do more with his company.” Asked why Karnei resigned, spokesperson Leslie Sopko said in a text she did not know and that ERCOT had just received word of his resignation Thursday evening. Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc. is based in Waco. Karnei’s city of residence was not immediately clear. A message left on Karnei’s office phone was not immediately returned. Karnei’s name, along with other board members who’ve resigned this week, is no longer listed on ERCOT’s website. But according to an archived webpage containing his biography, Karnei has held his position with Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. since 1997. He graduated in 1983 from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Five board members and an alternate board member announced their resignations earlier this week.

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Click2Houston - February 26, 2021

Biden in Houston: Here is a look at what the president plans to do during his visit

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Houston Friday as Texas recovers from the winter storm. The president will also meet with Gov. Greg Abbott at the FEMA vaccine super-site at NRG around 5 p.m. Friday. This will be Biden’s last stop after touring several locations. Biden is expected to survey damage and recovery efforts following the deadly winter storm. White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki said this is not a partisan issue for the president.

“The president doesn’t view the crisis and the millions of people who have been impacted by (the storm) as a Democratic or a Republican issue” Psaki said. “He views it as an issue where he’s eager to get relief, to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make sure the people of Texas know we’re thinking about them, we’re fighting for them, and we’re going to continue working on this as they’re recovering.” According to the White House, the president and first lady will arrive at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base at noon. Then they will make stops at the Houston Food Bank, Harris County Emergency Operations Center before taking a tour at the FEMA super-site. Abbott said he will join the president during the tour to discuss several key issues impacting Texans. “The first thing that we will talk about will be the winter disaster that occurred,” Abbott said. “…And then, on top of that, we will be visiting one of the vaccine super sites they have located in Houston.” According to the White House, Biden will deliver remarks after touring the vaccination site.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2021

How did at least 86 people die in Austin area during Texas freeze? It remains a mystery

Travis County officials this week confirmed they were investigating a climbing number of fatalities in the days after freezing weather and power outages slammed Texas last week. Hector Nieto, public information officer for the county, said the medical examiner’s office was busy processing at least 86 cases from Feb. 13-20 to determine the causes of death. “But it’s important to note of those, 64 originate in Travis County, and the remaining are out-of-county cases,” Nieto said. The other 22 cases included in the 86 come from surrounding counties that don’t have a medical examiner, he said. The winter weather brought record freezing temperatures to the state last week, left 4 million customers without electricity and almost half the state's 29 million people under boil water advisories.

Nieto said the medical examiner's office did not suspend operations last week because of the severe winter weather but experienced some initial delays, requiring the medical examiner's staff to work through the weekend to help finish processing last week's deaths. It was unclear whether the cause and manner of death in those cases have been determined, or whether any of the deaths were directly related to complications from the winter storm. Power had been restored in most of the state by Wednesday. Travis County's boil order was lifted Wednesday, but many other counties across the state remained under boil water orders. More than 70 deaths have been linked to the intense cold and damaging storms that swept through a wide swath of the nation last week and about half of those reported fatalities occurred in Texas.

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City Stories

KXAN - February 25, 2021

90 Austin ISD schools harmed in winter storms, resulting in $15 million in damage

After four days of walk-through inspections and assessments, Austin Independent School District officials say 90 schools were affected during the historic winter storms last week, resulting in approximately $15 million worth of damage. Matias Segura, operations manager for AISD, said the district experienced everything from broken water and supply lines, downed HVAC systems and flooding that started in adjacent, unrelated properties that spilled into the schools. Segura said the vast majority of schools will be able to receive students beginning March 1, when Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde announced in-person learning can resume.

The schools hit the hardest were Kocurek Elementary School, Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Academy, Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy and Bowie High School, Segura said. The recommendation for those schools is still being determined. “Our commitment is to make sure that our facilities are warm, safe and dry. That is absolutely critical. We will not open a space up until its 100% ready to go,” Segura said. “What that means is that we will need patience. We are going to need some grace to get through the work.” Repairs have already begun using money tied to the district’s general fund, under the assumption the district will be reimbursed by either insurance or FEMA at a later date. Segura said while most schools will be open for students Monday, some wings of the schools may be locked down for student and staff safety.

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National Stories

New York Times - February 25, 2021

The coronavirus is plotting a comeback. Here’s our chance to stop it for good.

Across the United States, and the world, the coronavirus seems to be loosening its stranglehold. The deadly curve of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has yo-yoed before, but never has it plunged so steeply and so fast. Is this it, then? Is this the beginning of the end? After a year of being pummeled by grim statistics and scolded for wanting human contact, many Americans feel a long-promised deliverance is at hand. Americans will win against the virus and regain many aspects of their pre-pandemic lives, most scientists now believe. Of the 21 interviewed for this article, all were optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is past. This summer, they said, life may begin to seem normal again. But — of course, there’s always a but — researchers are also worried that Americans, so close to the finish line, may once again underestimate the virus. So far, the two vaccines authorized in the United States are spectacularly effective, and after a slow start, the vaccination rollout is picking up momentum. A third vaccine is likely to be authorized shortly, adding to the nation’s supply.

But it will be many weeks before vaccinations make a dent in the pandemic. And now the virus is shape-shifting faster than expected, evolving into variants that may partly sidestep the immune system. The latest variant was discovered in New York City only this week, and another worrisome version is spreading at a rapid pace through California. Scientists say a contagious variant first discovered in Britain will become the dominant form of the virus in the United States by the end of March. The road back to normalcy is potholed with unknowns: how well vaccines prevent further spread of the virus; whether emerging variants remain susceptible enough to the vaccines; and how quickly the world is immunized, so as to halt further evolution of the virus. But the greatest ambiguity is human behavior. Can Americans desperate for normalcy keep wearing masks and distancing themselves from family and friends? How much longer can communities keep businesses, offices and schools closed? Covid-19 deaths will most likely never rise quite as precipitously as in the past, and the worst may be behind us. But if Americans let down their guard too soon — many states are already lifting restrictions — and if the variants spread in the United States as they have elsewhere, another spike in cases may well arrive in the coming weeks. Scientists call it the fourth wave. The new variants mean “we’re essentially facing a pandemic within a pandemic,” said Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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New York Times - February 25, 2021

Neera Tanden: First Cabinet-level casualty of the Twitter age?

Neera Tanden, you might have heard, has a Twitter problem. Ms. Tanden, President Biden’s choice to run the Office of Management and Budget, has a yearslong trail of problematic tweets, many aimed at certain key senators who control the increasingly precarious fate of her nomination. A procession of these senators — Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and the Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah — have indicated that they are unlikely to support Ms. Tanden, in part because of the “divisive” and “overly partisan” nature of her tweets. This has set the stage for the still-undecided Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who was asked on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a real-time update on her own thinking. As a visual aid, a Washington Post reporter, Seung Min Kim, showed Ms. Murkowski one tweet from 2017 in which Ms. Tanden had been critical of Ms. Murkowski after the senator praised Republican efforts to cut corporate taxes. “No offense, but this sounds like you’re high on your own supply,” Ms. Tanden wrote. “You know, we know, and everyone knows this is all just garbage. Just stop.”

“High on my own supply? That’s interesting,” Ms. Murkowski said, reading the tweet aloud for dramatic effect. Interesting! “Should I ask her? My own supply of what?” Ms. Murkowski wondered along with everyone else. Did Ms. Tanden mean drugs, alcohol, hallucinogens? Ms. Murkowski, who added that she remained undecided on how she would vote, was expected to speak with Ms. Tanden on Thursday. But it was safe to assume that Ms. Tanden’s tweet about Ms. Murkowski was not helpful. And Ms. Tanden’s reservoir of possible Republican votes was at this point getting to be in even shorter supply. Which leaves the possibility that she may become the first cabinet-level casualty of the Twitter age. This was not the kind of history Ms. Tanden was hoping to make. There has been much talk of double standards, opportunism, hypocrisy and all of the things that make politicians rather easy to call out.

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Axios - February 26, 2021

Boehner goes off script, tells Cruz to "go f**k yourself"

John Boehner has been going off script while recording the audio version of his new memoir, using expletives and asides not in the book — such as the former Republican House speaker saying, “Oh, and Ted Cruz, go f**k yourself." Why it matters: The book is appropriately titled, “On the House: A Washington Memoir." It promises to share “colorful tales from the halls of power, the smoke-filled rooms around the halls of power and his fabled tour bus.” Two sources familiar with the tapings told Axios about the asides.

The audio version, which includes an even heftier price tag of $39.99, will be sprinkled with Boehner's unfiltered, baritone, inner monologue. Similar to the cover — where he’s pictured in a dark room, drinking red wine with a cigarette burning in an ashtray — Boehner has been taping his audiobook with a glass of wine in hand. The Ohioan never hid his penchant for tan skin and red wine, or his love of cigarettes (two packs a day). Boehner, 71, was one of 12 children and worked in his family's suburban Cincinnati bar as a child. He went into plastics sales after college before turning to politics. He served as a state representative from 1985 to 1990, before being elected to the House.

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Bloomberg - February 25, 2021

GameStop soars again. Is it related to activist investor Ryan Cohen’s ice cream tweet?

GameStop Corp. soared Thursday as retail investors revived the surge in Reddit-favorite stocks, pushing it to reap $5.9 billion in market value over two days. The Grapevine-based video-game retailer rose as much as 85% to $170.01 in New York, its highest since Feb. 1, as trading volume soared. Among other favorites of traders populating Reddit forums, AMC Entertainment Inc. advanced 13% after gaining 59% in the first three days of the week, while Koss Corp. surged 64%. Nokia Oyj, also a favorite of the meme crowd, climbed 7.4% in Europe. The meteoric rally in some Reddit-promoted stocks triggered volatility halts in GameStop, Koss and Express Inc. The surge was initially spurred by a final-hour rally on Wednesday that brought GameStop its biggest advance since Jan. 29, the day Robinhood Markets restricted trading in it and 49 other stocks at the height of the frenzy.

An equally weighted Bloomberg basket of those rose more than 5%, the most since late January. The activity inflated trading volumes in the meme stocks and caused an outage on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, the hub of the January volatility. GameStop shares trimmed gains to 23% to $112.98 as of 9:48 a.m. in New York, triggering its third trading halt for volaility of the day. With more than 23 million shares changing hands within the first 15 minutes of the session, the stock was on pace for its most active day since it peaked last month. Reddit’s hold on early trading was notable with GameStop, movie-theater operator AMC, cannabis company Sundial Growers Inc. and apparel company Naked Brand Group Ltd. the four most active stocks that trade for more than $1. The sudden revival in left-for-dead stocks recalled an episode last month that captured the attention of Wall Street, regulators and eventually Congress, as members of Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum egged on retail hordes in an attempt to take on professional short sellers.

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Associated Press - February 25, 2021

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia

The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. Biden's decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington. Speaking shortly after the airstrikes, he added, “We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes," referring to a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition personnel. Austin said he recommended the action to Biden. “We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. "We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.” Earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. action was a “proportionate military response” taken together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel," Kirby said. "At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”

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Washington Post - February 25, 2021

Cuomo, once touted as the 'gold standard,' finds his brand tarnished by multiple crises

As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the country last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched an Emmy-winning daytime television show, using his daily briefings to channel the nation's grief, showcase how he was taking charge and share the secrets of his family's spaghetti dinners. He published a best-selling book about his leadership, saw his state approval numbers rise to 66% and repeatedly denied any interest in the next logical step: running for president. Now, cases of covid-19 in his state are receding, and so are the glory days of Cuomo's third term as governor. A former adviser has accused him of sexual harassment, fellow Democrats are publicly condemning what they describe as bullying backroom behavior, and federal investigators are probing the state's handling of nursing home data amid allegations that Cuomo's administration withheld the extent of deaths caused by the virus.

The sudden shift in fortunes for Cuomo, which has potentially clouded what looked to be an easy reelection campaign next year, comes as an abrupt turnabout for those who first encountered the governor during his daily news conferences. He was widely praised for offering the country the sort of strong leadership many saw missing from the White House under President Donald Trump. The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave him an Emmy for "his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world." He even welcomed the term "Cuomosexual" used by some of his online fans. But for those steeped in New York politics, little is surprising about the recent turn of events, save perhaps how many people have publicly turned against the governor. The rough edges Cuomo once sold as an asset - "My natural instinct is to be aggressive," he wrote in his last book - are now emerging as a liability. "This is not just an aggressive politician. This is someone who has a narrative, and if you do not publicly agree with that narrative, he will threaten you," said Monica Klein, a liberal activist who previously worked for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, a fierce rival of the governor. "What that means is dissent is silenced."

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Newsclips - February 25, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

Craig Goldman and Chris Paddie: House will leave no stone unturned during ERCOT hearing

A 2017 presentation by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas about electric generator weatherization referenced a quote from founding father Benjamin Franklin, who stated, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Last week demonstrated clearly that our state failed to prepare with dire consequences. Now we must prepare to address the catastrophic blackouts that led to millions of Texans losing power for hours or days on end. The electric outages had fatal consequences across the state, with numerous reports of Texans dying from hypothermia in unheated residences or carbon monoxide poisoning as they sought warmth. We grieve and pray for those families mourning the loss of a loved one. State officials will remember these victims as we take stock of the failures that led to blackouts and fatalities to prevent it from happening again.

Today, Texans are full of grief, fear and mistrust, and it is the responsibility of those of us in leadership to do what is necessary and do what is right to earn that trust back. That begins with state leaders taking collective responsibility for this tragic mess and reforming the labyrinthine electric market. Last week House Speaker Dade Phelan called for hearings to get to the bottom of what happened. Recognizing that this issue is exceptionally complex, the two committees we chair — Texas House Energy Resources and State Affairs — will hold hearings this week to seek answers from ERCOT, from the Public Utility Commission of Texas that oversees ERCOT and from power suppliers, producers and delivery companies that lacked essential winterized infrastructure. Gov. Greg Abbott announced that an audit of ERCOT and the retrofitting of electric generation plants to withstand extreme weather conditions are two of his emergency items for the current 87th legislative session. As a state, we must look unflinchingly at the information and warning signs provided to state officials during the last decade about vulnerabilities during extreme weather. We must shelve the political grandstanding and seek solutions before seeking to blame. We must take accountability and do better. This hearing is just the beginning of a longer road toward recovery. It is only a first step — and we are not going to solve everything in one hearing. To effectively address a disaster of this magnitude, we will need to identify long-term solutions because this is a long-term recovery. The conversations we have this week will help shape the state’s response going forward, and the Texas House will leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

ERCOT was minutes from a 'black start' that would have killed power, cell signals in Texas for weeks

Last week's winter storm strained the Texas grid more than ever before, bringing it dangerously close to a "black start" event that could have taken weeks to fix, grid operators said during an emergency meeting Wednesday. A black start would have plunged the entire grid into frigid darkness indefinitely, taking cell service along with it while the Electric Reliability Council of Texas worked to rebuild the grid. Grid operators likened the role ERCOT plays to that of an air traffic control room. "I think it's important the public understand, ERCOT was flying a 747," said Peter Cramton, who was vice-chair before he resigned today. "It had not one but two engines experience catastrophic failure, then flew the damaged plane for 103 hours before safely landing in the Hudson. In my mind, the men and women in the air traffic control room are heroes.”

Cramton and Chair Sally Talberg will step down today following the meeting, which is ongoing, as will board members Raymond Hepper, Terry Bulger and Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, according to the Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid manager. At the start of the meeting, Ansetti-Parra told listeners the board seat she held for five weeks was an unpaid position. The meeting came a week after a historic winter storm forced statewide blackouts, disrupted water supplies and left dozens of people dead. "We regret that this event took the time it did to resolve," said Bill Magness, ERCOT's president and chief executive. "And in this presentation we’ll try to explain what we saw." The extreme cold knocked about half of the grid's electricity generation offline, Magness said, or 52,277 megawatts out of 107,514 megawatts of total installed capacity. He couldn't answer questions during the meeting about the specific reasons why so much generation came offline, but said ERCOT requested information from generators that will help shed light on what brought down power generation. Because so many power plants were forced to shut down, operators weren't able to control the outages, rotating them as they have during past events, Magness said. At the same time generation took that major blow, supplies surged to new heights.

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Wall Street Journal - February 24, 2021

Texas electric bills were $28 billion higher under deregulation

Texas’s deregulated electricity market, which was supposed to provide reliable power at a lower price, left millions in the dark last week. For two decades, its customers have paid more for electricity than state residents who are served by traditional utilities, a Wall Street Journal analysis has found. Nearly 20 years ago, Texas shifted from using full-service regulated utilities to generate power and deliver it to consumers. The state deregulated power generation, creating the system that failed last week. And it required nearly 60% of consumers to buy their electricity from one of many retail power companies, rather than a local utility.

Those deregulated Texas residential consumers paid $28 billion more for their power since 2004 than they would have paid at the rates charged to the customers of the state’s traditional utilities, according to the Journal’s analysis of data from the federal Energy Information Administration. The crisis last week was driven by the power producers. Now that power has largely been restored, attention has turned to retail electric companies, a few of which are hitting consumers with steep bills. Power prices surged to the market price cap of $9,000 a megawatt hour for several days during the crisis, a feature of the state’s system designed to incentivize power plants to supply more juice. Some consumers who chose variable rate power plans from retail power companies are seeing the big bills. None of this was supposed to happen under deregulation. Backers of competition in the electricity-supply business promised it would lower prices for consumers who could shop around for the best deals, just as they do for cellphone service. The system would be an improvement over monopoly utilities, which have little incentive to innovate and provide better service to customers, supporters of deregulation said. “If all consumers don’t benefit from this, we will have wasted our time and failed our constituency,” then-state Sen. David Sibley, a key author of the bill to deregulate the market, said when the switch was first unveiled in 1999. “Competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates,” then-Gov. George W. Bush said later that year.

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CNN - February 25, 2021

Trump plots future -- and revenge -- from sunny Florida links

In a South Florida war room, occupied most days by a party of one, a former President of the United States is plotting his return -- and his revenge. He typically spends mornings on his nearby golf course, making and taking calls from a golf cart that doubles as his mobile, and self-driven, office. The multiple trips to the links in the last few weeks have served to accomplish a long-promised goal, says someone who spent time with him recently: Donald Trump claims he has increased his drive by 20 yards, a new favorite brag to golfing partners, or anyone who will listen. Eighteen holes later, he leaves his Trump International Golf Club and returns to Mar-a-Lago, where he retreats within his quarters to his own private living space, separate from that of his wife, and ponders two main questions: Who is with him? And who is against him?

According to multiple people familiar with Trump's current habits, who requested anonymity to speak freely to CNN about the former President's day-to-day focus, his stated goal -- barring impact from ongoing criminal investigation -- is to run for president again, in 2024. Of course, he has no incentive to rule it out right now -- keeping himself in the mix helps sustain his kingmaker role. Looking to flex on 2022, he hopes to prove to both critics and supporters that he is the GOP's most effective puppeteer -- a role he will likely remind the party of during his weekend appearance at Conservative Political Action Conference. His short-term goal includes watching his son Donald Trump Jr., the MAGA base's fervent mouthpiece, barnstorm his way across the country on behalf of Trump loyalists and supporters for midterms. "Once 2022 kicks into high gear, expect Don (Trump Jr.) to be an extremely active presence on the campaign trail," a person who works with Trump Jr. told CNN, confirming not only the younger Trump's taste for political battle but that of the former President, as well.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

Texas college students struggle with bills after winter storm disrupted campus jobs

Some student workers now are worried about paying rent and other bills after their North Texas universities decided not to pay them for wages lost during last week’s winter storms. Kelsey Horton, a sophomore at the University of North Texas, relies on her paycheck as a front desk clerk at the school’s Honors Hall. Scheduled for work, Horton was driving to campus on Feb. 14 when she hit a patch of ice and got into a wreck, totaling her car in the process. It now sits outside of her parent’s home.

After the university announced it would close its campus for the week, her supervisors told her not to worry about showing up. Then she found out on Friday that she would not be compensated for the lost week. “How else am I going to get another car if I don’t get money? How else am I going to pay my utility bills?” said Horton, adding that she is afraid her water bill will spike after letting her faucets drip to prevent her apartment’s pipes from bursting. Horton already works a second job delivering food for services like Doordash and Favor that she picked up after her roommate moved out a couple of months ago. Because UNT had previously compensated student workers after it shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Horton expected the same response. “It stressed me out way more than I should be feeling right now because the world’s already in a stressful place, and then this just adds to it,” she said. Similarly, the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at Tyler, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and Dallas College will not be compensating students who were unable to work during the campus closure.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

Greg Abbott: ‘No words can fix’ devastation Texans went through last week. State will speak through actions

Gov. Greg Abbott assured Texans late Wednesday that he shares their anger over deaths and hardships caused by blackouts and poor preparation for arctic weather that plunged the state into frontier-like living conditions last week. “No words can fix what happened or ease the pain that you have endured,” Abbott said in a five-minute speech televised on evening newscasts statewide. “But I assure you of this: This legislative session will not end until we fix these problems. And we will ensure that the tragic events of the past week are never repeated.”

An Abbott spokesman did not immediately respond to a query about whether the Republican governor is threatening a special session if lawmakers fail to act as he’s demanding. In his speech, Abbott said he wants “immediate action” to protect Texans from energy bill spikes, overhaul the electricity grid’s management and require that power systems in the state be winterized and that state lawmakers find a way to pay for installing such safeguards. The regular session ends May 31. Abbott took to the airwaves amid close scrutiny of his handling of mounting crises. He is under increasing attack from Democrats who link this year’s infrastructure woes with what they call his mishandling of last year’s coronavirus outbreak. Also Wednesday, directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million Texas customers, heard a harrowing account of how, in the predawn hours of Feb. 15, the state’s grid was 4 minutes and 37 seconds away from total collapse.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2021

In its heyday, Fry’s Electronics was a great store for geeks

I’m going to miss Fry’s. Truth be told, I haven’t been inside a Fry’s Electronics store in more than a year, and yet I found myself incredibly sad to hear that the company closed all of its stores, including four in Dallas-Fort Worth, earlier this week. I remember spending quite a few afternoons just poking around at Fry’s to kill a few hours. I seldom walked out without finding something to buy.

I’m old enough to remember a time before Fry’s. In Dallas, we were lucky to have stores called Incredible Universe, which were opened by Radio Shack as an electronics wonderland. They were great, but they didn’t last. Fry’s bought those Incredible Universe stores in 1996, and for the next two decades they were the best place in the area to buy electronics — especially computer parts. remember Fry’s running eight-page advertising sections every Friday and full-page ads several other days of the week. I spent half an hour each Friday going through every page of those ads. This was back when we still had a Personal Technology section every week in this paper. I used to take my out-of-town visitors to Fry’s — well, at least my guy friends. I always thought of Fry’s as a mall just for guys. No offense to women, but my wife had no use for a huge electronics store, and she avoided it like I avoid going to the plant nursery. Whenever I wanted some alone time, I’d tell my wife I was going to Fry’s.

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Dallas Morning News - February 24, 2021

Dallas gives city attorneys go-ahead to sue Netflix, Hulu, other streaming services over franchise fees

Dallas city council approved a resolution Wednesday allowing the city attorney’s office to pursue a lawsuit against streaming service companies for their failure to pay franchise fees. The city wants to recover financial damages from Netflix, Hulu, Disney and “other video service providers” for their alleged failure to pay the city a franchise tax amounting to 5% of gross revenues under Texas’ Public Utility Regulatory Act. AT&T, which owns HBO Max, already pays franchise fees to Dallas, according to a spokesperson for the city. The city said Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ have all failed to apply for a state-issued certificate of franchise authority which would require the companies to pay the fee.

Dallas will seek an unspecified amount of relief for damages dating back to 2007, and also wants to obtain an order that would require the companies to pay the fee moving forward, according to city documents. With the measure approved by city council, Dallas is expected to now turn to the Texas Attorney General’s office for legal counsel moving forward, according to The Dallas Business Journal. Dallas believes streaming companies should be on the hook for the fees because they deliver their services to customers through wireline facilities located “at least partially in the public right of way,” according to city documents. The Dallas city attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment. The city plans to retain three law firms to represent the city which it said are already working on similar cases in other municipalities including McKool Smith, P.C., Ashcroft Sutton Reyes LLC, and Korein Tillery LLC.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo makes TIME Magazine's 100 Next list

Now in its 21st year, the Time 100, is Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. While that may be a small swath of the cosmos, it's formidable among spaces with living organisms. Time decided its list might benefit from expansion, so the Time 100 Next list was hatched to honor "100 emerging leaders who are shaping the future." And among Time's 100 Next most influential people of 2021, Harris County Judge Linda Hidalgo makes the cut. Which is a pretty great distinction for a local elected official. You can read the by-the-book account of Hidalgo's work here. She's the county judge for the third largest county in the United States, which is pretty impressive.

She was elected in 2018 and has spent a fair portion of her term overseeing the city's doings during a crisis with the pandemic. Her leadership over the past year is part of why Time honored her, looping in Beto O'Rourke to write an essay about Hidalgo. She's part of an interesting list that includes people under the categories of "artists," "leaders," "phenoms," "innovators" and "advocates." Hidalgo is among 22 leaders including Senators Ben Sasse (essay by Mitt Romney), Raphael Warnock (essay by Bernice A. King) and Jon Ossoff (also Bernice A. King). O'Rourke wrote: "Lina Hidalgo’s persistence, tenacity and intelligence were clear from the moment I met her on the campaign trail in Texas in 2017. At the time, she was running for Harris County judge, and I was running for the U.S. Senate. I soon realized that she also had an extraordinary level of humility that is rare to find in somebody pursuing public office."

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Montgomery County judge accepts plea deal in DWI case

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough has pleaded guilty in a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge that resulted in his license being suspended for 90 days and his paying $2,000 in fines relating to a crash he had in The Woodlands in September. “Judge Keough has the highest respect for the judicial process and law enforcement to investigate allegations,” Keough attorney Doug Atkinson stated in a release Wednesday. “Throughout the investigation of this case Judge Keough cooperated fully with law enforcement. The findings of the investigation showed that there was no alcohol, narcotic, or illegal drugs present in the blood test results. The results include only two prescribed medications, taken as prescribed, that were within the therapeutic range.” Atkinson said the first medication included zolpidem, a substance found in a sleep aid that can have residual intoxicating effects in the morning. The other medication did not cause or contribute to any intoxication.

“After a thorough review of the evidence and consultation with his attorney, Judge Keough has decided to enter into an agreement to resolve his case,” Atkinson stated. “This will result in Judge Keough accepting responsibility for a first offense misdemeanor DWI and paying a fine, a mandatory driver license suspension, and a state traffic fine.” Keough turned himself into law enforcement authorities in December following an investigation of the crash where Keough suffered several injuries including a broken hip. According to the affidavit, Keough was driving on Grogan’s Mill when he allegedly hit a Mazda while traveling about 52 mph before hitting a law enforcement Tahoe driven by a Precinct 5 Constable deputy at about 39 mph. The posted speed limit along that stretch of roadway is 30 mph. Keough was not wearing a seatbelt and the airbag in his SUV did not deploy until he hit the Tahoe. Keough consented to have his blood drawn once he was hospitalized following the crash. Keough’s blood sample contained 155.5 nanograms per milliliter of zolpidem — which is sold as Ambien — 1.5 ng/mL of fentanyl and 65 ng/mL of amphetamine, the affidavit states. It also noted the fentanyl was given to Keough on scene by paramedics.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Susan Wright, wife of the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, announces bid for her husband’s seat

Susan Wright, the wife of the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, will run to fill her husband’s vacant seat, her campaign announced Wednesday. “I’m running for Congress to continue my husband’s legacy by supporting economic growth, reforming our broken healthcare system, and defending Texas conservative values,” she wrote in a statement. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican, held Texas’ 6th Congressional District seat until his death on Feb. 7 after battles with COVID-19 and lung cancer. Gov. Greg Abbott set May 1 as the date for the special election. The 6th District spans southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, as well as all of Ellis and Navarro counties.

Susan Wright, a lifelong Republican, has lived in the district for over 30 years. She is a longtime member of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee and has been district director for former Rep. Bill Zedler and his successor Rep. David Cook, according to her campaign. “I’m asking the voters of Ellis, Navarro, and Tarrant Counties to help me continue the fight for stronger borders, lower taxes, and the precious right to life in Washington,” Susan Wright said in a statement. As of Wednesday, there are three other candidates that have announced their bid for the seat: Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, who previously ran for the seat in 2018 but lost with 45% of the vote, Democrat Lydia Bean, who lost in the race for Texas House District 93 in November, and Shawn Lassiter, a Fort Worth educator. Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, has said he is considering running for the seat, but has made no official announcement. Republican John Anthony Castro has also announced he plans to run.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Texans died. Enough excuses. Lawmakers must get answers on power outages.

The completely preventable, man-made tragedy of last week’s power failure that has now claimed dozens of Texas lives — young and old, but mostly lower-income people who couldn’t afford to escape to Cancun — was a colossal failure of Texas government, including the people who lead it and the people who make the laws. They had one job above all others: to ensure basic services that sustain our civilization, our economy and life itself. This morning, committees in both houses of the Texas Legislature will hear testimony about what went wrong, and how Texas failed so catastrophically to keep the lights, heat and water on for millions of residents as freezing temperatures turned deadly. It was an unusually severe winter storm for Texas, but Mother Nature was not the author of last week’s misery. Nor, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s best attempts to imply otherwise, was it the sole fault of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit manager of Texas’ power grid. And it wasn’t wind and solar, no matter how many times state officials cite renewable energy as a convenient scapegoat.

Remember Texas leaders’ gross neglect of duty when you when you think of Cristian Pavon Paneda, the 11-year-old Conroe boy who authorities suspect froze to death in his sleep, despite his mother piling blankets on top of him in a desperate bid to protect him with no power in their mobile home. Or Carrol Anderson, the Crosby man who died in his truck when the power outage shut off the oxygen machine in the house, and he went outside to use the only tank he had left to help him breathe. Or Loan Le, 51, the Sugar Land women who died along with three grandchildren — Olivia, 11, Edison, 8, and Colette Nguyen, 5 — in a house fire that may have been started by the flame they lit in the fireplace to keep warm. In each case, and scores more, the thing they lacked was electricity. In a state famous for its abundance of energy, and energy know-how, the fact that this precious resource could suddenly vanish from people’s homes and businesses across hundreds of miles is a deep shame — and an indictment of a system of governance that prizes cheap over safe, deregulation over reliability, industry profits over life. Texas lawmakers who created this system, the Public Utility Commission that oversees it, and the governor who appoints the commission’s board, cannot undo the death, the suffering or the billions in damage.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Two top Texas Republicans praise Joe Biden for bipartisan outreach

Two senior Texas Republicans in Congress emerged from a White House meeting on Wednesday praising President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for including them in discussions on critical national security issues. “What was so refreshing for me was to be in the room with the president, with both Democrats and Republicans in agreement on an issue,” said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican whose congressional district includes Katy and parts of northwest Harris County. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who was in the same meeting, called it a “very refreshing” moment given the partisan rancor that often dominates Washington politics.

Biden and Harris called Cornyn and McCaul, the highest-ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to the White House in part to discuss ways to improve the U.S. supply chain in light of the deficiencies revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, shortages of supplies including personal protective equipment and hand sanitizers were caused by the nation’s reliance on China for those items. “The last year has shown the vulnerability we have with some of the supply chains, including the PPE that we needed badly, but had to go abroad to get,” Biden told reporters before the meeting started. The meeting included seven other senators and two other members of Congress, a mix of Democrats and Republicans. “It was one of the best meetings, best meetings we’ve had,” Biden said afterward. “It was like the old days.” Also on Wednesday, Biden issued an executive order calling for a comprehensive review of U.S. supply chains and directing federal agencies to identify ways to secure them against a wide range of vulnerabilities.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 24, 2021

Gregg Popovich: Texas storm disaster 'did not have to happen'

Gregg Popovich was not impressed by the preparations ahead of the winter storm. On Monday, the Spurs head coach said the humanitarian crisis in Texas that followed the severe weather — millions of residents without power and hundreds of thousands without water — did not have to happen. A reporter asked Popovich how his team kept a sense of perspective as the state reeled from the storm, five players were ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols and DeMar DeRozan mourned the death of his father.

"We’ve always had the philosophy that there are always people or groups of people who have it worse than you do and considering our positions in this world, we’re very very well off, and so complaining or feeling sorry for one's self, that’s not in the picture," Popovich said. "It’s inappropriate, not deserved. Only thank you’s for what we all have," he added. The 72-year-old, known for his own meticulous attention to detail, suggested such rigor was lacking in the state's preparations for the storm. "At this time you just think about all the people that have gone through hell, and as we’ve seen from all the reports, it didn’t have to be that way," Popovich said. "But a little bit of either sloth or incompetence or lack of attention to detail with the job.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 24, 2021

Nearly 7 million hungry Texans left waiting as next stimulus vote looms

Nearly seven million Texans are struggling with hunger right now, a crisis that hasn't abated despite $3 trillion of federal assistance administered throughout the pandemic. With the state facing another food emergency after last week’s brutal storms and with unemployment rates still high, experts on food insecurity and advocates for low-income people say the next round of aid can’t come soon enough. Yet the $1,400 stimulus checks Democrats are pushing through Congress are a stopgap at best, they say.

Celia Cole, the chief executive officer of Feeding Texas, the state’s largest hunger relief organization, said around 1 in 4 households are struggling to afford food. On average, food banks across the state are serving hundreds of thousands of people every month, though some urban areas - like Houston and San Antonio - see much higher volume. “It’s been described as the perfect storm so many times, we said we’d never use that phrase again,” Cole said of the spike in food insecurity since the pandemic hit last spring. “But it really was. Overnight, the demand doubled.” That demand is still evident daily in San Antonio, where Eric Cooper, the CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, has seen more than 625,000 individuals pass through the organization’s food distribution locations. Many are first-time food bank visitors, spurred by job loss and whittled-down savings. Lines of 2,000 cars snake through distribution sites most days, requiring logistical planning on par with that of concerts or sporting events. The scene is sometimes so staggering, Cooper said he asks himself if they will have enough food to meet the need.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 24, 2021

General who led Fort Hood when Vanessa Guillén was killed coming to San Antonio's Fort Sam

The Army said Wednesday that Maj. Gen Scott Efflandt, who was the acting commander of Fort Hood last year when Spc. Vanessa Guillén vanished from the post and later was found dead, will serve in a support role at U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston. He was one of more than a dozen Fort Hood leaders who were suspended or removed from their jobs in December after an outside investigation found a “deficient climate” that raised risks for female soldiers at the post. At the time of her death, Efflandt had been scheduled to command Fort Bliss in El Paso, but the promotion was set aside as the Pentagon launched multiple investigations.

In an Army statement, spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said he would be reassigned as special assistant to Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, Army North’s commander, but not as her deputy commanding general as was incorrectly announced a day earlier. A fellow soldier bludgeoned Guillén to death with a hammer at Fort Hood in April and then dismembered and buried her body near the Leon River several miles from the post with the help of his girlfriend. By the time she was found, nationwide outrage had built over the Army’s investigation into her disappearance and allegations by her family that she had been sexually harassed. Guillén’s family and numerous sexual assault and harassment victims have accused the post itself, home to 37,000 troops, of being the reason she was killed because of its attitude and response to sexual misconduct cases. The Pentagon responded to the public pressure with a pair of investigations. An independent panel brought investigators to the post from Aug. 30 to Sept. 15. Another probe, called an AR 15-6, has yet to be released.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 24, 2021

JPS worked to get COVID-19 vaccines out during winter storm, but hundreds expired

More than 300 COVID-19 vaccines in Tarrant County went to waste due to the winter storm that left millions in the state without electricity. As temperatures dropped and power went out in North Texas, John Peter Smith Hospital hustled to get as many shots in arms as possible. At the Diamond Hill Health Center, an outage left hundreds of doses at risk of squandering. “JPS teams deployed in the ice and snow to save 800 doses of the vaccine before they thawed and expired,” JPS spokesperson Diana Brodeur said in an email. “From there, they worked fast: in a matter of hours they administered 500 vaccines to people in the community.”

The vaccines went to JPS patients, people on Tarrant County Public Health’s waiting list and those vulnerable for the virus staying at shelters, Brodeur said. “Everyone pulled together to try to save every dose before time ran out,” she said of the Feb. 15 effort. But ultimately, 304 of the vaccine doses expired because of the weather — more than anywhere else in the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ latest report on wasted vaccines. Vaccine providers across Texas lost at least 797 shots because of the winter storm and related outages, the state’s data shows. Other doses lost due to the weather include a combined 185 from two Bexar County sites, 120 from a site in Erath County, 10 from a site in Parker County and 178 from a site in Upton County. The number of doses known to be lost to the weather has grown since the Feb. 19 report was published. Imelda Garcia, who chairs the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said about 1,000 doses were wasted as a result of the storm. As providers get back to their offices, more loses may be reported, she said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 24, 2021

Sen. Cornyn to vote to confirm Garland for attorney general, despite policy differences

He opposes Merrick Garland’s views on gun control and the death penalty, but Sen. John Cornyn of Texas plans to vote to confirm him for attorney general. Sen. Ted Cruz is undecided. “I’m still reviewing his answers,” Cruz told the Star-Telegram Tuesday, a day after Garland testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’ll consider the merits.” Cornyn will support Garland despite concerns over gun control and a likely federal death penalty moratorium, he said. “I’m sure he’s going to make some decisions that I’m not going to be happy about,” Cornyn said. “But I think he’s an honorable person.”

Both Cornyn and Cruz are Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and questioned Garland at a confirmation hearing Monday. The Senate’s vote to confirm Garland is expected to take place next week. Fifty-one votes are needed for his confirmation, which is expected to get bipartisan support. Cornyn said he respects Garland’s commitment to upholding the rule of law. But the senator was concerned about policies Garland could support. “He made clear he’s going to advance the administration’s policies, which is a separate issue from the rule of law,” Cornyn said Wednesday. As attorney general, Garland would serve as the U.S. federal government’s chief lawyer and principal legal adviser to Biden. His job would include determining the legality of the Biden administration’s policies.

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KXAN - February 24, 2021

More than 5 percent of Texans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19

The state’s first case of COVID-19 was reported March 4, 2020, in Fort Bend County. Texas reports totals for two kinds of cases: confirmed and probable. A confirmed case is a person who has tested positive on a molecular test. A probable case is a person who has tested positive on an antigen test, or someone who has a combination of symptoms and known exposure to someone with COVID-19. As of February 23, 2021, Texas has officially reported 2,259,407 confirmed cases and 346,868 probable cases of COVID-19 in the state. Over the past seven days, the state has seen an average of 3,690 new confirmed cases and 915 new probable cases each day. These numbers are artificially low as many counties did not report updated case numbers due to the recent winter storms.

Harris County has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 343,070. When adjusted for population though, other counties rise to the top, notably Scurry, Hale, Childress, Maverick, Val Verde, Lubbock and Webb Counties. The state’s first COVID-19-related death was reported March 16, 2020, in Matagorda County. As of February 23, 2021, the state has officially reported 41,641 deaths. Over the past seven days, Texas has reported an average of 142 deaths each day. This number is artificially low as many counties did not report updated death totals due to the recent winter storms. Harris County has the most deaths related to COVID-19, with 4,884. On July 27, 2020, DSHS changed the way it reports COVID-19 deaths. Texas previously counted COVID-19 fatalities after local health departments verified each death. The state now identifies COVID-19 deaths using the cause of death listed on death certificates. DSHS said the new method “allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data.” The total number of deaths does not include people who had COVID-19 but died from an unrelated cause.

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Texas Monthly - February 24, 2021

Why we shouldn’t bet against GameStop

Your typical GameStop store, in pretty much any big strip mall in any sizable American city, comprises roughly 1,500 square feet of clutter and chaos. Even on the slowest days, say a Wednesday afternoon when only a single-digit trickle of customers passes through, GameStop overwhelms. Hundreds of games for the major consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch) and PCs line the walls. Space marines and Animal Crossing critters and Marios and countless zombies stare out from the covers of shiny plastic boxes. Dozens of Funko collectible figures sit stacked on a counter. Display cases are packed with horror movie villains and sci-fi warriors. There are gaming controllers and virtual-reality headsets seemingly everywhere. As you browse the merchandise, you might ponder whether you’re the sort of person who needs a full-sized Cobra Commander helmet for $119.99. You might wonder who would want a beaten-up box containing a Gregarious Games “Luminart” sign from the movie Ready Player One, even for just $6.95. What you won’t necessarily pick up on is that you’re standing in—at least as far as many media and gaming industry pundits see it—a dying business.

Indeed, Wall Street was aghast when GameStop briefly became the most-talked-about company in the nation last month, as its stock price soared because of a coordinated effort launched in an online forum. Having noticed that there weren’t enough shares of the company’s stock available to cover all the bets institutional investors had made that GameStop’s value would fall—through a strategy called “short selling”—members of the WallStreetBets group on Reddit began buying up shares en masse. The increased demand pushed up the price. Then casual traders looked to cash in on GameStop’s climb, further fueling the stock’s rise. Big investment firms got caught flatfooted and were left scrambling to buy enough shares at the higher and higher prices to meet their obligations. (One firm, Melvin Capital, required a $2.75 billion cash bailout in order to avoid bankruptcy.) GameStop’s stock price skyrocketed from less than $20 to a peak of $483 in just two weeks. This sudden surge in day trading of GME (the company’s ticker symbol) so overwhelmed many online brokers, including Robin Hood, that for several days they set limits on buying the stock. The national media attention garnered by the GameStop effort had a halo effect on other so-called meme stocks, including BlackBerry, AMC, and Nokia, that were also being hyped on Reddit and in chat rooms where amateur stock analysts gather to discuss how to extract maximal gains from the market. When the inevitable selloff came and GameStop’s stock dropped—back below $50 as of this week—tens of billions of dollars in market value was erased, and many novice investors learned the stock-trading term “bag holding” the hard way. GameStop’s stock price remains much higher than where it began the year, but it’s fallen far from its peak. The effects of this financial roller-coaster ride are still playing out. Just this week, Jason Bell, GameStop’s CFO since 2019, resigned.

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Wall Street Journal - February 24, 2021

Texas is awash in natural gas. It didn’t help in the storm

Natural-gas shortages were a major culprit in the blackouts that left millions freezing in the dark in Texas last week, but making the delivery system more resilient promises to be expensive as well as politically challenging. Texas is normally flush with gas, as the nation’s largest producer. But both production and power generation from gas dropped by about a third last week during an unusually strong winter storm that caused demand for power and heat to surge. Freezing water and blackouts wreaked havoc on everything from wells in the prolific Permian Basin to pipelines and regional storage facilities that feed power plants across the state. The resulting gas shortage sent prices soaring and disadvantaged power plants that purchase daily fuel supplies on the spot market.

The state’s gas infrastructure and power generation failed for similar reasons: Neither is designed to perform in subfreezing weather, unlike similar equipment in parts of the U.S. where colder temperatures are more common. Engineers said Texas gas production was slowed by low temperatures that froze water produced alongside oil and gas and entered oil-field tanks. Compressors that help move oil and gas through pipelines also became inoperable because of the cold weather. Texas state leaders have called for the electric system to be winterized following last week’s fiasco, with Gov. Greg Abbott proposing that the costs be subsidized by the state. But so far, they have made no similar proposals to harden the state’s latticework of wells, pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure. The failure of Texas’ gas infrastructure to deliver the expected amounts of supplies exposed a dangerous vulnerability for a fuel the oil industry claims is more reliable than rival sources.

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Washington Post - February 24, 2021

Elon Musk moved to Texas and embraced celebrity. Can Tesla run on Autopilot?

Elon Musk says he is stretched too thin. The chief executive of both electric car manufacturer Tesla and rocket company SpaceX bounces nearly daily on his private jet between locations — traveling to his longtime home in southern California, Tesla’s plant in the Bay Area, the site of a new factory in Austin, Texas and SpaceX’s launch facility on that state’s Gulf Coast. Twice in a matter of days recently, the 49-year old complained of what he called an “insane” work schedule, juggling responsibilities with his car company and aerospace firm and taking in “torrents of information” in wall-to-wall meetings. But critics say the rigors of Musk’s personal schedule, and the seeming cult of personality that has developed around him, are beginning to show in the car company he runs — the one that he took from an upstart pioneer in electric vehicles to the world’s most valuable automaker.

Musk, they say, is drowning in outside commitments like his aerospace company and other endeavors while letting quality — and strategy — at Tesla fall victim. And there are familiar concerns. “There have been years past where some of his behavior was horrifying and had cost huge costs especially from his little tussle with the SEC,” said Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and supporter of Musk who is close to the company. “And he’s come a long way. What I’m worried about is his success makes him a little bit loose again.” Musk spent much of the past year focused on trying to demonstrate his aerospace firm’s viability to shuttle people into space on reusable rockets, all while Tesla worked to construct multiple factories and launched a new SUV. Musk also juggled the birth of a newborn son and his own personal move to Texas. He sprinkled in spontaneous public appearances in venues such as social media app Clubhouse in between his barrages of tweets. Musk became the world’s richest person in January, thanks to skyrocketing Tesla stock. In interviews with a dozen current and former Tesla employees, investors and analysts, critics pointed to a series of questionable business moves, and even outright missteps by Tesla, as a potential symptom of the outside demands on Musk. They described a company where Musk is less present and increasingly isolated, where subordinates are reluctant to question the CEO’s vision, and where the de facto position entails eschewing market research. It’s a top-down, shoot-by-the-hip ethos directed by Musk.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 24, 2021

'Our residents deserve answers': 16 Texas mayors demand ERCOT investigation, change in letter after storm

A handful of big city Texas mayors – including Austin's Steve Adler – are urging state leaders to examine the policies and decisions that led to millions of Texans losing electrical power during last week's winter storm. In a letter addressed to the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the mayors say state leaders must take action to prevent this type of disaster in the future and that the state electric grid's processes and protocols "need a full public airing." "Perhaps no one is better equipped to communicate the devastating impacts of the storm on Texans than those of us at the local level, and we offer our cooperation and collaboration to find meaningful solutions," the letter stated. "Our residents deserve answers – and they deserve reliable energy for their homes and businesses."

The letter, dated Monday and published on Twitter by several mayors, comes as state lawmakers prepare for a series of hearings beginning Thursday to examine the power outages and ERCOT's role in them them. More than 4 million Texas homes lost power at the height of the storm early last week, according to poweroutages.us, which tracks power outages in the country. ERCOT said there was a near-collapse of the state grid when 185 power-generating plants failed at a time when shivering consumers were firing up their thermostats to stay warm. About 220,000 Austin Energy customers lost power early in the week, which is about 40% of the utility's customer base. By the weekend, power was restored throughout the city. In total, 16 Texas mayors signed the letter to ERCOT President Bill Magness. Among them were Austin's Adler, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, allas Mayor Eric Johnson, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Other mayors who signed it are from Arlington, Plano, Sugar Land, Laredo, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, McAllen, Irving, McKinney, Galveston and Pharr. "We are confident that you agree ERCOT's deficiencies must be addressed, and we urge you to act as soon as possible," the letter stated. "Texans are counting on their elected leadership to provide solutions."

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 24, 2021

Elaine Ayala: During winter storm, San Antonio activists showed up for the vulnerable

San Antonio community organizers and activists are a fierce bunch. They work at the grass-roots level for modest pay, usually for nonprofits whose commitment is just as fierce. Organizers usually don’t get much attention. Last week, as they assisted the most vulnerable among us, they should have. Before most bureaucrats and elected officials had gotten out of bed, organizers, activists and advocates of all kinds were on the front lines of the winter storm. They bundled up and checked in on the elderly, even if only to offer to charge their cellphones. This kind of work isn’t new to them. A week before the power went out, some were protesting the city’s razing of tent camps for the homeless. Once the storm hit, angry Facebook posts about what organizers saw as a slow response may have helped shame public officials into action.

Susana Mendez Segura was among the first to sound alarms about the danger posed by the extreme cold. She lives on the near West Side and often visits those she calls the “houseless” living under bridges, in tents and in other places exposed to the elements. Amid the ice and arctic cold, she walked a four-block radius around her home, checked in on neighbors and encouraged one man to go to a “warming center” downtown. The term irked her as much as it did me. Though cots were set up for people to sleep at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, “warming center” read like bureaucratic lingo for “don’t get too cozy.” Mendez Segura also was among the first to notice that the downtown skyline was ablaze in light while West and East Side neighborhoods were in the dark. She’s a staff preservationist and organizer for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. She’s working on the nonprofit’s project to renovate Lerma’s Nite Club on Zarzamora, a legendary live conjunto music venue that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On Sunday night, she was at District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño’s office on Vance Jackson, awaiting a delivery of water and plumbing supplies from out of state.

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National Stories

NBC News - February 25, 2021

'Pervasive harassment': Former Cuomo adviser says governor 'kissed me on the lips'

A former aide said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo subjected her to "pervasive harassment" when she worked for him, including numerous inappropriate comments in front of other people and a kiss on the lips while they were alone. "Let's play strip poker," the former aide, Lindsey Boylan, said Cuomo told her on one occasion. "I'm compelled to tell my story because no woman should feel forced to hide their experiences of workplace intimidation, harassment and humiliation — not by the Governor or anyone else," Boylan wrote in an essay posted Wednesday on the website Medium.

Boylan, now a candidate for Manhattan borough president in New York City, worked for the Cuomo administration from 2015 to 2018 as a deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor. She tweeted in December that Cuomo had sexually harassed her "for years" — an allegation that Cuomo, a Democrat in his third term, denied as "just not true," although he did not get into specifics at the time. In the Medium essay, Boylan said her problems began after her first encounter with Cuomo at an event in Manhattan in January 2016. "My boss soon informed me that the governor had a 'crush' on me," Boylan said. As time went on, she wrote, she complained to friends that Cuomo "would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs." Boylan alleged that Cuomo made the comment about playing strip poker when they were flying home from an event in western New York on his "taxpayer-funded jet" in October 2017.

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NBC News - February 25, 2021

California is first state to pass 50,000 Covid deaths

Covid-19 has killed nearly 51,000 people in California, which on Wednesday became the first state to pass 50,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, according to an NBC News count of reports. The state has seen more than 3.5 million infections, a statistic that also leads the nation based on raw numbers. California is also the most populous state with around 40 million people. As of Wednesday night, New York state had more than 48,000 reported deaths, and Texas had more than 42,000, according to NBC News' count.

Part of the increase in California's reported deaths Wednesday came from Los Angeles County, which announced 806 deaths that initially had not been counted as associated with Covid-19. The county's health department said those deaths came after extensive checks of death records and occurred during a major surge from Dec. 3 to Feb. 3. At the time of the surge, not all deaths were reported to the department because of the volume of records, officials said. A later review of vital records that list the cause of death found them, it said. There were already more than 9,700 deaths reported from December through January, it said. "It is heartbreaking to report on this large number of additional deaths associated with Covid-19 and a devastating reminder of the terrible toll the winter surge has taken on so many families across the county," Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. New daily reported cases of Covid-19 have been falling across the country in recent weeks, but health experts have said that the numbers are still very high. On Sunday, the nation passed 500,000 deaths. As of Wednesday evening, the U.S. had recorded more than 28 million cases, according to NBC News' count.

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CNN - February 24, 2021

White House lifts Trump order that temporarily banned certain immigrant visas during pandemic

President Joe Biden on Wednesday revoked a Trump-era executive order that temporarily banned some immigrant visas during the coronavirus pandemic. The move opens up legal avenues to migrate to the US that former President Donald Trump had closed off, arguing at the time that it was in the best interest of the economy in the early months of the pandemic. Biden charged in a proclamation Wednesday that Trump's order "does not advance the interests of the United States. To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here." "It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world," the President continued. "And it harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received, immigrant visas through the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery."

Diversity visas are awarded by random selection in select countries to promote immigration from places that don't otherwise send many immigrants to the US. The proclamation marks just the latest effort from the Biden administration to dismantle the hardline immigration policies championed by the Trump administration. Over the course of Trump's presidency, the administration overhauled the US immigration system, gutting asylum and reducing the number of refugee admissions to historic lows and severely curtailing legal immigration. The coronavirus pandemic sped up even more tweaks to the system that had previously struggled to gain momentum, including Trump's April executive order, which he had argued was necessary to save American jobs "This order will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens," he said at the White House at the time. "Crucially, we'll also preserve our health care resources for American patients. We have to take care of our patients; we have to take care of our great American workers. And that's what we're doing." Biden had outlined an ambitious immigration agenda on the campaign trail that would reverse the actions of his predecessor, vowing -- for example -- to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation and to maintain programs that provide relief to immigrants living in the United States. He kicked off his term by signing out a series of immigration executive actions last month, though other immigration policy changes will take more time and coordination with Congress. "There's a long way to go. These are just executive actions," Biden told reporters on his first day in office. "But we're going to need legislation for a lot of these we're going to do."

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New York Times - February 24, 2021

A recall for Newsom in California? Talk grows as governors come under attack

Long before Orrin Heatlie filed papers to recall Gavin Newsom, he knew the odds were against unseating the suave ex-mayor of San Francisco who ascended to become California’s governor. “Democrats have a supermajority here — it’s one-party rule,” said Mr. Heatlie, a Republican and retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant. Voters had elected Mr. Newsom in 2018 by a record 24-point margin. As recently as April, 70 percent still approved of his performance. Plus, just to trigger a recall election, Mr. Heatlie’s petition would require about 1.5 million valid voter signatures. Lately, however, Mr. Heatlie has been feeling lucky.

California has been upended by the coronavirus. Most of the state is waiting — impatiently — for vaccinations. Schools in big cities have yet to reopen their classrooms. Prison inmates and international fraud rings may have looted as much as $30 billion from the state’s pandemic unemployment insurance program. And then there was that dinner at the French Laundry restaurant that the governor attended, barefaced, after telling Californians to stay in and wear masks to avoid spreading the virus. “This is an easy sell,” reported Mr. Heatlie last week, speaking by phone from rural San Joaquin County, where he was delivering petitions that he said pushed his haul over the 1.7 million-signature mark with three weeks to go before the deadline. “I like to say we have nobody to thank but him,” he said, “and he has nobody to blame but himself.”

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Associated Press - February 25, 2021

Pfizer studying effects of 3rd vaccine dose

Pfizer announced Thursday that it has begun studying a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, part of a strategy to guard against mutated versions of the coronavirus. Health authorities say first-generation COVID-19 vaccines still protect against variants that are emerging in different parts of the world. But manufacturers are starting to prepare now in case a more vaccine-resistant mutation comes along. Pfizer said it will offer a third dose to 144 volunteers, drawing from people who participated in the vaccine’s early-stage U.S. testing last year. It wants to determine if an additional booster shot given six to 12 months after the first two doses would rev up the immune system enough to ward off a mutated virus.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, also are tweaking their vaccine recipe. The companies are in discussions with U.S. and European regulators about a study to evaluate doses updated to better match variants such as the one first discovered in South Africa.

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ABC News - February 24, 2021

Postmaster General DeJoy apologizes for 'unacceptable' mail delays during holidays

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Wednesday offered a sobering review of the mail agency’s finances and performance capabilities but reaffirmed his intention to overhaul the agency and remain at its helm, telling one Democratic lawmaker: "Get used to me." Tapped to lead the Postal Service last summer, DeJoy’s tumultuous tenure has been marked by intense partisan scrutiny and a reform effort that slowed mail deliveries across much of the country. DeJoy apologized Wednesday for "unacceptable" mail delays during the holiday season. "During this peak season, we fell far short of meeting our service targets. Too many Americans were left waiting weeks for important deliveries of mail and packages," DeJoy told lawmakers. "This is unacceptable, and I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays."

Wednesday’s hearing before the House Oversight Committee provided lawmakers a venue to air simmering grievances about the 2020 election and ongoing mail service delays. In between partisan bickering, DeJoy sought to promote a forthcoming 10-year strategic plan, which attracted tentative approval from high-profile members on both sides of the aisle. While the Postal Service remains one of the nation’s most popular federal agencies, its leader became a political lightning rod ahead of the 2020 presidential election, when Democrats accused DeJoy – a longtime GOP donor – of deliberately delaying mail in a bid to undermine mail-in ballots, which were largely expected to support Democratic candidates. DeJoy and the Postal Service vehemently denied those charges. During Wednesday’s hearing, lawmakers peppered DeJoy with questions about his plan to resurrect the ailing mail agency. But some of the most intense rhetoric surrounded the November election – a sign that the incoming administration’s message of unity may stop at the fences surrounding the U.S. Capitol.

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Newsclips - February 24, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 24, 2021

Electricity debacle has upended Texas Legislature’s agenda. Will Abbott, other GOP officials pay in 2022?

The electricity grid failures that left millions of Texans shivering and without water for nearly a week – and as many as scores of people dead – have scrambled not only the Legislature’s agenda but the political calculus for next year’s elections. While two leading Texas political scientists doubt that the gripping episode will drive reigning Republicans to completely jettison their scheme of a deregulated electricity system, it’s caused obvious panic. Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled a statewide TV speech Wednesday to explain what happened, and what he’s doing about it. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made “ERCOT reform” and “power grid stability” the Senate’s top two priorities, just below passing a state budget.

“The one thing that elected officials really hate are surprises,” said Austin GOP consultant Ray Sullivan, who’s worked for two Texas governors and three members of Congress. “This latest surprise was certainly the biggest in our lifetime – short of a terrorist attack.” The Feb. 14-20 outages occurred almost border to border. Only El Paso, parts of the Panhandle and the eastern edge of East Texas are off the state’s main grid, noted Sherri Greenberg, a professor of practice at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s an unprecedented, unconscionable crisis,” she said. “Obviously, it’s reset the agenda for the session.” But it’s too soon to say whether a year from now, as they run for re-election, Abbott, Patrick and other GOP statewide constitutional officeholders will be breaking out in sweats over a possible spanking by voters enraged by the state’s lack of readiness for a prolonged arctic blast.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

ERCOT board members resign after being criticized for living outside of Texas

Five board members of the state’s power grid operator, including chairwoman Sally Talberg, announced their resignation Tuesday, a week after power outages left millions across Texas shivering in their homes during severe winter storms and state officials criticized some board members for not living in the state. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the flow of electricity to more than 26 million Texas customers, has taken the brunt of the criticism from state officials. Gov. Greg Abbott last week supported calls for resignations by the council’s leadership, calling the power outages a “total failure by ERCOT.” On Tuesday, Abbott said ERCOT’s lack of preparedness and transparency is unacceptable and welcomed the resignations.

“When Texans were in desperate need of electricity, ERCOT failed to do its job and Texans were left shivering in their homes without power. ERCOT leadership made assurances that Texas’ power infrastructure was prepared for the winter storm, but those assurances proved to be devastatingly false,” he said in a statement. “The State of Texas will continue to investigate ERCOT and uncover the full picture of what went wrong, and we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.” Abbott, who has also been heavily criticized for last week’s power outages, plans to deliver a televised statewide address on Wednesday at 6 p.m. All five board who resigned are believed to live out of state. Along with Talberg, the four other current board members who resigned are: Peter Cramton, an unaffiliated director; Terry Bulger, an unaffiliated director; Raymond Hepper, an unaffiliated director; and Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, who represents independent retail electric providers. Talberg’s bio on the ERCOT website said she lives in Michigan. Bulger, who was paid $65,250 a year according to ERCOT’s 2018 tax filings, lives in a suburb of Chicago.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2021

Sen. Ted Cruz has words for whoever leaked his wife's text messages about Cancún trip

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a message for whoever leaked his wife’s text messages about the Cruz family’s trip to Cancún during the Texas freeze. “It’s a sign of how ridiculously politicized and nasty and just … Just treat each other as human beings, have some degree, some modicum of respect,” Cruz said on an episode of “Ruthless,” a popular conservative podcast published on Tuesday. The Texas Republican talked at length about his disastrous decision to hit the beach while millions of Texans were left without power or running water for the first time since returning to Houston last week.

“I haven’t had this much negative press coverage since Northern California in the 1960s,” Cruz said, alluding to a meme that went viral during his presidential run that claimed Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. Cruz has said the trip was “obviously a mistake,” but that he was trying to be a “good dad” and caved as his daughters asked him to get away from their freezing home, which was without power like much of Houston. But what he later described as a “firestorm” that developed after pictures of him boarding a plane from Houston went viral on Thursday wasn’t the only repercussion of his decision to go. Text messages Cruz’s wife, Heidi, sent to a group of friends — in which she complained their house was “FREEZING” and invited them to a getaway at the Ritz-Carlton — were leaked to the New York Times. “Heidi’s pretty pissed at that,” Cruz said. Cruz said they don’t know who gave the texts to the media, saying Heidi was at a neighbor’s after returning home “walking through” what happened.

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Washington Post - February 24, 2021

FBI alert about possible ‘war’ against Congress reached D.C. and Capitol Police on eve of attack, deepening security questions

Around 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, less than 24 hours before an angry mob overran the U.S. Capitol, an FBI bulletin warning that extremists were calling for violent attacks on Congress landed in an email inbox used by the D.C. police department. That same evening, a member of the Capitol Police received the same memo. But the alert was not flagged for top officials at either agency, according to congressional testimony Tuesday — deepening questions about the breakdowns that contributed to massive security failures on Jan. 6. Both acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III and former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund said the intelligence community at large failed to detect key information about the intentions of the attackers and adequately communicate what was known in the run-up to the Capitol riot.

“I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something,” Contee told lawmakers. Sund cast the Capitol Police as a “consumer” of intelligence from 18 federal agencies. “If they were finding efforts that this was a coordinated attack, that had been coordinated among numerous states for some time in advance of this, that’s the information that would have been extremely helpful to us,” Sund said, adding, “That type of information could have given us sufficient, advance warning to prep, plan for an attack such as what we saw.” But Tuesday’s joint hearing by two Senate committees also spotlighted the stark warnings that were issued before Congress met in a joint session to formalize President Biden’s victory. One came in the form of the Capitol Police’s own intelligence report three days before the attack, as The Washington Post first reported. In a 12-page memo, the agency’s intelligence unit warned that “Congress itself” could be targeted by angry Trump supporters who saw the electoral college vote certification as “the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 24, 2021

Candidates beginning to emerge in race to replace U.S. Rep. Ron Wright of Arlington

In what could be a quick but competitive contest, candidates to finish the unexpired congressional term of the late Ron Wright are emerging from both political parties. Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, is expected to announce her bid for the District 6 seat as early as Wednesday. The Republican and community activist will be considered a frontrunner in the contest, analysts say, because of her connection to the district. “A lot of people are waiting to see what Susan does,” said Jeremy Bradford, executive director of the Tarrant County Republican Party. “There are people waiting to see if she does go for it. She has a long history of politics on her own.” Tax attorney John Anthony Castro, a Republican who challenged incumbent John Cornyn for Senate in 2020, has already announced his candidacy to replace Wright.

Ron Wright died earlier this month after contracting the coronavirus. He had also battled cancer. The Republican lawmaker’s funeral was Saturday in Fort Worth, and most potential candidates put off getting into the race to replace him until this week. Wright was just beginning a two-year term when he died. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will announce the date of the special election to replace him. It will be an open primary, which means Democrats and Republicans will run in the same field. The top two-finishers will meet in a runoff, if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. Along with Susan Wright, Republicans mentioned as potential contenders to succeed Wright include Katrina Pierson, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump, along with state Rep. Jake Ellzey of Ellis County, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, former Health and Human Services Chief of Staff Brian Harrison and former WWE wrestler Dan “Big Dan” Rodimer. Last year, Rodimer lost a congressional race in the state of Nevada.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott to deliver televised statewide address on storm recovery Wednesday evening

Gov. Greg Abbott is set to deliver a televised statewide address Wednesday evening as Texas continues its recovery efforts after Winter Storm Uri manhandled a severely underprepared state. Abbott is expected to discuss the massive power outages Texas experienced last week, along with the statewide recovery efforts. The announcement of the speech arrives as the governor’s performance has come under fire over the last week. After receiving criticism from both parties over his handling of COVID-19 during the last year, albeit for different reasons, Abbott now also faces fierce scrutiny over infrastructure woes.

The governor also received national criticism last week after a Fox News appearance in which he appeared to blame the mass power outages on wind turbines. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott told Sean Hannity. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. … It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” As numerous fact checks have shown, wind and solar were not the main causes of the severe outages — wind shutdowns contributed to less than 13% of the outages. As Bloomberg reported, turbines make up less than a quarter of the state’s energy mix during the winter. Before his appearance on Fox News, Abbott pointed toward natural gas as a big reason for the state’s lack of power. In an local appearance on Dallas’ WFAA-TV, he noted that he was being told by providers that natural gas was frozen in pipelines, at rigs and at transmission lines.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Texas electricity supplier Griddy hit with $1 billion class action lawsuit for ‘price gouging’ after outages

Texas power retailer Griddy is the target of a class action lawsuit filed in Houston state district court Monday alleging the company participated in price gouging after winter storm Uri cut power to millions across the state. The lawsuit was filed by a Chambers County resident Lisa Khoury whose electricity bill from the week of the storm totaled $9,340, according to the suit. Khoury’s normal monthly bill averages between $200-$250. The proposed class action lawsuit will includes all Texans who “used electricity services from Griddy and were hit with excessive charges resulting from the storm,” according to a release from Houston-based Potts Law Firm.

The lawsuit seeks more than $1 billion in financial relief for the affected customers as well as an injunction to prevent Griddy from collecting payment for “excessive” bills. “At this point we don’t know how many people might be affected, but there are likely thousands of customers who’ve received these outrageous bills,” attorney Derek Potts who represents Ms. Khoury said in a statement. “A class action will be the most efficient and effective way for Griddy’s customers to come together and fight this predatory pricing.” In Texas’ deregulated energy market, Griddy and a handful of other electricity suppliers charge customers wholesale variable rates for power. Those plans are relatively new and have frustrated customers now dealing with expensive bills for a week where power was intermittent for many. Around 25-30% of Texans are on a variable rate plan with their energy provider, according to Houston Public Media which cited plan comparison website ElectricityPlans.com.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

‘North Texas should not be punished’: Dallas County judge chides state for cutting COVID vaccines as feds boost local doses

The state is penalizing tens of thousands of people waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine after slashing the number of doses it sent to North Texas’ two largest counties, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services last week announced it would dramatically reduce the number of shots it sent Dallas and Tarrant counties as the federal government was set to open sites here that will vaccinate 126,000 people. Jenkins said the cut means Texans from across the state will have to wait at least three weeks for a chance at being vaccinated in either Dallas or Tarrant counties. That’s because the shots for North Texas from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the next three weeks are reserved for the region’s most vulnerable residents in specific neighborhoods. Meanwhile, state authorized providers, such as Dallas County’s health department must vaccinate any person who meets the state’s eligibility requirements regardless of where they live.

“North Texas should not be punished,” Jenkins said, blasting the state for its decision during a virtual meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board. “There’s no reason why our hustling to get more vaccines that does not disadvantage the state by one vaccine should result in the state, effectively, shortchanging our residents.” A spokesman for the Texas health department said last week that the new federal resources in Dallas and Tarrant counties allowed the state to send vaccines to other counties that had not received an equitable allotment. The state this week, however, did not reduce the number of shots it sent to Harris County, which includes Houston, where a third FEMA-managed site is expected to open this week. The health department said the state’s largest county had not received a fair amount of shots based on population. The launch of the federal distribution programs this week represent a dramatic escalation in the vaccines for the state, which has already inoculated more than 3 million people with at least one of two doses. Including the shots distributed directly by FEMA, Dallas and Tarrant counties are expected to have a slight increase in total number of shots. However, it is not the windfall of doses that North Texas leaders had expected.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

IRS moves tax deadline back to June 15 for Texans and their businesses in wake of winter storm

The Internal Revenue Service has moved the tax-filing and payment deadline for individuals and businesses in Texas to June 15 because of damage across the state caused by the severe winter storms. Texans in all of the state’s 254 counties will automatically be given the extra two months to file and pay their individual and business taxes. The normal filing deadline is April 15. Texans who receive a late-filing penalty notice are encouraged to call the IRS to have it abated. The extension applies to a variety of filing deadlines that fell after Feb. 11, including those for 2020 business returns, originally March 15, and quarterly payroll and excise tax returns, normally April 30.

Now they are all due June 15, the agency announced in a press release Monday. Texans will also have until then to make their 2020 IRA contributions. People affected by the same storms in other states may qualify for the same relief if they live in a FEMA-declared disaster area. A list of eligible locations will be posted on the IRS website. The IRS will also work with people assisting with relief in the affected areas who work for recognized governmental or philanthropic agencies. Taxpayers in federally declared disaster areas can claim uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related casualty losses on their federal income tax returns this year. Texans make up about 9% of the country’s population, meaning close to 1 in 10 Americans will be receiving an extension this tax season. There was no indication whether the rest of the country would also be given an extension because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some Democratic politicians in Washington have been pushing to extend the tax-filing and payment deadline because of the pandemic. Last year, taxpayers were given until July 15, as Americans were dealing with the onset of the pandemic.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Dallas slipping as a top performer? High housing costs threaten the region’s allure

Dallas regularly ranks among the best-performing metros in the country, but its halo appears to be dimming, and that was before a record ice storm paralyzed power for a week. The Dallas-Plano-Irving area ranked 14th among 200 large metros, according to an annual analysis of best-performing cities by the Milken Institute. The report, released last week, measures a dozen indicators, including long- and short-term job creation, output growth and wage gains, especially in technology sectors. Ranking No. 14 would be a strong showing for most places, far higher than metro giants Los Angeles, New York and Houston. It’s also well ahead of neighboring Fort Worth-Arlington, which was No. 35.

But this is the first time Dallas-Plano-Irving dropped out of the Milken Institute’s top 10 since 2012. And in four of the previous five years, Dallas ranked in the top five. What happened? Measures of housing affordability and broadband access were added to the index this year, and Dallas didn’t perform well on those scores related to economic inclusion and infrastructure. “There are some things about Dallas that are really going in the right direction and have continued very strongly, especially on jobs and wages,” said Misael Galdamez, co-author of the report and senior policy analyst at the Milken Institute’s Center for Regional Economics. Nearly all the data in the report comes from 2019 and earlier so it generally doesn’t include effects from the pandemic. But the report added job growth for the 12 months ended in October 2020 to introduce a COVID-19 element. While employment in Dallas-Plano-Irving fell 2.1% over that period, the decline was small enough to rank 20th among 200 large metros.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2021

Abortion restrictions, transgender issues, gun rights top Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priority list

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rolled out a series of conservative red meat priorities he wants to pass in the next three months that would place new restrictions on abortions, forbid transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports and force the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner before sporting events. While Patrick, a Montgomery County Republican, also listed addressing problems with the Texas power grid, expanding broadband access and passing a balanced budget, he made clear Tuesday he wants conservative values to take a prominent role. “I have also prioritized legislation that reflects the principles and values of the Texas conservative majority,” Patrick said in a statement to the media.

That list also includes bills to “stop corporate gun boycotts,” block proposals to cut police funding and “protect our freedom to worship.” What exactly those bills look like is unclear as many have not been released to the public yet. Patrick said the events of the last couple of weeks have caused him to change his list of priorities — a nod to the fact that millions of Texas were left without power for days during a deep freeze that led to dozens of deaths. Besides calling for reliability in the Texas electric grid, Patrick is specifically calling for reforms to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the public entity that monitors it. As lieutenant governor, Patrick presides over the Texas Senate, giving him power to set the agenda for what legislation will ultimately pass or even get to the floor for a vote. But history shows Patrick’s priority list is no shoo-in. In years past he made property tax reforms, anti-labor union legislation and the so-called bathroom bill priorities but some of that legislation never passed. In 2020, Republicans lost a seat in the 31-seat Texas Senate, but still maintain an 18-13 majority. In the Texas House, Republicans have an 82-67 majority with one vacant seat.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2021

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden to travel to Houston on Friday

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are heading to Houston on Friday as Texas recovers from winter storms that left millions without power and water. The White House announced the trip on Tuesday. It is the president’s first trip to the state since he took office last month. “The president will meet with local leaders to discuss the winter storm, relief efforts, progress toward recovery and the incredible resilience shown by the people of Houston and Texas,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. She said Biden will also visit a COVID health center where vaccines are being distributed, but did not specify which.

The trip comes as the president has declared a major disaster for 108 of the state’s 254 counties, with Gov. Greg Abbott and members of the Texas delegation urging him to expand it to cover the entire state. “Although the initial effects of this unprecedented winter storm are beginning to dissipate, the entire state continues to reel from the aftermath that has left millions without power, potable water, and dwindling food supplies,” more than two dozen members of Congress from Texas wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday. Psaki did not say Tuesday whether the president planned to expand the declaration further. “In Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, sheltering operations continue to decrease, power and transportation are back to normal and water restoration continues,” Psaki said. “However, 9.8 million people are affected by water system outages and remain under boil water notices.” She said 9 million liters of water have been delivered or are on the way to more than 200 locally managed water distribution sites.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Erica Grieder: A leader should be 'an anchor,' at least, during a crisis

We can all agree, surely, that it’s bad “optics” for an elected official to leave the state they represent while it’s in the midst of a crisis. And optics, in such a situation, aren’t merely a matter of public relations. “I would say that one of the roles of a leader is to serve as an anchor during times of crises,” said L. Douglas Kiel, professor of public affairs and administration at the University of Texas at Dallas, on Tuesday. “One doesn’t have to be an expert in leadership to know that,” he continued. “It’s kind of common sense.” “This is not a very high bar that needed to be met,” Kiel added. Some of our state leaders could use such a reminder. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, has said that his decision to fly with his family to Cancun on Wednesday afternoon for a little vacation was “obviously a mistake.”

It’s a mistake you shouldn’t dwell on, though, according to the Republican lawmaker, who booked a return flight back to Texas shortly after landing in Mexico, at which point photos had already gone viral of him toting a well-stuffed roller bag at the airport. “I want to diagnose the media,” Cruz said Monday, in an interview with right-wing radio host Dana Loesch. “The media is suffering from acute Trump withdrawal, where for four years every day they could foam at the mouth and be obsessed with Donald Trump, and now that he has receded from their day-to-day storyline, they don’t know what to do with themselves.” The coverage of his ill-fated beach vacation, he continued, is “a bit much.” In another interview, with the podcast Ruthless, Cruz also lamented that one of his wife Heidi’s friends had leaked screenshots of the group chat messages in which she proposed the Mexico trip. “It's a sign of how ridiculously politicized and nasty and just — y’know, here’s a suggestion, just don’t be a--holes! Like, just treat each other as human beings,” Cruz said. Good advice. The senator should look in the mirror next time he issues it. Cruz is one of several elected officials in Texas who have found themselves roundly lambasted after leaving the state during the midst of last week’s crisis. Attorney General Ken Paxton skipped off to Utah at some point midweek with his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton. He had meetings with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, according to the latter’s office, on Wednesday and Friday.

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Houston Chronicle - February 24, 2021

Griddy came to Texas to disrupt the power market, but can it survive being shaken?

Griddy, a California-based startup, came to Texas about three years ago hoping to shake up the power market by offering wholesale electricity prices to consumers. But it appears that the market has shaken Griddy. Griddy is facing harsh criticism from political leaders, lawsuits from angry consumers and an investigation by the Public Utility Commission after its customers were hit with electricity bills in the thousands of dollars as wholesale prices spiked during last week’s severe power shortages. It wasn’t the first time that Griddy’s model, which charges customers $10 a month for access to wholesale pricing, left customers with huge bills, dwindling bank accounts and rising credit card charges. Electricity charges for its customers soared into hundreds of dollars in during a heat wave in August 2019, when wholesale prices rose because of tight power supplies.

Whether Griddy and its model can survive the backlash this time remains to be seen. The attention it has received, both in Texas and nationally, has battered its reputation and undermined Griddy’s basic premise: that consumers should have the same access to wholesale markets as companies and traders. Buying wholesale could save individuals a great deal of money, said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, but they need a long-term outlook as well as the stomach and cash to weather price spikes, he said. But most people don’t have the time or resources to monitor markets closely, he said. Most of the entities in wholesale power markets have trading desks, analysts, and people whose full-time job it is to assess where prices are going, Rhodes said. “It's just hard for me to believe that the average consumer in Texas has the information that they need and the ability to act on that information that they would need to operate in the wholesale market,” Rhodes said. Griddy entered the Texas power market in 2018, positioning itself as a disruptor that would give people more control over electricity costs and using edgy advertising that taunted competitors that offered traditional retail plans.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 23, 2021

Samsung's Austin fab still quiet after outages; cost to company could be millions

Samsung has not yet resumed full operations at its Austin fabrication facility after it was shut down last week amid statewide power shortages – a situation that industry experts say could be costing the technology giant millions of dollars. Samsung, which is the biggest electricity user on the Austin Energy power grid, is among several large industrial power users that had to shut down their Austin operations amid the Texas freeze. Samsung's power was restored on Saturday, but the company confirmed it is not yet resumed work at its Austin fab. "While we are currently making efforts to resume operations as soon as possible, the process may require more time to reach normal levels as we inspect and reconfigure the facility. Our primary focus is to ensure safety on-site for our workforce as well as our community," Samsung spokeswoman Michele Glaze said.

Last week, a consortium known as the Coalition for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy that negotiates with Austin Energy on behalf of the city's biggest users of electricity confirmed that the city ordered the companies to idle or shut down amid ongoing power shortages. The shutdown came as many Austin homes were without power and residents were dealing with potentially dangerous conditions. Industry experts estimate the shutdown could cost Samsung millions of dollars between the loss of product and lost production days. "Anything over a week of lost production and you start getting to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production revenue and that's the big hit," said Matt Bryson, an analyst and senior vice president of research for Wedbush Securities. Bryson said about a quarter to a third of the company's fabrication production is in Austin, and the Samsung fab in Austin typically runs 24 hours a day. More:Austin tax breaks sought by Samsung among biggest ever Once a wafer, or a thin slice of semiconductor, is in the production process, shutting down can lead to loss of product, Bryson said. Each batch of wafers can take 45 to 60 days to make, so any product lost would represent weeks of work. Even without material loss a shutdown still slows the process, and turning a factory back on for production will still take more time, he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 23, 2021

Travis County launches criminal investigation into Texas power crisis

Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza said Tuesday that he is opening a criminal investigation to determine whether any entity or individuals should face charges stemming from last week's power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark. Garza told the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV that "our office will be be conducting an investigation into the events that led to last week's crisis, and we will do everything we can to hold powerful actors accountable whose actions or inactions may have led to the suffering." "Lives were lost, homes were lost and it will take weeks, months and — in some cases — years for some people to be made whole again," Garza said. "We will not forget the horror our community experienced."

Garza declined to cite the target of his investigation and whether it was aimed specifically at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's power grid. He added that he was heartened to see how the Austin community and others came together, and he specifically named EMS and hospital workers, firefighters and law enforcement. "You made us proud, and thank you," he said. Garza, who had been evaluating whether to open the investigation in recent days, made the announcement hours after state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, D-San Antonio, sent a letter to Garza urging him to investigate the "failure of the state of Texas and the Texas energy industry to prepare for last week's catastrophic winter storms." Fisher then issued a statement: "Put plainly, what happened last week in our state was a crime. No amount of promises from industry players to do better next time will fix this, and even the most forward-thinking policy is insufficient to offer justice to Texans impacted by the storm." "The state of Texas cannot investigate itself," Fisher said. "We need a thorough outside investigation to determine whether acts and omissions of state officials violated the law."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 24, 2021

East Texas bank president stole $11 million with fake loans. Now she’s going to prison.

The former president of a small-town East Texas bank was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Tuesday for her role in masterminding one of the most extensive cases of bank fraud in Texas history. Anita Gail Moody, 57, began working at Enloe State Bank as a teenager. The bank is in Delta County, 120 miles northeast of Fort Worth. After climbing the ranks to president, Moody quietly stole more than $11 million from her workplace using more than 100 fake loans to funnel money to friends and family, she admitted in court documents last year.

The scheme unraveled when Moody set fire to loan paperwork on a boardroom table of the bank in Cooper in May 2019, the weekend before Texas regulators were scheduled to conduct a routine exam of the bank’s books. Federal agents descended on Cooper, population 2,180, after the fire. The Texas Department of Banking soon closed the bank, which had issued cotton farmers loans since the Great Depression. For weeks, Texas regulators and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. investigators set up shop and pored over loan documentation between pews at a church next to the bank building, which quickly reopened under new ownership. Enloe became the first Texas bank to fail in five and a half years. It cost the FDIC’s insurance fund an estimated $21 million and left Delta County residents reeling. Federal prosecutors charged Moody with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and arson in April of last year. After a judge rejected an initial plea agreement in October, Moody’s eight-year sentence was handed down this week in Sherman by U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2021

Supreme Court ends 12-year Fort Worth legal battle over $100 million in church property

A breakaway diocese in Fort Worth will retain the rights to $100 million in property and assets after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the case between the diocese and the national Episcopal Church, upholding a previous decision by the Texas Supreme Court. The decision is the beginning of the end of a 12-year legal battle between the national Episcopal Church and the Fort Worth-area diocese. In 2008, Rev. Jack Iker led a revolt against the church, condemning the national Episcopal Church for socially liberal practices, such as the consecration of a gay bishop. About 15,000 local congregants from 48 churches followed his lead. Eight churches did not follow suit and remained loyal to the national Episcopal Church. Other churches’ congregations were split, forcing those in the minority to find other places to worship.

The breakaway diocese is now part of the more conservative Anglican Church of North America. As a conservative church leader, Iker disagreed with the Episcopal Church’s practices of ordaining women as priests, overseeing same-sex unions and the consecration of a gay bishop. Contrary to status quo, the Anglican Church group wished to leave the official church but still retain $100 million worth of property, buildings and investments. The national church pushed back, arguing that the property belonged to them. Both groups — the breakaway group and those who remained loyal to the national church — go by the name Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. The right to that name is one of several legal loose ends that will likely be determined by a judge. In May 2020, the Texas Supreme Court court ruled in favor of the breakaway group. The national church appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. By upholding the 2020 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the national church’s hold on those churches and other property. About 8,000 people in the Fort Worth area remain part of the national Episcopal Church, Katie Sherrod, communication director of the diocese, said. Those congregations were left with eight buildings after the schism and now have 15 total. Five of the buildings now legally belong to the Iker’s breakaway group. They will likely have to vacate those buildings, including the 4Saints Episcopal Food Pantry in east Fort Worth. Other Episcopal dioceses have undergone similar conservative revolts and faced varying legal success.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 23, 2021

Arlington’s Globe Life Field, AT&T Stadium to open for COVID vaccinations

Stadiums in Arlington over the next several weeks will open as community vaccination centers in the city’s partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Globe Life Field will open Friday as the newest vaccination hub in the city, then will transition to AT&T Stadium to administer first- and second-dose vaccinations to those registered through Tarrant County Public Health. The site will be open seven days a week and is expected to administer around 21,000 shots per week. Vaccinations remain open only to medical and front-line emergency workers, those 65 and up and 18 and older who are susceptible to severe illness. To aid in administration, FEMA deployed military personnel from Camp Pendleton, Calif. To operate the site. Around 140 personnel composed of military medical personnel will begin work at Globe Life Field Friday.

Federal and state officials have worked with Arlington’s fire department, American Medical Response, the Rangers and the Cowboys to prepare both stadiums for mass vaccinations. “This collaboration means that thousands more people in our community will be protected from the virus, further reducing the strain on our local hospitals and allowing for us to return to normalcy more quickly,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said in a press release. Texas will host three federal sites in Arlington, Fair Park in Dallas and NRG Stadium in Houston.

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Politifact Texas - February 23, 2021

Fact-checking Infowars' claim that Biden blocked Texas from increasing power before deadly storm

As millions of Texans regained power after a severe winter storm brought snow, ice and freezing temperatures, some conspiracy theorists tried to pin the widespread outage on the Biden administration. On Feb. 20, InfoWars, a conspiracy website run by Alex Jones, published an article with the headline: "Joe Biden’s Dept. of Energy Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Killer Storm." "An Emergency Order from the Biden administration’s Department of Energy shows Texas energy grid operator ERCOT was instructed to stay within green energy standards by purchasing energy from outside the state at a higher cost, throttling power output throughout the state ahead of a catastrophic polar vortex," the story says. The article, interspersed with ads for InfoWars-brand sleep aid supplements, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.

Facebook has banned InfoWars and associated accounts from its platform since 2019, citing concerns about hate speech and content promoting violence. Still, this article had been shared thousands of times on Facebook, so we wanted to take a closer look. The story is wrong — the Energy Department did not "block" Texas from increasing power production before the winter storm hit. The "major smoking gun" cited by InfoWars is actually an emergency order that temporarily suspended federal emissions caps in the state so that some power plants could operate at maximum capacity. We reached out to InfoWars for a comment, but we haven’t heard back. InfoWars wrote that the Energy Department "Blocked Texas from Increasing Power Ahead of Killer Storm." That’s wrong — the Energy Department did the opposite. On the same day that ERCOT asked the government to allow power plants to exceed federal emissions caps, the Energy Department granted the request. The emergency order helped Texas increase its power production during what became a devastating winter storm. InfoWars’ article is inaccurate and ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!

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New York Times - February 22, 2021

Texans needed food and comfort after a brutal storm. As usual, they found it at H-E-B.

The past week had been a nightmare. A winter storm, one of the worst to hit Texas in a generation, robbed Lanita Generous of power, heat and water in her home. The food she had stored in her refrigerator and freezer had spoiled. She was down to her final five bottles of water. “I have never felt so powerless,” Ms. Generous, a copywriter, said. But on Sunday, as the sun shined and ice thawed in Austin, Ms. Generous did the same thing as many Texans in urgent need of food, water and a sense of normalcy: She went to H-E-B. “They’ve been great,” she said, adding with just a touch of hyperbole: “If it hadn’t been for the bread and peanut butter, I would have died in my apartment.” H-E-B is a grocery store chain. But it is also more than that. People buy T-shirts that say “H-E-B for President,” and they post videos to TikTok declaring their love, like the woman clutching a small bouquet of flowers handed to her by an employee: “I wish I had a boyfriend like H-E-B. Always there. Gives me flowers. Feeds me.”

The storm and its devastation have tested a notion of independence that is deeply ingrained in Texas, a sense that Texans and their businesses can handle things on their own without the intrusion of outsiders or the shackles of regulation. It is an ideology evident in Texas’ decision to have a power grid of its own, one that was pushed by the storm to the edge of collapse and was a source of fury as millions were left without electricity during the worst of the frigid conditions. But for many Texans, H-E-B reflected the ways the state’s maverick spirit can flourish: reliable for routine visits but particularly in a time of disaster, and a belief that the family-owned chain — with a vast majority of its more than 340 locations inside state lines — has made a conscious choice to stay rooted to the idea of being a good neighbor. “It’s like H-E-B is the moral center of Texas,” said Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and journalist who lives in Austin. “There seems to be in our state a lack of real leadership, a lack of real efficiency, on the political level. But on the business level, when it comes to a grocery store, all of those things are in place.” As frustration swelled among residents trapped in their homes without power or water, some started to remark, half-jokingly, that H-E-B should just take over. The chain has become known for its logistical prowess — in responding to the coronavirus pandemic and to hurricanes, with stockpiles of water and emergency supplies ready to be deployed. “So many Texans look to H-E-B almost as a de facto arm of government,” Greg Jefferson, the business editor of The San Antonio Express-News, wrote in his column.

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WFAA - February 23, 2021

'He scammed my mom out of $10,000': Better Business Bureau says complaints against contractors are up

This week, repairs begin after a historic winter storm froze water pipes that flooded homes, apartments and office buildings across the state. But experts say rushing to select a contractor could end up causing you worse problems. How do you know who to trust? We've compiled a list of tips at the end of this story to help you select a good, honest contractor.

“(Childers) stole the money,” Lindsay said. “He didn't deliver my product. He didn't finish the work and he's not responding. He disappeared.” Lindsay isn’t the only one looking for Childers these days, we found. “I want to ring his neck,” said Concepcion Howard, who said she is another victim of Childers. “He scammed my mom out of $10,000,” said Ginger Emery. “He took the money, but then he didn't do anything but buy the paint,” said Carmen Moore. “I did a roofing job for him as one of his (subcontractors) and he never did pay me,” said Edward Cuellar. “We’re out $1,700,” said John Kittrell. “He’s a con artist – no doubt about it,” said Kent Taylor. “I lost a little more than $8,000 to that guy,” said Gerardo Garza. WFAA talked to nine people – all of them have similar stories about Don Childers.

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Washington Post - February 23, 2021

Elon Musk moved to Texas and embraced celebrity. Can Tesla run on Autopilot?

Elon Musk says he is stretched too thin. The chief executive of both electric car manufacturer Tesla and rocket company SpaceX bounces nearly daily on his private jet between locations - traveling to his longtime home in southern California, Tesla's plant in the Bay Area, the site of a new factory in Austin, Texas and SpaceX's launch facility on that state's Gulf Coast. Twice in a matter of days recently, the 49-year old complained of what he called an "insane" work schedule, juggling responsibilities with his car company and aerospace firm and taking in "torrents of information" in wall-to-wall meetings.

But critics say the rigors of Musk's personal schedule, and the seeming cult of personality that has developed around him, are beginning to show in the car company he runs - the one that he took from an upstart pioneer in electric vehicles to the world's most valuable automaker. Musk, they say, is drowning in outside commitments like his aerospace company and other endeavors while letting quality - and strategy - at Tesla fall victim. And there are familiar concerns. "There have been years past where some of his behavior was horrifying and had cost huge costs especially from his little tussle with the SEC," said Ross Gerber, a Tesla investor and supporter of Musk who is close to the company. "And he's come a long way. What I'm worried about is his success makes him a little bit loose again." Musk spent much of the past year focused on trying to demonstrate his aerospace firm's viability to shuttle people into space on reusable rockets, all while Tesla worked to construct multiple factories and launched a new SUV. Musk also juggled the birth of a newborn son and his own personal move to Texas. He sprinkled in spontaneous public appearances in venues such as social media app Clubhouse in between his barrages of tweets. Musk became the world's richest person in January, thanks to skyrocketing Tesla stock.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 23, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Winter storm's lesson - nothing short of systemic change will fix Texas electric grid

Over the past week, we’ve heard countless Texas political leaders bemoan price-gouging by electricity providers. In the wake of a devastating winter storm that brought the state’s electric grid to its knees and left more than 4 million Texans without power, stories emerged of customers who’d been saddled with outrageous electricity bills. The New York Times provided the example of Scott Willoughby, a retired Army veteran who lives in suburban Dallas. Last week, Willoughby’s life savings were cleaned out by a $16,752 power bill charged to his credit card. Gov. Greg Abbott promised to protect Texans from getting “stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted, “No power company should get a windfall because of a natural disaster.”

These responses suggest we’re seeing the same strain of crisis exploitation that occurred when Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2017. In that case, convenience stores charged hurricane victims up to $99 for a case of water and $20 for a gallon of gas. That was price gouging in its purest form. What we’re seeing now with electrical rate spikes is different. It’s a thoroughly predictable product of the system that Texas operates. Price gouging, you see, is built into the Texas electricity market. It was only a year and a half ago that the state endured a few excessively hot summer days that drove up electricity demand and put the grid at risk. Wholesale power rates went up 49,000 percent to reach the cap of $9,000 per megawatt hour established by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit that operates the grid for most of the state. The rate hike was the result of ERCOT’s energy-only market system, in which electricity is purchased from power-generating companies on a day-by-day basis, based on the perceived need at the moment. Under an energy-only system, when emergency shortfalls happen, rates go through the roof. That system is in contrast to a capacity market, in which utilities compete in auctions to purchase electric capacity years in advance. The capacity market means higher short-term costs, but also more stable rates and more incentive for electricity-generating companies to invest in new power plants and maintain their existing ones.

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Politico - February 24, 2021

Texas disaster puts Beto O’Rourke back in business

While Ted Cruz was getting clobbered for fleeing Texas amid its historic winter storm, the Democrat he defeated in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, was already deep into disaster relief mode — soliciting donations for storm victims, delivering pallets of water from his pickup truck and once again broadcasting his movements on Facebook Live. It was part of an effort orchestrated by O’Rourke and his organization, Powered by People, in response to the crisis. It was also, to Texas Democrats, a sign that O’Rourke the politician is back. The former congressman and onetime Democratic sensation acknowledged last month that he’s considering running for governor in 2022, and he has discussed the possibility with Democratic Party officials and other associates. The drubbing that Texas Republicans are taking in the wake of the deadly storm may provide him with an opening — even in his heavily Republican state.

“After all of Texas freezes over because of poor leadership, I think it’s a different state of Texas than it was two weeks ago,” said Mikal Watts, a San Antonio-based lawyer and major Democratic money bundler. If O’Rourke runs for governor, Watts said, “I think he could catch fire.” O’Rourke’s political prospects — like those of every Texas Democrat — appeared to significantly dim following the November elections, with Republican victories in the state grounding Democrats’ once-sky-high expectations there and seeming to confirm the GOP’s continued dominance. Donald Trump carried the state by more than 5 percentage points, and Republican Sen. John Cornyn won reelection by nearly 10 points. Yet O’Rourke is appealing to Democratic donors and party officials in Texas because of his popularity among the rank-and-file and expansive political network in the state, which he has only broadened since abandoning his presidential campaign in November 2019. One Democrat described him as “the Democratic Party in Texas." During the general election last year, O'Rourke's organization said it registered some 200,000 people to vote. And Powered by People, which includes two longtime advisers from O'Rourke's political campaigns, was beginning a program to sign people up for coronavirus vaccines when the storm hit, prompting it to shift its focus to the relief effort. O’Rourke, through his group, has raised more than $1.4 million for the recovery, scrambled a legion of volunteers to knock on doors and, via phone banks, made more than 900,000 wellness checks on seniors.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Dallas County medical examiner looking into whether 17 deaths caused by winter storm

The Dallas County medical examiner’s office said Tuesday that it is investigating whether 17 deaths are linked to the winter storm. The agency said it could take two to three months until the causes of death are determined. The medical examiner’s office did not provide any details about those deaths. All the deaths occurred in Dallas County. At least three Dallas County men are suspected of dying last week of carbon monoxide poisoning, police in Garland and Dallas said.

The first wave of the storm moved through North Texas late Feb. 14 into early Feb. 15, dropping several inches of snow across the region and plunging temperatures into the single digits. Temperatures remained below freezing for days as people across Dallas-Fort Worth and the rest of the state dealt with widespread power outages, burst pipes, boil-water notices and other fallout from the winter weather. Another storm system blanketed North Texas with an additional inch or so of snow midweek before temperatures finally climbed above freezing on Friday. Statewide, the weather was blamed for about 40 deaths, The Associated Press reported. It was unclear how many of those deaths were in the Dallas area. Dallas police said Tuesday that officers found a man dead in his home in the Love Field area last week who may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: It’s about much more than who had power in the storm. Dallas must fix long-standing inequities

As soon as the Texas weather flipped from deep-freeze to delightful, neighborhoods like mine in East Dallas began sharing our tales of misery and hardship. Residents compared damage estimates as the streets clogged with repair trucks and folks just home from hotel refuges. We began to catch up on our sleep after long nights of listening to household faucets drip, drip, drip -- and obsessing over whether the sound of water was actually another pipe about to bust. Yet like folks all over Texas, nothing has consumed us more than this angry battle cry: Resist letting our leaders off the hook for the massive infrastructure failures that wrecked out our comfy lives.

I get that righteous frustration. But let me suggest something else that we must resist: Our own complacency around the fact that catastrophes like this one fall so much harder onto underserved communities than they do on the rest of us. As we rage at Austin for allowing our comfortable lives to be interrupted, how about considering how we can help break down the institutional and financial barriers that imprison those whose existence is never secure? Can this crisis teach us the true meaning of equity and force us to quit looking the other way? While the moral argument for equity should be sufficient motivation, this weather disaster gave many North Texans an ice-cold kick in the pants to see what it’s like to lack the basics -- the heat, water and groceries to keep our loved ones safe. Yet even in the darkest moments, we weren’t all in the same boat. The vessels of our low-income neighbors were barely afloat well before the unprecedented winter storm blew in.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2021

Dallas man found dead may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning during winter storm

A man found dead in his home in the Love Field area last week may have died from carbon monoxide poisoning during North Texas’ extreme winter weather, Dallas police said. Officers responded to a carbon monoxide detector alarm on Feb. 14 at around 11 a.m. at 4618 Cedar Springs Road, near Lemmon Avenue and the Dallas North Tollway, and found 34-year old Lorenzo Charles Washington III inside. There was an extremely high carbon monoxide reading when authorities arrived, police said.

Washington is at least the third Dallas County man suspected to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning during last week’s storm. Two Garland men were found dead inside an apartment Friday, likely dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, Garland police said. The men were identified as 41-year-old Arnulfo Escalante Lopez and 28-year-old Jose Anguiano Torres, Garland police said. Officers found a gas-powered generator inside, near where the men were found, police said. The generator was turned on and connected to extension cords, but it seemed to be out of gas, police said. The Dallas County medical examiner’s office is working to determine the cause of death for all three men.

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National Stories

CNN - February 23, 2021

The Justice Department is facing a tougher climb trying to keep Capitol rioters locked up

The Justice Department is facing a tougher climb as it argues Capitol riot defendants should stay in jail -- with federal judges pressing prosecutors to explain possible inconsistencies in their arguments in some of the most high-profile cases related to the insurrection this week. The apparent calculus prosecutors are using to determine whether they ask for jail time came to a head twice in court Tuesday, as they argued for the detention of a member of the pro-Trump extremist group the Proud Boys who carried an axe handle wrapped in a flag, and for an alleged conspirator among the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers who was suited up in armor at the riot and had said she was leading a group in response to the President's and others' signals. Federal judges have landed all over the map in their decisions to keep alleged Capitol rioters detained, with many judges rejecting the Justice Department's initial requests to keep defendants in jail pending trial, and several appeals ongoing.

As the cases unfurl and count into the hundreds, the Justice Department is developing some patterns outside the obvious arguments for keeping a defendant in jail before trial. For defendants that could go either way based on their charges and criminal history alone, prosecutors have tried to push threats related to weapons they may have carried and actions they took after January 6 in making the cases for detention. In the Proud Boy case on Tuesday, Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, DC, pressed prosecutors to explain why one of more than a dozen Capitol riot defendants affiliated with the group should stay in jail, when the Justice Department previously took no issue with the release of other Proud Boys leaders who were arrested. Howell, considering whether to keep Kansas City-area Proud Boy William Chrestman detained, asked about the release of Proud Boys Hawaii leader Nicholas Ochs, who allegedly organized support before January 6 then etched the words "murder the media" on a door in the Capitol alongside his co-defendant Nicholas DeCarlo, who was also released after his arrest.

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CNN - February 24, 2021

Democrats now at odds over whether to immediately seek postmaster general's ouster

To Democrats last year, he was the ultimate boogeyman: Louis DeJoy, the man they believed mounted a brazen campaign to slow down the mail and thwart Joe Biden's presidential hopes. But Biden is now President -- and times have changed. Changes made to the Postal Service under DeJoy, the US postmaster general and major donor to former President Donald Trump, sparked outrage last year when critics blamed him for the slowdown of mail delivery ahead of the critical November election. Democrats linked DeJoy to Trump's anti-mail-in voting rhetoric and accused him of attempting to sabotage the Postal Service just as Biden was relying on mailed ballots to deliver him the White House.

But now, Democrats are at odds over how to handle DeJoy -- who can only be dismissed by the USPS Board of Governors -- with Biden himself yet to weigh in on DeJoy's future even as it's dividing his party on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, DeJoy will be back in the hot seat on the Hill, fielding questions before the House Oversight Committee, a panel where Democrats grilled him last summer and demanded his immediate ouster amid the tense final weeks of the presidential campaign. But this time, Democrats are not speaking with one clear voice, with some pushing for a brand new slate of governors who could immediately fire DeJoy, while others are taking a more moderate approach, hoping they can instead work with the controversial USPS leader and cut a deal on a long-awaited bill to overhaul the postal service. In the latter camp is House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who is working behind the scenes with DeJoy on a potential reform bill that has eluded Congress for more than 14 years, according to multiple Democratic sources. Her goal: Secure backing from DeJoy and win over Republicans whose support they'll eventually need in the Senate to push the bill into law.

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Washington Post - February 23, 2021

Robin Givhan: Optics aren’t everything. Sometimes they are the only thing.

There were many words, but the word of the day was optics. Tuesday morning, the Senate convened to examine the security lapses at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and although the witnesses made it clear that there were multiple points of failure — from poorly communicated intelligence to an institutional inability to imagine the worst — the missteps always seemed to come down to optics. To appearances. To assumptions about how things look to be. Optics were introduced by Paul Irving, the former sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives. Through much of the day, he quibbled with its definition and the way in which his use of it had been characterized. As rioters were scaling the walls of the Capitol and turning themselves into human battering rams to break down the doors, a central question became: Where was the D.C. National Guard? Why weren’t they called in sooner? Was the delay because government officials were worried about how it would look to have troops on the Capitol grounds?

Irving said he was never concerned about how such an image might be perceived across the country and around the world. “I was not concerned about appearance whatsoever,” Irving said. “I was concerned about safety.” This may be true. And yet appearances are in the thick of things. The day’s testimony began with a Black woman with shoulder-length dreadlocks dressed in a Capitol Police uniform, with its epaulets and badges and her gold shield. The presence of Carneysha Mendoza, a captain and an Army veteran, spoke volumes about who stood up to protect democracy. She defined patriotic in a way that so many of the rioters, with their allegiances to white supremacy and misogyny, do not. She had been prepared for violent mobs of racists and Proud Boys and other extremists because she’d dealt with them before, and doing so was part of her job. She was prepared for the hailstorm of vile personal attacks because she has “been called some of the worst names so many times that I’m pretty numb to it now.” She was ready for most anything because the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had taught her that “the unthinkable is always possible.” Her statement detailing the events wasn’t filled with lurid details. Instead, it was loaded with data points of heartbreaking, enraging and terrifying normalcy.

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New York Times - February 23, 2021

Illinois becomes first state to eliminate cash bail

Illinois has become the first state to completely eliminate cash bail, a result of a push by state legislators to end a practice they say keeps poor people in jail for months awaiting trial and disproportionately affects Black and Latino defendants. The change is part of a sweeping law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, on Monday. He said the legislation would transform the state’s legal system and increase accountability measures for police officers, such as requiring the use of body-worn cameras by police departments statewide. “This legislation marks a substantial step toward dismantling the systemic racism that plagues our communities, our state and our nation and brings us closer to true safety, true fairness and true justice,” Mr. Pritzker said in a statement. Over the years, New Jersey, California and New York have limited the use of bail, a system that opponents have criticized as unfair to poor people, who are forced to remain in detention even though they have not been convicted of the charges that led to their arrest.

Supporters of the elimination of cash bail have pointed to cases like that of Kalief Browder, who was 16 when he was ordered held for three years at Rikers Island because his family could not afford a $3,000 bail. Mr. Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack, killed himself two years after his release, when he was 22. Under Illinois’s new law, judges will no longer be able to set any kind of bail for a defendant charged with a crime, making it unique among states that have reformed the bail system, according to legislators. Legislators had tried for at least five years to pass legislation that would end the practice, according to State Representative Kam Buckner, who is also chairman of the Illinois House Legislative Black Caucus, which pushed for the law. The killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, touched off a nationwide examination of the treatment of Black people and other people of color by the police and court system, Mr. Buckner said. “We’ve had a very obvious and painful reckoning over the last 12 months in this country,” he said. People have done “some soul-searching and have realized that we need to change the way we do business.” Mr. Buckner said the legislation was the culmination of exhaustive research into the laws and practices in other states and countries. Under the new system, judges will be presented with evidence to determine what kind of risk releasing a defendant poses to the community and whether the defendant can be counted on to return to court. A judge will then determine if the person should be held in detention until trial.

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Newsclips - February 23, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton traveled to Utah during last week’s power outages

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, left Texas for Utah during last week’s deep freeze. Ken Paxton’s campaign spokesman said Paxton traveled to the state to meet with the Utah attorney general, but did not answer questions about when he left or returned. According to a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the two Republicans met in Salt Lake City on Wednesday afternoon and again on Friday. The attorneys general discussed an antitrust lawsuit several states are pursuing against Google, and Paxton attended a demonstration of a police training program, Paxton’s campaign spokesman Ian Prior said. It’s not clear why the visit was not rescheduled. Prior said the pair met multiple times over the course of several days.

“I cannot further share additional details or the specific reasons on the need for the meeting concerning Google as it involves an ongoing investigation,” Prior said. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. Angela Paxton, a Republican who represents parts of Collin County, “joined AG Paxton on a previously planned trip to Utah which included meetings that benefit her efforts to promote human dignity and support law enforcement,” spokesperson Randan Steinhauser said in a text message. Steinhauser provided no further detail and did not immediately respond to questions about who Paxton met with, how the trip was paid for or when the couple traveled to Utah. It’s unclear whether the Paxtons have returned to Texas. While U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz faced national backlash for traveling to Cancún, Mexico during the power outages, it remains to be seen whether the Paxtons will face similar criticism, since he said he traveled on official business. The attorney general’s office performs critical jobs during emergencies like last week’s deep freeze, including responding to reports of price gouging on bottled water and hotel rooms as Texans scrambled to stay warm and find safe drinking water. Paxton also pledged to investigate the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the nonprofit that manages the state’s power grid, for its role in the outages.

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NBC News - February 22, 2021

Why Texas Democrats lost the 2020 voter turnout battle, even among Latinos

Texas Democrats conceded that Republicans won the state's turnout battle in the 2020 election by staying in the field despite the coronavirus pandemic, while the state's Democrats relied on digital and more unreliable telephone contact with voters. According to a post-election report provided in advance to NBC News, the party lost its "most powerful and competitive advantage" when it didn't dispatch volunteers to canvass in person, following the directive of Joe Biden's campaign after the pandemic hit. "Our inability to campaign was really devastating for us, especially with our main base. Our main base is Latino voters, and they do not take well to mail and texting contact," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said. The report, released Monday, found that even though Democrats turned out at higher rates than expected, so did Republican voters, who outperformed the higher Democratic turnout.

The party struggled to reach voters "for whom we did not have phone numbers, who are disproportionately young [and] rural," as well as people of color. Despite early hopes that they could turn the state blue, Democrats didn't win any new congressional seats or flip the state House, and former President Donald Trump got higher vote shares than expected in heavily Hispanic counties. The report did not find a Latino shift to Republicans and Trump; about two-thirds of the state's Hispanics continue to support Democrats. "Many have interpreted this as 'Latinos voted for Trump,' but it's more accurate to say, 'Latinos who were already Republicans turned out more than Latino Democrats,'" said the report, assembled by Hudson Cavanaugh, the state party's director of data science. Support for Trump increased significantly in mostly rural, majority Latino counties, accounting for an estimated 17,000 net votes, according to the report. Latinos moved to Trump in the Rio Grande Valley and in some parts of the Texas Panhandle, although they also supported Democratic candidates lower on the ballot. Republicans were able to make headway in the conservative state with rhetoric blasting the Democrats' progressive wing on police reform — reduced to "defunding the police" — and on moving away from fossil fuels, which the GOP emphasized could affect jobs in Texas. Turnout was lower among Latinos than among other groups but higher than expected.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

‘We were told they were prepared,’ Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says of officials before crippling winter storm

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday that lawmakers “will not rest” until Texas’ energy delivery system is fortified to prevent the massive power outages experienced by residents during last week’s winter blast from occurring again. “We were told they were prepared,” Patrick said of the Energy Reliability Council of Texas and other players in Texas’ energy system. “They weren’t prepared as they told us they were. And you were cold at night. And your water went out and some people died in the storm…We’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

During the news conference at Love Field, Patrick said the Legislature would convene hearings this week on the matter, adding that the heads of energy companies and other stakeholders would be issued subpoenas, if necessary, to compel testimony. “We expect people to show up who are leaders in their companies, and the people who are the experts in their companies,” Patrick said, adding that “there are lots of players for lots of issues, but we intend to get to the bottom of it.” Patrick said a long-term solution could be costly and take some time. “We are going to leave no stone unturned,” he said. “And wherever the evidence leads us, that’s how we’re going to solve the problem.” Evidence of negligence by ERCOT and others is already emerging. On Monday U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, said officials from ERCOT and the Texas Railroad Commission were warned by Curt Morgan, CEO of the North Texas based energy company Vistra Corporation, that officials hadn’t adequately prepared for the winter weather.

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Washington Post - February 22, 2021

First migrant facility for children under Biden opens in Texas

Dozens of migrant teens boarded vans Monday for the trip down a dusty road to a former man camp for oil field workers here, the first migrant child facility opened under the Biden administration. The emergency facility — a vestige of the Trump administration that was open for only a month in summer 2019 — is being reactivated to hold up to 700 children ages 13 to 17. Government officials say the camp is needed because facilities for migrant children have had to cut capacity by nearly half because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has been inching up, with January reporting the highest total — more than 5,700 apprehensions — for that month in recent years.

But immigration lawyers and advocates question why the Biden administration would choose to reopen a Trump-era facility that was the source of protests and controversy. From the “tent city” in Tornillo, Tex., to a sprawling for-profit facility in Homestead, Fla., emergency shelters have been criticized by advocates for immigrants, lawyers and human rights activists over their conditions, cost and lack of transparency in their operations. “It’s unnecessary, it’s costly, and it goes absolutely against everything [President] Biden promised he was going to do,” said Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio-based immigration lawyer who represents unaccompanied minors. “It’s a step backward, is what it is. It’s a huge step backward.” During the campaign, Biden pledged to undo former president Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies. In his first month in office, Biden signed several executive orders reversing many of those policies. Last week, he and House Democrats introduced a plan that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The administration also reversed some of Trump’s expulsion practices by accepting unaccompanied children into the country, a change that also is contributing to an increase of minors in government facilities, officials said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Phelan's picks for first-time committee chairs brings diversity - but too many ideologues

While millions of Texans languished without power last week, a dozen of their state representatives were trying on power’s trappings. Political power, that is. The dozen members, among 34 committee chairs appointed by House Speaker Dade Phelan last week, will be heading House committees for the first time. Phelan named 21 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Five committee chairs are women and 14 are either Black, Hispanic or Asian American. State Rep. Joe Moody, a veteran El Paso Democrat, will return as speaker pro tem. Diversity is a good thing, of course — as are fresh perspectives — although there’s one category we wish the speaker had ignored: ideologues more interested in scoring political points than in getting things accomplished for their fellow Texans. A few of Phelan’s choices proudly wear the capital I on their chests.

The most glaringly bad choice among Phelan’s ideologues is state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a member of the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus. The Deer Park Republican flew to Pennsylvania after the November election to offer assistance to Rudy Giuliani and other members of the misbegotten legal team trying to toss out millions of votes. Cain would have fit right in with Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis and other cranks and conspiracists who called themselves former President Trump’s “elite strike force team.” He is not fit to chair the House Elections Committee, particularly during a session where Gov. Greg Abbott and Cain’s Freedom Caucus cohorts have vowed to do all they can to make it harder, not easier, for Texans to cast their ballots. Phelan also named one of Cain’s fellow Freedom Caucus members, Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause, as chair of the General Investigating Committee. Krause replaces state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, who will now serve as chair of Ways and Means, the committee that writes the tax laws. (Another member of the Freedom Caucus, state Rep. Kyle Biedermann, a hardware-store owner from Fredericksburg, has filed a bill seeking to form a committee to prepare Texas to secede.)

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Additional 31 Texas counties included in federal major disaster declaration

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday afternoon that 31 additional Texas counties have been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get added to President Joe Biden’s major disaster declaration, bringing the number of counties where Texans are eligible to apply for individual assistance to 108. “I thank FEMA for their swift approval of these additional counties and for their continued partnership as we ensure Texans have access to relief following the winter storm,” Abbott said in a press release. “I urge Texans to use the Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool so that the state can continue to identify damages and fight for the crucial assistance that our communities need.” The governor’s initial request last week included the entire state, but only 77 of Texas’ 254 counties were covered when Biden declared a major disaster for the state Friday night.

The initial declaration signed late Friday included the counties home to Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, but it left out 177 others. That number dropped to 146 with the latest additions, though Abbott said more counties will continue to be re-requested as the state receives further information. The counties now included are: Anderson, Austin, Bosque, Bowie, Burnet, Cherokee, Colorado, Erath, Fannin, Freestone, Gonzales, Grayson, Gregg, Harrison, Hill, Houston, Hunt, Jackson, Jim Wells, Jones, Limestone, Lubbock, Medina, Milam, Navarro, Rusk, Taylor, Tom Green, Val Verde, Washington, Wood A push from Texas lawmakers ensued after Friday’s declaration. Following separate letters to Biden from Texas Republicans and Democrats, 27 Texans in Congress wrote a bi-partisan letter Monday, urging the president to include the entire state as Texas recovers from a week of massive power outages from last week’s winter storm. “Although the initial effects of this unprecedented winter storm are beginning to dissipate, the entire state continues to reel from the aftermath that has left millions without power, potable water, and dwindled food supplies,” the letter said. “These continued challenges are impacting Texans from all backgrounds and ways of life.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Texas schools won’t have incentive to find missing students if state helps with funding, some lawmakers suggest

Some Texas lawmakers aren’t sure educators are doing everything they can to find thousands of students still aren’t showing up for school during the pandemic. So the state should use public education funding to encourage school leaders to search for absent children, members of the Senate Finance Committee said Monday. Their remarks come as public school districts risk losing millions of dollars because of enrollment drops. “If the schools are going to get paid anyway, then what is their real incentive to find these missing kids?” asked Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. “And are we paying twice for some students who are no longer at a school and really in another school district in another part of the state?”

Public schools are largely funded based on who shows up for classes. Some districts, including Dallas and Duncanville, have gone door to door looking for students who still haven’t shown up to virtual or in-person school. Texas offered schools a “hold-harmless” period during the first 18 weeks of the 2020-21 year. During this period, schools were not docked funding for unexpected enrollment drops brought about by the pandemic. Educators asked the state to keep the grace period through the end of the academic year to keep funding stable during the costly pandemic. Education Commissioner Mike Morath said at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday that he is “loath to make decisions” on extending the hold-harmless provision without conferring with lead appropriators from both the House and Senate. A resolution is coming “really quite soon,” the commissioner told senators.

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Dallas Morning News and Associated Press - February 22, 2021

Teachers may be more significant in the spread of COVID-19 than students, a new study reveals.

Teachers may be more significant drivers in the spread of COVID-19 than students, according to results from a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was released on Monday. The CDC studied nine COVID-19 transmission clusters in elementary schools in Marietta, an Atlanta suburb, in December and January. Only one of the nine clusters studied showed that a student was distinctively documented as the first coronavirus case, while teachers were documented as the first case in four different clusters. The study also found that eight out of nine clusters were potentially teacher-to-student transmitted cases. Transmission also involved two clusters that saw teachers infect one another during in-person meetings or lunches, with the teacher subsequently infecting other students.

“Educators were central to in-school transmission networks,” the authors wrote. The CDC study echoes those done in other countries including one in the United Kingdom that found that teacher-to-teacher was the most common type of school transmission and one in Germany where it was discovered that in-school transmission rates were three times higher when the first documented case was a teacher. In some American districts, schools have had to go all-virtual because so many teachers were exposed to the virus. The CDC study suggested that it would be desirable to vaccinate teachers to protect educators, minimize in-school transmission and keep schools operating in person, although the CDC restated that teacher vaccination is “not a requirement for reopening schools.” However, Texas teachers have yet to be prioritized on the state’s list of vaccine eligibility. Some state leaders -- including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — called for educators to be moved closer to the front of the line. Teacher groups call being left out of Texas’ prioritization list in the state’s second phase of vaccinations a “slap in the face.”. That second phase, which began last month, was far more broad and prioritized those who were 65 and older, as well as those 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition that put them at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Dallas County reports 348 coronavirus cases, 18 deaths as nation’s toll from COVID-19 tops 500,000

Dallas County reported 348 new coronavirus cases Monday, as well as 18 more deaths from COVID-19. Meanwhile, the United States passed half a million deaths from the virus, hitting a total of 500,172 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The latest Dallas County victims were mostly in their 70s and older. Four of them — a Carrollton man in his 50s, a Garland man in his 80s, a Richardson man in his 80s and a Rowlett man in his 80s — did not have underlying high-risk health conditions. Five were Dallas residents, and five more were from Garland. Two were from Richardson, and one each lived in Carrollton, Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Grand Prairie, Irving and Rowlett. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that case numbers remained low because of last week’s weather but should return to normal soon. Jenkins also said the county’s vaccine site at Fair Park ran out of doses and would not operate until it receives more. Although he had hoped the next shipment would arrive early enough to open the site Tuesday, Jenkins tweeted Monday night that the uncertainty involved meant that the site would be closed Tuesday. Of the new cases, 270 were confirmed and 78 were probable. The numbers bring the county’s overall case total to 277,293, including 243,040 confirmed and 34,253 probable. The death toll is 2,856.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

‘This is America’: Some Dallas residents depend on fire hydrants, donations for water to flush toilets, drink

Yesenia Flores and her 9-year-old son filled metal pots and plastic pails with chilly water from a silver-and-blue fire hydrant. Last week’s winter storm left them without water after pipes burst in their Vickery Meadow apartment building in northeast Dallas. Electricity and water are flowing now for most Texans but many, like Flores, still struggle for basic needs. Water scarcity has come to this. Three hours in line for a few pots of water from a fire hydrant to flush toilets and wash dishes.

“This is like Mexico,” Flores said as her son watched the water flow. “They never fix anything here.” Some power and pipe failures from the bitter weather crisis are due to local system issues that utilities workers are scrambling to fix. Others are without water from household pipe bursts that launched an army of plumbers to mend. Outside, temperatures continued to climb Monday, with highs expected in the 70s Tuesday. The only remnants of the winter storm outside were a few scattered piles of frozen ice and snow in the shade that hadn’t quite managed to melt. But in homes, apartments, underground water mains and the state’s power grid, the ripple effects of the historic storm were still felt acutely. Dallas officials said they received more than 4,000 water-related calls since last Sunday. City spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar said Dallas confirmed 307 water main breaks and leaks and made 147 repairs since last week. In Vickery Meadow, water was still out at many apartment complexes. The neighborhood is full of apartment complexes filled with immigrants and refugees from around the world, including Myanmar, Eritrea and Mexico. More than two dozen languages are spoken there, complicating assistance. “Agua, agua, agua,” a woman yelled from the back parking lot of an apartment complex nearby.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Texas grocers say the snowstorm shortages aren’t like ones driven by pandemic last spring

Grocers and their suppliers have worked fast to replenish shelves after last week’s snowstorm and expect to have North Texas stores back to normal by this weekend. The weather’s impact on grocery shelves isn’t the same as last year’s COVID-19-driven shortages that started with toilet paper and moved throughout the store as pantry loading depleted supplies nationwide. While the Texas storm was unusually harsh and left retailers with no power and water at hundreds of stores, recovering from harsh weather is different. That’s not to say retailers, like consumers, aren’t reminded of the early months of the pandemic’s impact on shopping for essentials.

“What we learned from COVID is that transparency, safety of our employees and customers, and speed are what matters,” said Adam Wampler, Kroger’s division president. “This is a very different event than COVID. Within 72 hours, we’re back in business.” All 109 Kroger stores in North and East Texas and into Louisiana are open, and 40 of those had broken pipes that have been fixed. Amazon has reopened its delivery stations, and the online retailer said its drivers are catching up with orders that were put on hold last week. Walmart said Monday that all of its stores have reopened after having more than 500 locations closed a week ago. Tom Thumb and Albertsons said all 99 of its North Texas stores are open with regular hours. What’s lingering? Shortages of milk, eggs and bottled water have been common in recent days. Deliveries since Thursday and into the weekend as the snow melted have been focused on getting the basic milk and bread out, Wampler said. Kroger has a bottled water plant in Irving that was working to fill demand as cities were put under boil-water notices. Suppliers facing the same power outages and bad road conditions as the rest of us shifted gears to make more key items such as whole and 2% milk in gallon sizes only and white and wheat sandwich bread.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2021

Deadly winter storm adds another layer of woe for struggling Houston workers

Last Tuesday, as Houston temperatures hovered below freezing for much of the day, Gloria Sanchez’s lights — and heat — cut off and on. For Sanchez and millions of other Texans, necessities usually taken for granted — including warmth, water and access to food — had suddenly been thrown into question. Then she got a call from her manager at one of the two jobs she works to make ends meet. Bath & Bodyworks would close because of unsafe driving conditions. With that, 32 hours of wages disappeared. “It broke my heart,” Sanchez said. “Because I knew my check was going to come out short.” The winter storm will likely cost the country $50 billion in damage and economic loss, according to an estimate from forecasting company Accuweather. Much of the economic impact will be felt by hourly workers like Sanchez, economists said.

“You need to think about what’s permanently gone and what has just been delayed,” said Patrick Jankowski, an economist at the Greater Houston Partnership, a business-financed economic development group. Oil and gas production can ramp back up to meet demand. Sanchez’s 32 hours without pay are gone forever. The winter storm hit an economy already grappling with a year-long pandemic that had shaken up what work meant for many. Corporate office employees who worked from home for the past year suddenly found themselves unable to do their jobs without power, heat and water. Office buildings temporarily closed, but there was no way to keep working remotely without Zoom meetings and strong cell service. Houston’s ports and airports reflected the dichotomy of the regional economy. On Presidents’ Day, the Port of Houston was eerily quiet. The surrounding petrochemical facilities had largely powered down in response to calls to reduce energy consumption as the winter storm crippled the electric grid, and not a ship or barge came in or out of what is usually one of the nation’s busiest ports because of icy conditions. Across town, the airfields at Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports were also closed, canceling hundreds of flights.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2021

Why Houston-area gas prices could keep climbing after deadly power crisis

The price of gasoline, held unusually low by sinking demand during the pandemic, is expected to steadily rise for several months after last week’s deadly power crisis curtailed production. In Houston, the average price of gasoline soared last week by 12 cents to $2.25 a gallon, the highest price in more than a year according to fuel-tracking website GasBuddy. Area motorists now pay 18 cents more than they did in January and 14 cents more than they did a year ago, just before the pandemic began to sweep the nation. Nationally, the price of gas jumped by 10 cents to an average of $2.63, GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan said. It was the largest weekly hike since Hurricane Harvey’s historic rainfall forced the region’s refineries to shut down in August 2017. This year, it was a historic winter storm that brought the industry to a halt after the state’s power grid nearly collapsed, leaving much of the state in the dark. The storm, with brutally cold temperatures, is linked to more than 48 deaths.

Refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast, some of the largest in the nation, were brought down by rolling electric blackouts as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s self-contained power grid, became overwhelmed by demand and a loss of power generation. Motiva shut down its Port Arthur refinery, the nation’s largest with a capacity of 600,000 barrels a day, and Exxon Mobil was forced to halt its Baytown operations with a capacity of 560,500 barrels a day, according to Argus Media, an energy information provider. Others, including LyondellBasell in Houston, Citgo in Corpus Christi and the Deer Park refinery run by Total, Valero and Shell, also halted some operations. “About 20 percent of all oil refining capacity was down for a good portion of last week,” DeHaan said. Gasoline prices were already on the rise in recent weeks, spurred by a rally in crude that continued Monday. West Texas Intermediate, the nation’s benchmark, rose $2.25 Monday to settle at $61.49. Motorists aren’t likely to get a break as the U.S. prepares to enter the summer driving season, DeHaan said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2021

Cold-stunned sea turtles return to the Gulf after historic freeze

In an idle research vessel about 20 miles from the Texas coastline, Rob Perkins, a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University at Galveston, gently picked up a rehabilitated green sea turtle from inside a plastic tub. The turtle eagerly flapped its limbs as Perkins gently tossed it into the welcoming waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A week ago, this turtle was one of 60 that were cold-stunned and rescued by an army of volunteers from frigid waters, victims of the four-day freeze that briefly crippled the region. On Monday, a team of naturalists, volunteers and marine scientists packed 25 of those newly healed turtles onto the Trident, a 70-foot research vessel docked at Texas A&M’s Galveston campus, and motored off shore to release them back into the wild. “We saw them when they came in, they just looked lethargic,” said Maureen Nolan-Wilde, a master naturalist with A&M’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research. “We had people from Texas Parks and Wildlife out. It was cold, their houses were damaged, but they were still going out to try to get these turtles. A&M students out there looking. … It was this amazing partnership to get these turtles back into the water.”

The freeze represented the largest turtle cold-stunning event since researchers in 1980 began recording them nationwide, said Donna Shaver, the Texas coordinator for the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. Preliminary estimates Friday showed that more than 8,000 stunnings had been recorded in Texas this winter, the bulk of which were during the freeze. It was far above the record 4,613 cold-stunned turtles in Florida in 2010. The early estimates also showed only roughly half were found alive. “This event has been unprecedented for us in terms of the severity,” Shaver said, adding, “It’s really taken its toll. We’ve had some big cold-stunning events, but nothing of this magnitude.” Part of the reason the numbers were so big is that the population of green sea turtles — a threatened species named for the green fat deposits on their sides — has grown. But the freeze also proved “the perfect storm,” Shaver said, for causing cold stunnings. Turtles are reptiles, so their body temperatures fluctuate with the temperature of the air. If it gets too cold, they stop moving, floating to the surface of the water and sometimes to shore. Volunteers up and down Texas shorelines rushed to rescue any they could find, so they wouldn’t be hit by boats or attacked by predators. The bulk of the population is south around the Laguna Madre. Thousands of rescued turtles in that area were taken to the South Padre Island Convention Center. Texas A&M Galveston took in still more.

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2021

It takes a village: How Texas A&M used its arena to help warm residents

Reed Arena general manager Darren Davis would have enjoyed greeting the first arrivals to Texas A&M’s spacious warming center Tuesday afternoon, but three abrupt disruptions earned his tri-divided attention. “At the very minute we were opening the shelter, we had three simultaneous water leaks in the building,” Davis recalled of the memorable, moist moment in Reed Arena. “To launch a shelter and to have operational issues in the building because of the cold weather at simultaneous times — that was a bit of a challenge. But we got it done.” It takes a village to raise a child, and it also requires one to run a shelter, especially a safe haven needed in a hurry in a community trying to keep its residents warm.

Early last week, in one of the most devastating snow and ice storms to ever envelope Texas, AJ Renold of the American Red Cross in Bryan was growing desperate. All her usually reliable resources for help were in the same big, freezing boat. “The lack of electricity at our typical sheltering partners, places like churches and schools, was a huge barrier for us opening warming centers,” said Renold, executive director of the Heart of Texas chapter of the Red Cross. “When it became a more and more urgent situation, we got word that A&M was willing to open its doors to us. They said, ‘You can have Reed Arena.’” The next six words warmed Renold’s heart and hands, with one of A&M’s senior vice presidents, Amy Smith, playing a big role in organizing the collaborative effort. “A&M told us, ‘Let us know what you need,’” Renold said.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 22, 2021

San Antonio mayor: There will be 'hell to pay' if Texans are handed bill for disaster

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — not individual residents — to pay for sky-high electricity bills generated by icy weather that left millions without power. Some people in Texas who chose to pay wholesale prices for power were charged thousands of dollars after prices, typically as low as a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour, spiked to $9 per kilowatt-hour after the storm. During a CNN appearance Sunday, Nirenberg said there'd be "hell to pay" if individuals were handed the bill for the crisis. "It would be unconscionable for bills to go up and bills to be put on the backs of residents of the state that have been suffering and freezing in their homes for the last week through no fault of their own," Nirenberg said. "This was a total failure by the state's energy management, and they need to be held accountable."

The mayor added that as far as he's concerned, "that bill should be sent to ERCOT." "There will be hell to pay if there is any notion that the residents of this state should pay for this disaster," Nirenberg said. Nirenberg's comments followed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's statement Saturday that it was "unacceptable" for Texans who spent days in freezing temperatures without power to receive astronomical energy bills. The state has temporarily stopped companies from cutting off power for unpaid bills. President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster for much of Texas, including Bexar County, making federal funding available to communities. Nirenberg told CNN the city of San Antonio is working with the state, federal government and private philanthropy to ensure residents do not have to wait to fix busted pipes and other weather-related issues. The mayor said that city officials, planning for icy roads, "weren't given any notice" before blackouts began. Nirenberg did not anticipate the blackouts would leave people freezing in their homes for days and lamented that officials were given little opportunity to prepare the community.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 22, 2021

CPS Energy CEO responds to seething Facebook comments about power outages and her pay

San Antonio residents turned to the Caps Lock button Monday as they expressed their frustration with CPS Energy. The Facebook comment section below the city-owned utility's briefing was filled with seething residents, outraged by days without power amid freezing conditions and looming rate increases due to the storm. One woman wrote that she spent three days without electricity or water, trying to keep her 4-year-old twins warm as temperatures inside the home dropped to 36 degrees. Another man called for Paula Gold-Williams to be fired and "held directly responsible for this debacle."

Gold-Williams, CPS Energy’s president and CEO, was asked about the Facebook comments — and her bonus pay — by a reporter. She acknowledged the widespread public anger after a "terrible experience." "The anger that people have, I understand it," Gold-Williams said. "That is a real fact and I don't diminish in any way that people should be completely angry." Gold-Williams noted that CPS Energy canceled $13 million in incentive bonuses that would have gone to 1,800 of the utility’s employees in May, with the COVID-19 pandemic likely to cut into the utility’s bottom line. Gold-Williams had been set to receive the biggest bonus, nearly $530,000. The chief executive makes a base salary of nearly $486,000. "There are people that continue to bring up compensation as an element to be focused on," Gold-Williams said Monday. "What we believe is that we need to be focused on providing energy and serving and connecting and finding solutions." There has been no discussion of incentive pay at this time, she noted. During the briefing, Gold-Williams said the utility did not yet have an estimate of the storm's impact on customer bills. CPS Energy will pursue relief at the state and federal level before putting any excess charges on bills, she said, and could spread costs over multiple years.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 22, 2021

Vaccine doses were delayed, spoiled as storm gripped Texas. The state is racing to get back on track.

As millions of Texans faced dangerously cold temperatures in their homes last week, health care providers scrambled to save their supply of the coveted COVID-19 vaccine amid power outages and frozen roads. Texas vaccinations had resumed by the weekend in many counties after the state's power crisis brought shipping delays, canceled appointments and destroyed more than 900 doses of the vaccine across the Lone Star State. State health officials remained optimistic Monday that COVID-19 vaccine distribution would get back on track by the end of the week.

More than 100,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses have yet to be shipped because of weather conditions, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. "We're expecting about 1.5 million doses all told this week," Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the state health agency, told the American-Statesman on Monday, adding that the number includes delayed doses and second doses for those who have already received one shot. "It wouldn't surprise me if there's some carryover into next week, but I think providers are ready to go in most places; they're going to get back to it today." More than 3.1 million Texans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to state health data, or about 11% of the population. It's among the lowest rates in the country. The state's average number of daily doses administered in the past week decreased 33% from the week before, according to a Washington Post analysis. "This has slowed that down," Van Deusen said of the state's vaccine rollout during the power crisis. "There's no doubt about it, but I don't know that it's been slowed down much more than other places because the shipping at least was held up nationwide."

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Austin American-Statesman - February 22, 2021

Ted Cruz's trip notwithstanding, Texans in Congress say they've been assisting relief efforts, calling for accountability

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz drew stinging criticism for heading to Cancún while his constituents suffered the state’s energy breakdown, initially suggesting he could help, beachside, laptop and phone at the ready, by staying in touch with government officials and his staff. Does that hold water? How much impact do federal lawmakers have in a local and state crisis by being on site where they are not on the front line? According to other U.S. Texas lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, a lot. They can put pressure on federal emergency officials and federal agencies – which are funded through Congress — to get supplies to needed areas; connect with local officials to highlight a problem and work to resolve it. “It always takes an elected official to kick ass and get it done,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and consultant who advises politicians in both parties. “They control the purse strings.”

And there’s an intangible element: Lawmakers need to feel their constituents’ pain as they suffer alongside them. “It certainly gives you an understanding of what they’re going through, to a degree,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, told the American-Statesman. Doggett experienced the cold; he had to leave his home for three days. Doggett and his wife had to be rescued by a daughter when he lost power at his East Austin home early in the week, staying with her family and working out of his son-in-law’s nearby office to help his constituents. “We’re trying to respond to them through social media, posting every half-hour how to find food and water,” Doggett said. “Just being accessible is so important, not just to individuals but to organizations.” Hospitals, charities and churches all look to lawmakers, he said, in addition to federal agencies. Doggett, who has represented portions of Austin in Congress since 1994, is a veteran of dealing with bureaucrats through other crises. “The main problem is the desperation of people about water right now,” he said. Doggett said he had been in frequent contact with FEMA and Travis County Judge Andy Brown about getting truckloads of bottled water to Austin after he learned Thursday that the supplies were stuck in a staging area in Fort Worth. And he helped get the word out to local officials about the dangers of low water pressure in hospitals.

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CNN - February 21, 2021

Texas GOP congressman knocks Cruz for Cancun trip and says when a crisis hits, 'I'm not going to go on some vacation'

Texas GOP Rep. Michael McCaul on Sunday delivered a pointed rebuke of Sen. Ted Cruz following his much-criticized trip to Cancun, Mexico, as a winter disaster rocked Texas last week. "Look, when a crisis hits my state, I'm there. I'm not going to go on some vacation," McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" Sunday. "I know Mr. Cruz called it a mistake and he's owned up to that, but I think that was a big mistake and as for me, I was on the ground trying to help my people out and my constituents, and that's what we should be doing in a time of crisis," he added.

McCaul's comments join a raft of disapproval aimed at Cruz since he was spotted on a plane headed to Cancun while millions in his home state were left without power or water. After returning to Houston on Thursday afternoon, Cruz told reporters outside his home it was "obviously a mistake" and that "in hindsight I wouldn't have done it." "I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane, because on the one hand, all of us who are parents have a responsibility to take care of our kids, take care of our family. That's something Texans have been doing across the state," said Cruz, who had said in an earlier statement that he flew to Mexico because his daughters had asked to take a trip and he was trying to be a "good dad." As an official elected to federal office, Cruz doesn't have an on-the-ground role in the response to the storm, but natural disasters are often a time in which constituents reach out to their elected officials for help and access to resources.

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The Atlantic - February 22, 2021

Texas pays the price of the culture war

The crisis in Texas was preceded by more than a decade of Republican control of state government, as politicians focused on culture-war grievances rather than the nuts and bolts of governance. After the near collapse of the power grid exposed its failures, the state’s political leadership attempted to cover for those failures by doubling down on those same grievances. None of this had to happen. In the dry language of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Texas, which maintains its own grid to avoid federal regulation, was hit with a cold-weather event “unusually severe in terms of temperature, wind, and duration.” This forced the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, to resort to “system-wide rolling blackouts to prevent more widespread customer outages.” Unfortunately, “generators and natural gas producers suffered severe losses of capacity despite having received accurate forecasts of the storm.” ERCOT had reserves in anticipation of the storm, but those “reserves proved insufficient” once the cold hit. Many generators had “failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment.”

That description of the cascading failures of Texas’s power grid is not from the past week. It is actually taken from a 2011 report from FERC, investigating an outage during a prior cold snap. The report recommended that “all entities responsible for the reliability of the bulk power system in the Southwest prepare for the winter season with the same sense of urgency and priority as they prepare for the summer peak season.” Texas officials didn’t feel like doing all that. As The Texas Tribune reports, the state legislature failed to act. Instead of imposing new regulations or mandates, ERCOT issued a set of voluntary “best practices.” Actually winterizing the entire system would have been expensive. The energy companies didn’t want to spend money they did not have to spend, and the politicians whose campaigns they finance didn’t want to make them do it either. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas during the 2011 storm, recently told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” It’s possible that the freezing cold and rolling blackouts in 2011 didn’t make more of an impact on Perry because he was in California at the time for an event honoring Ronald Reagan, setting himself up for a failed 2012 GOP primary run for president. (Perry was a bad debater and insufficiently callous toward undocumented immigrants.) I doubt that “We’d freeze to death to own the libs” is a popular sentiment in Texas, but drawing that impression is easy if you’re outside the state, listening to its Republican officials. As the journalist Brian Kahn noted on Twitter, when California was struggling with much smaller blackouts in late 2020, ambitious Texas Republicans were sneering at the state on social media. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said, “This is what happens when the Democrats are left in charge,” while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced, “California’s politicians did this, not the heat.” U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw joked, “Alexa, show me what happens when you let Democrats control energy policy.” And U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said that California “is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.” Last week, Cruz jetted off to Cancún with his family while his constituents were burning their children’s toys for warmth.

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KUT - February 22, 2021

Texas was 'not prepared' to care for medically vulnerable people during the severe weather, lawmaker says

When Cornell Woolridge finally ventured out of his Northwest Austin home to get water and food following the extreme weather last week, he noticed police vehicles outside an elderly neighbor’s house. “It left me with a lump with my throat,” he said. A younger man was crying outside the house. It was his neighbor’s son, who had just learned his father had passed away inside. “I asked, ‘Did he have power? Was it related to the Texas blackout?’” Woolridge said. “And the young man said, ‘Yeah, he got power a day or so ago,’ but he said he was also on dialysis, and he really hadn’t been able to make his scheduled appointments.” The man got choked up, so Woolridge offered his help and condolences, which is all he could do at that point. “I walked back home, you know, with tears in my eyes," he said, "and also just angry finding out about a neighbor of mine passing, likely in some way because of the power outage and not being able to get to really crucial medical services like dialysis.”

Dialysis is used to filter blood for patients with kidney issues. It's a lifeline for thousands of Texans. State emergency officials had raised concerns earlier in the week that many vulnerable Texans were facing serious issues getting needed medical care, including dialysis, in the days following the storms. Power outages and water issues temporarily shuttered many dialysis clinics and other medical facilities. In a news conference Wednesday, Nim Kidd, the state’s chief emergency official, said the state had been working to help those patients find access to care. But state Rep. John Bucy, a Democrat who lives in the same community as Woolridge and his neighbor who died, said the state was clearly “not prepared for these kinds of emergencies” and crises. “We are not prepared, especially, to take care of the most vulnerable in our communities,” he said, “our elderly [and] those who have medical needs.” Bucy said he also heard from a lot of people who were losing power for their oxygen machines. He said he visited a nearby retirement home that went several days without power.

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KXAN - February 22, 2021

1 million meals raised: How Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s fundraiser is already benefitting Central Texas

More than one million meals will be provided to Texans because of a fundraiser from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Central Texas Food Bank said so far it’s received $297,303.55 from the fundraiser she launched last week. It can provide four meals for every dollar it receives, which translates to 1,189,214 meals. “We are so grateful to the Congresswoman and all those who have contributed to these relief efforts,” the food bank said in a statement.

Ocasio-Cortez also visited Texas over the weekend, working with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Sylvia Garcia at the Houston Food Bank. As of Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez said the fundraiser had generated $5 million. Three of the 12 organizations benefitting from the fundraiser are in Central Texas. KXAN has reached out to each to understand how much they can expect to receive. The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, or ECHO, said it doesn’t know how much it will receive yet. Family Eldercare has not yet responded.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2021

‘We were trapped’: Texans facing $10K+ electricity bills are desperate for relief

The offer seemed almost too good to be true: Sign up for a low Costco-like membership fee, pay market prices for electricity and potentially save big on utility bills. That’s what drove Roland Whitaker, a Decatur rancher and oil worker, to enroll with electricity provider Griddy after hearing an advertisement on radio station WBAP. For Whitaker, who cares for about 175 heads of cattle along with horses and goats, the savings were significant: at least a few thousand dollars per year. He didn’t quite understand how it all worked, but his family was thrilled to have the extra money to invest in the ranch. “I’m not the only person — I can promise you that — who had never even thought about it,” Whitaker said. “We’re all just thinking: We’re saving all this money, let’s just go with it.”

The winter storm and the near-collapse of the Texas power grid changed that calculation for thousands of Texans, particularly Griddy’s 29,000 customers vulnerable to the accompanying spike in wholesale, or real-time market, electricity prices. They are a small fraction of energy consumers, since most residents are signed up for fixed rates through retail electric providers, electric cooperatives or municipal utilities. With freezing temperatures blanketing Texas, power generators went down, leading to a scarcity of electricity amid an unprecedented statewide demand for heat. On Feb. 15, this reality led the Public Utility Commission of Texas to order wholesale prices raised to the cap of $9 per kilowatt-hour — a more than 10,000% increase from the week before. The commission oversees the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit charged with managing the electrical grid. Wholesale prices lingered around $9 for days, a phenomenon that previously lasted for only a few hours per year, typically during summer heat waves or when several generators went down at once.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2021

Mask mandate will likely get extended until May, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley says

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley will look to extend the county’s mask mandate another three months at Tuesday’s commissioner’s court meeting. The commissioners will first vote on extending the county’s declaration of local disaster until May 25, according to the meeting agenda. This gives Whitley the power to put the mask order in place until the same date. “We need to stay the course with these masks until we can get a whole lot more people vaccinated,” Whitley said.

The judge said the county is seeing a downward trend in COVID-19. Dropping the mask mandate could prove detrimental, he said. The county has been in a state of disaster since March 13, 2020, in response to the public health emergency as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The court must renew the declaration every three months and it has been unanimously renewed ever since. Whitley first enacted the mask mandate on June 25, 2020, before Gov. Greg Abbott mandated a statewide face covering order. Abbott’s July 2 order requires people in counties with 20 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases to wear a face mask in buildings and businesses open to the public and outdoors where maintaining six feet of distance from another person isn’t feasible.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - February 22, 2021

Lake Travis school board works toward district police department

In a short, all-virtual meeting conducted during last week’s winter storm on Wednesday, the Lake Travis school board took two votes that furthered the process of starting a district police department. The board originally approved the creation of the department in December. The board voted Wednesday to approve an agreement with Lakeway to provide dispatch service to the district’s future department. Establishing a dispatch service is a key part of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement application process for new law enforcement agencies. Superintendent Paul Norton said Lakeway already provides dispatch services for Bee Cave police and approving this agreement is cheaper than hiring someone to fulfill the district’s dispatch needs.

The board also voted to update its policy regarding security personnel. The district’s legal counsel, Amber King, explained that the policy outlines supervisory authority, jurisdiction, limitations and other aspects of how the district’s security will function to pave the way for the department’s launch. The board took a similar policy vote at its Jan. 20 meeting. The board also voted to allow the district to request a waiver from the state to schedule four additional staff development days in the calendar for the next school year. When the board approved the calendars in December, it approved two versions, one with the extra staff days plus one early release day and one without, because the waiver was not available at the time. The board also voted to approve a possible land sale to the Texas Department of Transportation of a half-acre of land that the state needs for the RM 620 widening project. The land is at 607 Ranch Road 620 North and the district and the state have not agreed on a price yet, according to King. King said she will bring the final offer from the Department of Transportation to the board. The district is waiting on an appraisal of how much damage the project will do to its remaining land so that cost can be factored into the agreement, she said.

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National Stories

Washington Post - February 22, 2021

Supreme Court won’t take up challenge to Pennsylvania presidential election results

The Supreme Court on Monday turned away Republican challenges to the presidential election results in Pennsylvania, refusing to take up a months-long dispute over extending the deadline in that state for receiving mail-in ballots. It was part of a purge of sorts. The high court formally dismissed a range of suits filed by Donald Trump and his allies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia and Arizona — all states won by Democrat Joe Biden. The court’s intent in most of those had been signaled when it refused to expedite consideration of them before Biden was inaugurated as president. The case about deadlines for receiving mail-in ballots was different, though. Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — said it deserved the court’s attention, even though the number of votes at issue would not call into question Biden’s victory.

“A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election,” Alito wrote. “But a decision would provide invaluable guidance for future elections.” It takes the votes of four justices to accept a case for review. Although changing election rules because of the pandemic has been a theme of Republican challenges in the wake of Trump’s defeat, the rest of the conservative majority was silent. Neither Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. nor two of the three justices nominated by Trump signed on to dissents from Thomas and Alito. Besides Gorsuch, Trump chose Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. The issue is whether state courts or other officials have the right to change voting procedures set by the legislature where federal elections are at stake. In extending the right to a mail-in ballot to all voters, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature said the ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

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Politico - February 22, 2021

Garland cruises through confirmation hearing as GOP support solidifies

President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, appears to be coasting towards easy confirmation after a relatively low-key outing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Republicans did use the opportunity to gingerly push Garland to commit to allowing federal prosecutors to press on with politically sensitive investigations into the Department of Justice probe of Donald Trump's ties to Russia and into the business affairs of Biden’s son, Hunter. But beyond vowing that politics would play no role in his decisions, Garland made few promises. Despite that, there was little acrimony and many Democrats and Republicans on the panel appeared to treat his confirmation almost as a foregone conclusion.

During Monday’s session, Republicans seemed reluctant to get too confrontational with Garland, perhaps in part to demonstrate that their decision to block his confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2016 was nothing personal towards him. One senator, Mike Lee of Utah, even used some of his time with Garland to try to land shots against other Biden nominees for the Justice Department. And when Garland said he wasn’t really up to speed on immigration issues because they rarely come before the D.C. appeals court he serves on, there was no outraged rebuke from GOP senators — just pleas to take a serious look at the matter. While some were braced for a marathon hearing, it petered out just after 4 p.m. Following the session, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the muted reactions of his GOP colleagues suggested that Garland will win approval. “I believe so,” Grassley told POLITICO. “There were people that weren’t totally satisfied with his answers, but i didn’t hear anybody get really irritated. ... For the most part, he answered pretty well.” Even some of the most conservative Senate Republicans said Garland will get the nod. “That certainly seems likely,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “I thought he did fine. It was frustrating in that he answered very few questions. He approached it more like a judicial nominee dodging every question.” A senior Democrat on the panel, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, declared that the judge’s confirmation was essentially a lock.

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CNBC - February 22, 2021

Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shield tax records from NY prosecutors

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch bid by former President Donald Trump to keep his financial records, including years of his tax returns, out of the hands of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The decision, the second time the nation’s highest court has refused to block a grand jury subpoena for those confidential records, was announced in an order with no noted dissents. The news further imperils the ex-president, who is facing investigations in New York and elsewhere. The legal battle over Trump’s financial records, including personal and business documents dating to 2011, comes in connection with an investigation by Vance’s office into potential tax violations involving the Trump Organization.

Vance’s probe originally appeared to have been focused on hush money payments made on Trump’s behalf to two women who have said they had affairs with him. Trump has denied their claims. But court records and news reports suggest prosecutors are now examining more serious allegations. A court filing last summer by Vance indicated that the probe could be eyeing possible “insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.” In another filing, a month later, prosecutors suggested they might be investigating Trump for potential tax crimes. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Congress in 2019 that Trump improperly inflated and deflated the value of his real estate assets for tax and insurance purposes. Vance’s filings appeared to reference Cohen’s testimony. One filing by prosecutors cited a New York Times report Trump engaged in “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.” In a statement, Cohen said: “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.”

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ABC News - February 22, 2021

NRA is 'out of ammo' as it faces a legal mess of its own making, many experts say

Plagued by infighting and targeted by a sprawling investigation, the National Rifle Association has found itself entangled in a legal web of its own making, several experts told ABC News, as a federal judge considers the fate of the organization's widely scrutinized bankruptcy case. Prosecutors in New York sued the NRA last summer in a bid to dissolve the gun lobbying juggernaut, accusing it of being "fraught with fraud and abuse" -- a claim the NRA has repeatedly and vehemently denied. The NRA subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection and announced plans to reincorporate in Texas. The bid for a restructuring in the Lone Star State is one in a series of high-risk moves that the NRA is undertaking in a fight for survival, legal experts say, as the organization tries to maneuver around the threat posed by New York Attorney General Letitia James' probe.

The organization did so in part to free itself from the "toxic political environment of New York" and to "streamline costs and expenses, proceed with pending litigation in a coordinated and structured manner, and realize many financial and strategic advantages," according to a January letter penned by CEO Wayne LaPierre. Judge Harlin Hale of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas is now weighing motions filed by James' office and others to dismiss the NRA's bankruptcy case claim. Legal experts interviewed by ABC News posit that the chances of a dismissal are strong, particularly given the NRA's insistence that the organization remains financially viable -- a position that undermines the traditional purpose of a Chapter 11 claim. Adam Levitin, a bankruptcy professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said the NRA's plan to seek bankruptcy protection amounts to little more than a "Hail Mary pass." "If the alternative is that the New York attorney general shuts down the NRA, what do they have to lose with this strategy?" Levitin said. "They are out of ammo." But another scenario could pose an entirely different threat to the beleaguered gun group: If Hale allows the NRA's bankruptcy claim to march forward, he may then choose to appoint a trustee to investigate allegations of fraud -- or even assume control of the organization.

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The Hill - February 22, 2021

Almost half of Republicans would join Trump party: poll

Nearly half of Republicans say they would abandon the party as it is currently structured and join a new party if former President Trump was its leader, according to a new poll released Sunday.

A Suffolk University-USA Today poll found that 46 percent of Republicans said they would abandon the GOP and join the Trump party if the former president decided to create one. Only 27 percent said they would stay with the GOP, with the remainder indicating they would be undecided. "We feel like Republicans don't fight enough for us, and we all see Donald Trump fighting for us as hard as he can, every single day," a Republican and small-business owner from Milwaukee told the newspaper. "But then you have establishment Republicans who just agree with establishment Democrats and everything, and they don't ever push back."

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Newsclips - February 22, 2021

Lead Stories

Washington Post - February 21, 2021

‘Where is Greg Abbott?’ Anger grows at Texas governor in deadly storm’s wake

It was clear by Tuesday afternoon that Texas was in a full-blown crisis — and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had largely been out of sight. More than 4 million households did not have power amid dangerously low temperatures, and an increasing number did not have heat or running water. Some families were burning furniture to stay warm, grocery stores were emptying, and people were dying. In the freezing darkness, many desperate Texans felt they were left to fend for themselves. Abbott emerged that evening for a series of television interviews. In short, curt sentences, he told Texans in the Lubbock and Houston areas that he had issued an emergency order and called for an immediate legislative investigation of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the electrical grid. He angrily accused the council of not having a backup power supply and not sharing information with Texans, “even with the governor of Texas.”

Then he went on Fox News. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said, looking more relaxed as he chatted with host Sean Hannity, falsely blaming his state’s problems on environmental policies pushed by liberals. This deadly disaster is one in a series that Abbott has faced in his six years as governor: Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which resulted in the deaths of 68 people, at least six major mass shootings that left more than 70 people dead and a pandemic that has killed 42,000 in the state. Now, at least 32 people have died in Texas because of this storm. In each crisis, Abbott often carefully studied the situation — and its political ramifications — before taking action, usually demanding future legislative changes that may never happen. He is known to deliver different messages to the various constituencies in his state, all while trying to build a national profile as a conservative leader. In the past, this approach seems to have worked and many Texans have instead focused on economic gains the state has made under Abbott’s leadership. Over his tenure, an estimated 3 million people have moved to Texas, many lured to metro areas by plentiful jobs, minimal taxes and large, affordable homes. Abbott has often pitched his state as the conservative alternative to California. One of his fundraising appeals: “Don’t California my Texas.”

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KXAN - February 21, 2021

Texas utility commission orders delay of power disconnections due to concerns over high bills

The Public Utility Commission of Texas issued several orders Sunday aimed at protecting Texans from extremely high electric bills after a week of winter storms. For several days, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has maintained that state leaders “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills” following the storms that left millions without power or water for an extended period of time. Abbott said Sunday around 30,000 Texans are still without electricity.

The PUC called an emergency meeting to prevent possible utility disconnections for non-payment as early as Monday. The delay is an effort to “protect Texas electricity customers while leaders in the state consider solutions for the financial aftershocks of the winter storm grid event,” according to a release. The orders addressed the following: An immediate suspension of disconnections for non-payment until further notice, including ordering utilities not to process disconnection; Continuation of the COVID-19 measure under which retail electric providers are required to offer deferred payment plans to customers when requested; A spokesperson with PUC says the orders are directed toward customers of investor owned utilities (IOUs) across the state that fall under the PUC’s jurisdiction, like Oncor, American Electric Power, CenterPoint, and Texas-New Mexico Power.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

Glenn Hegar: 10 years ago I wrote a law requiring power generators to plan for winter. Too many didn’t.

Like millions of other Texans, my family lost power during last week’s winter storm. We are thankful that our health wasn’t at risk, and that our kids were able to go to a friend’s home that maintained power. Sadly, and sometimes tragically, that wasn’t the case for many of our fellow Texans — and it didn’t have to be that way. I authored legislation a full decade ago, while serving as a state senator, to institute a better planning process to try to avoid exactly the sort of difficulties that our fellow Texans have endured. Too many people suffered for too many hours in the dark and the cold in this crisis, with no idea of when they could expect relief. Shivering Texans could see their breath in the air in their living rooms; they watched as the water they left dripping to try to keep their pipes from bursting froze in place; they worried about elderly relatives and friends, and other vulnerable people, stranded alone without power. Even when the immediate crisis passed and their power was restored, they too often were left with damage to their homes, their businesses and even their health.

What bothers me most — and I know my concern is shared by multiple Texas leaders — is that even though this cold weather was incredibly severe, it didn’t have to result in a crisis of this scale. One important reason is that Senate Bill 1133, which I authored after Texas experienced ERCOT-directed rolling outages due to severe weather in February 2011, outlined a planning process for electricity generators. The bill was designed to ensure that Texas power plants, including those in the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, would report their power generation weatherization preparedness for summer and winter. The intent was to identify the mistakes made in 2011 and to ensure that our power grid, including our generation capacity, was prepared for weather emergencies. SB 1133 was signed into law to require the Public Utility Commission to prepare a report on electric generation entities’ ability to respond to abnormal weather conditions. The law directed the PUC to analyze and determine the ability of the electric grid to withstand extreme weather events in the upcoming year, to consider the anticipated weather patterns for the upcoming year as predicted by the National Weather Service and to make recommendations on improving emergency operations plans and procedures in order to ensure the continuity of electric service. In the last decade, our electrical grid has changed in many ways and became more complex, as Texas has moved away from coal plants and added natural gas generation, as well as significant wind and solar generation. That means the challenges of weatherizing the sources of our electricity are different today than they were back then.

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The Guardian - February 21, 2021

Fauci laments 'historic' COVID toll as US nears 500,000 deaths

As the US approached half a million Covid-19 deaths, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, struggled for words to convey the grim magnitude of the death toll from the pandemic. “It’s terrible,” he told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “It’s really horrible. It is something that is historic. It’s nothing like we’ve ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.” Fauci added that “decades from now” people would be “talking about this a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country. To have these many people to have died from a respiratory born infection, it really is a terrible situation that we’ve been through and that we’re still going through.”

The US death toll stood at 497,957, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has long had the highest Covid-19 death toll of any country. According to the World Health Organization it has one of the worst per capita death rates, at 148.61 per 100,000. Countries including the UK, Italy and Portugal have higher per capita rates. Although infection rates have been steadily declining since record highs in early January, the US still recorded 13,347 deaths and more than 500,000 new cases in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins. Last week an average of 1.32m vaccines were administered each day, according to a tracker by Bloomberg News. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said more than 61m doses had been administered in the US, with about 5.47% of the population now fully vaccinated. Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, acknowledged in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that cold weather across the US south had set back vaccine rollout, but projected the deficit would be made up by the middle of next week.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2021

Texas Supreme Court to decide whether ERCOT is immune from storm lawsuits

Texans who lost loved ones and suffered property damage during last week’s winter storm have started to file lawsuits against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, holding the grid operator responsible for failing to maintain power for days as outside temperatures plunged below freezing. But seeking monetary damages may be in vain. ERCOT has sovereign immunity, a well-established legal principle that protects governmental agencies from lawsuits. ERCOT, a private nonprofit corporation overseen by the Texas Legislature and the Public Utility Commission, is the only grid manager in the country with such protections. A pending decision by the Texas Supreme Court, however, could change that. Justices on the state’s highest court are expected to rule this year on a case between Dallas utility Panda Power and ERCOT that could strip the Texas grid operator of its sovereign immunity, leaving it open to lawsuits that ERCOT has said could cripple the agency.

The ruling by the high court will have widespread implications in the wake of last week’s blackouts. It would not only determine whether Texans can use the legal system to hold ERCOT accountable for power outages that led to more than 48 deaths and billions of dollars of property damage, but also the future of ERCOT and the state’s power markets if the court opens the door to the likely flood of lawsuits. On Saturday, Houston attorney and former mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee filed a $100 million lawsuit against ERCOT and utility Entergy Texas, claiming that widespread blackouts contributed to the suspected hypothermia death of an 11-year-old boy in Conroe. On Friday, Dallas-based law firm Fears Nachawati filed suit against ERCOT and another utility, American Electric Power, seeking unspecified damages for property damage and business interruptions caused by rolling blackouts. “Certainly, the court’s decision here will have implications for viability claims against ERCOT related to this week’s event,” said Ben Mesches, a lawyer with the firm Haynes and Boone and the lead appellate attorney representing Panda Power against ERCOT. “We certainly believe that ERCOT should be transparent, accurate and accountable in court. That is the central issue and question before the court.” ERCOT declined to comment on Sunday. Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said a ruling against ERCOT is a long shot, given the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is unlikely to overturn a 2018 Dallas appeals court decision in favor of maintaining the grid manager’s immunity. He said, however, that political pressure should mount on the justices — who face re-election in Texas — to hold ERCOT accountable for the catastrophic power failure and its deadly and devastating consequences.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

Can Ted Cruz repair his image? 3 questions in the aftermath of Texas’ bitter cold experience

In the aftermath of the worst disaster in Texas history, lawmakers, politicians and voters are pondering several questions that could determine the course of Lone Star history. After making sure that all Texans have their basic services restored, state officials will heavily scrutinize the state’s energy delivery system and the poorly named Energy Reliability Council of Texas. Voters in Texas will also examine the actions of their elected leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. ADVERTISING Cruz, reelected in 2018, shockingly took a family trip to Cancun as millions of Texans were shivering without power or water. Here are three questions to consider as the temperature rises.

Did the Cruz-to-Cancun blunder cause the senator irreparable damage? It’s been a tough few months for Cruz. Last week he was criticized and mocked for taking an ill-advised family trip to Cancun as millions of Texas were suffering through the artic blast. It was a trip that included help from Houston police to get him through the airport. Cruz conceded that taking the trip was a mistake, but not until after questionable prepared statements got him into more hot water. In January Cruz was blasted for his role in pushing a narrative that the election was possibly stolen from former President Donald Trump. The “Stop the Steal” effort is believed to have helped fuel the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol. After the initial outrage, will Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers reform ERCOT and the energy delivery system? Abbott and lawmakers are talking tough about holding ERCOT accountability for the power outages that left millions of Texans freezing and without water. But we heard similar talk after the 2011 ice storm that wrecked Super Bowl week in North Texas and resulted in numerous recommendations for ERCOT and others.

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Dallas Morning News - February 22, 2021

‘Blame to go around’: Lawmakers promise tough questions in search of answers on Texas power outages

State lawmakers are promising to ask difficult questions at hearings Thursday that will explore why more than 4 million Texans went without power — many for days — in the middle of a paralyzing winter storm. Lawmakers are expected to hear testimony from officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the flow of power to more than 26 million Texans; the Railroad Commission, which oversees gas pipelines in the state; and the Public Utility Commission, which oversees utility infrastructure. “There’s plenty of blame to go around and, certainly, the Texas Legislature has and should have its fair share of that,” said Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who sits on the House Energy Resource Committee that will hold a joint hearing this week.

But Darby stressed that lawmakers should refrain from casting blame until they develop a better understanding of the events that led to last week’s blackouts. “We need to understand what happened here,” he said. Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who heads his chamber’s Business and Commerce Committee, said he also expects to hear testimony from industry representatives, including those who manage wellheads and power generators. Hancock said he wants a “top-to-bottom” examination of the events that led to millions of Texas being left days without power. “We want to address this professionally and dig as deep and as broad as we need to,” he said. Hancock defended ERCOT, which in recent days has become the target of state officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, and said the power outages were the result of extreme winter weather which the state is unaccustomed to.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

Texas tells power plants to be winter-ready. But how to prepare is up to them.

Gov. Greg Abbott is calling on Texas legislators to make winterizing the state’s power production equipment a top concern, saying they must find a way to prioritize and pay for the improvements. But while the state requires power generators to plan for extreme weather, it offers best practices that serve as guidelines only — not requirements. Without mandated state standards, Texas does not penalize power plants that are ill-equipped for severe cold. In fact, state utility regulators have issued only three fines ever related to inadequate weather planning by power generators, The Dallas Morning News found. The fines, which amounted to just $25,000 in total, were issued for not submitting plans on time — not for failing to properly weatherize equipment.

State utility regulators say generators have incentives to be ready for extreme weather because they lose money for every hour they’re offline. But the incentives are not working, experts said. The state’s power generation system was ill-prepared for the extreme freeze that hit Texas in the last week. If lawmakers want to avoid past mistakes, energy experts said, they may need to require winterization measures. This will be especially important as climate change means such deep freezes may become more common here, said Varun Rai, a professor and director of the Energy Systems Transformation Research Group at the University of Texas at Austin. “Winterization of energy infrastructure is like keeping your house prepared for an emergency,” like stockpiling extra food and water, flashlights and warm clothes, Rai said. “It’s not rocket science or necessarily expensive, and you don’t need it often, but when the time comes, it can be life-saving for your family and you.”

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Dallas Morning News and Associated Press - February 21, 2021

Texas Gov. Abbott announces moratorium on power disconnects for non-payment

The Texas Public Utilities Commission will issue a moratorium for energy companies to ban power disconnections for nonpayment as many people face high electricity bills after a week of sub-freezing temperatures, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Sunday. He said addressing those high bills and the failure of the state’s power grid are priorities for Texas lawmakers, adding that he will not allow the legislative session to end without guaranteeing protections for power during peak demand — in summer and winter. “We will not end this session until ERCOT is fully winterized so we do not go through this again,” Abbott said. Abbott met Saturday with legislators from both parties to discuss energy prices as Texans face massive increases in their electric bills after wholesale energy prices skyrocketed while power plants were offline. He said lawmakers have a responsibility to protect people from spikes in their energy bills resulting from the weather.

The state’s energy grid, which is operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, is operating at full capacity again, though 30,000 Texans were still without power Sunday afternoon because of local problems such as downed power lines. Abbott said he expects power to be fully restored by Sunday evening or Monday. With higher temperatures in the forecast, Texans have begun the challenging clean-up and expensive repairs from days of extreme cold and the widespread power outages. The warm-up was expected to last for several days, but the thaw has revealed more burst pipes, adding to the list of problems after many communities were warned to boil tap water before drinking it because of problems that can cause contamination. Nearly 1,500 public water systems in Texas reported disrupted operations, said Toby Baker executive director of the state Commission on Environmental Quality. Government agencies were using mobile labs and coordinating to speed water testing. Abbott said 10 million Texans were still under boil notices, and many more were without food or water because of frozen or burst pipes. He said he had waived regulations on truckers and kitchens to allow more food deliveries to reach Texans quicker.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

Texas’ electric bargain: A deregulated market brought fast growth, big investments and cheap rates

After a cold front knocked out part of Texas’ electric grid a decade ago, companies were urged to winter-proof their power plants against severe weather. It was a suggestion, not an order, because generators are independent players in Texas’ deregulated market. They alone decide whether such investments are worthy. “We’re not an enforcement entity,” said Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state grid operator known as ERCOT.

Texas prefers to dangle a carrot: “There’s a very strong financial incentive” for generators, Magness told reporters on a conference call. Indeed, after Texas temperatures plunged on Valentine’s Day and power supply ran short, the wholesale price of electricity jumped to $9,000 per megawatt hour, up from the usual $20 to $30 range. Even those maximum prices weren’t enough to restore service, not during a deep freeze that knocked out 40% of generation, and the blame game has been in full swing ever since. Many are calling for investigations and reforms at ERCOT. On Thursday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Texas should consider putting its grid under federal oversight. “We just have to be honest about the situation: The grid failed us,” Johnson said. Maybe this time, but there’s more to the story of Texas’ experiment with electric deregulation. Since opening to free-wheeling competition two decades ago, the state has attracted billions in private investment from power companies, diversified its generation sources and benefited from innovations in retailing and green energy. Its success has helped attract new businesses, especially manufacturers, and the abundance of low-priced electricity has been crucial to supporting a fast-growing population.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

Mark Cuban, Luka Doncic, Mavs donate $1.25 million to Dallas Mayor’s fund, sources for winter storm relief

With Dallas mired in another crisis — this time due to the last week’s severe winter weather and statewide power and water shortages — a group of Mavericks are again pledging support. Owner Mark Cuban, CEO Cynt Marshall, and players Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell have combined to donate $1.25 million to the Dallas Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund and to several local organizations helping to shelter and re-house families and homeless and low-income people in response to the weather. The Mavs Foundation and team sponsor Chime also contributed. “It’s not just about basketball here. That’s what I love,” Kleber said Sunday after the Mavericks’ practice. “When you have the head of the [organization], Mark, donating and showing and being a good example, everybody wants to jump in and help and donate where you can.

“Obviously, it’s a very tough situation for a lot of people out there, and if you have the ability to help, I think it’s a good thing to step in and help, too. It’s not the first time the Mavericks and Mayor Eric Johnson’s office have partnered. The Mavericks have also provided assistance during the coronavirus pandemic and after the October 2019 tornadoes. The city created the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund in 2005 to help shelter Hurricane Katrina refugees. Money can be used only in response to a federal disaster declaration in Dallas, which President Joe Biden enacted Feb. 14 due to the winter storm. “I am beyond grateful for our partnership with the Dallas Mavericks and for the generosity of the organization,” Johnson said in a statement. “Our residents are hurting right now, and this donation will be a tremendous help to those in need as we deal with property damage, displacements, water accessibility, and other related issues.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

Texas rushes plumbers to fix broken pipes, airlifts bottled water as crisis focus shifts to damages, water supplies

Texas is rushing to bring more plumbers into the state as residents contend with broken pipes after the winter freeze and power outages this week. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that more than 320 plumbers renewed their licenses and Texas is working with out-of-state companies to dispatch more. The Republican governor urged people to contact their insurance providers to fix busted pipes. Under a federal disaster declaration, Texans will be able to apply for additional assistance to fix their homes, beyond what insurance might cover.

While the number of people lacking water or having to boil or conserve water remained in the millions, the number of Texas without power continues to drop. As of Friday afternoon, about 165,000 households lacked electricity due to downed power lines or disconnections, Abbott said. But nearly 15 million Texans – slightly more than half the state’s population -– are served by public drinking water systems that have reported disruptions because of the weather, many of them leading to boil water notices, said Brooke West, spokeswoman for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Across North Texas, several communities are under orders to boil or conserve their water. “We want that water supply available immediately,” Abbott said. “We know what it’s like for people to be without their water.” In his third consecutive daily news conference from the Alternate State Operations Center in north Austin, Abbott thanked utility linemen, plumbers, food growers, grocery store stockers, first responders, truckers and refinery workers for keeping the state safe and fed – and making what he described as progress toward recovering heat and water. “Because of their tireless efforts, we continue to make tremendous strides to overcome the challenges over the past week,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2021

Sugar Land mom shares grief, memories after fire during freeze kills her 3 kids and mother

After playing cards and spending time together by the fireplace Monday, the tired family headed to sleep, brushing their teeth and tucking into beds as the Houston region descended into one of its coldest nights. The family’s home in Sugar Land, like millions of others across the Lone Star state by then, had no power. Edison, 8, went to the room of his 11-year-old sister, Olivia, which had bunk beds. The children’s grandmother, Loan Le, planned to sleep with the youngest, 5-year-old Colette. And the children’s mother, 41-year-old Jackie Nguyen, headed to her room. Those are the final moments Nguyen recalls about the night.

At about 2 a.m., Sugar Land firefighters responding to a fire reported by a neighbor who found the family’s home engulfed in flames, said Doug Adolph, a city and department spokesman. The three children and Le died. Nguyen and a friend were taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries that included smoke inhalation and burns. “I just know that I woke up in the hospital,” Nguyen said Sunday. Nearly a week after the fire, Adolph said there were no updates on the investigation into the cause of the fire. The family had been trying to keep warm with a fireplace, according to posts on their social media accounts, Adolph said. “Obviously they were trying to stay warm,” Adolph said at the time. “We can’t say that’s what the cause was, we just think we know they were using a fireplace.” In the days since the deadly blaze, Nguyen said she misses everything about her kids. The other day, she missed driving them to school. And at 4 p.m., she missed seeing them arrive home. “Most of all, I think, what I will miss is just seeing them grow into these amazing human beings that I knew that they would be,” she said. A few years ago, when Nguyen went into labor with Colette on the day that marked Olivia’s birthday, excitement filled the eldest child. “Oh my gosh,” Nguyen recalled her first born saying. “I’m going to have a twin sister.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 22, 2021

OPEC chatter, fallout from Texas cold snap to drive oil prices this week

The direction for crude oil prices this week will be determined by the impact that the harsh winter weather had on the U.S. energy sector, but keep an ear on the OPEC chatter, analysts said. A bout of freezing rain was followed by sub-freezing temperatures across the U.S. Gulf Coast last week, shuttering four of the largest refineries in Texas. In total, more than 20 oil refineries across the south were affected, while frozen well heads and pumps temporarily shut in as much as 40 percent of total U.S. crude oil production.

The price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark for the price of oil, rallied some 3 percent through Wednesday, but retraced its steps later in the week as weather in the South returned to norms of around 60 degrees. Brent finished the week at $62.91 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, which rose above $61 a barrel during the week, also retreated, settling Friday at $59.24. Tamas Varga, an analyst at London oil broker PVM, said it could be weeks before operations for Gulf Coast refineries return to normal. “If that is the case, product supply to the East Coast will be disrupted,” he said. Refinery disruptions could still lead to elevated wholesale prices in gasoline and other petroleum products, which would trickle down to the consumers across the country. New York state gasoline prices jumped 10 cents on the week, according to the travel club AAA data,s did those in Texas, which typically has some of the lowest prices at the pump in the nation because of its proximity to the dense network of refineries. Crude oil prices benefited last week from thee combination of supply disruptions in Texas and output curbs by the cartel known as OPEC+ , but that rally may have run its course, said Ole Hanson, the head of commodities strategy at Saxo Bank in Denmark. Buying was not as strong as expected, the said.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 21, 2021

'This is San Antonio in 2021. That's not good enough': The story behind the crippling blackouts

Five minutes with power was barely enough time for Bianca Pulley to heat up a can of soup for her and her adult son. Her West Side home had been without electricity since early Monday morning, when the state’s grid operator told CPS Energy and other Texas utilities to cut power to homes and businesses as the winter storm bore down.

Pulley’s lights didn’t come on for three days, except for two five-minute windows. As the Maryland native and retired Air Force sergeant served the soup Tuesday, she warned her son: “This is breakfast, this is lunch and this is dinner.” They weren’t entirely on their own. Later, a friend brought her a hot meal that he’d cooked on his propane grill. “I wasn’t able to heat my house the way I needed to, so I would go out to my car, my son and I and the dog, and we would warm up a little bit, charge our phones,” said Pulley, 55. “I pray to God I never have to do that again.” By Friday, CPS Energy had restored her electricity, and she was able to take off her winter coat and gloves. But she still hadn’t been able to get groceries. The Pulleys were among the hundreds of thousands of San Antonians who had to fend for themselves last week. On Monday, CPS officials said the rolling outages would come and go 45 minutes at a time and would be spread evenly throughout the city. Yet many customers sat in the dark for hours at a time — or, like the Pulleys, for days. Nothing about the situation felt fair.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 22, 2021

Gas, coal, wind, solar. Expect the politics of energy in the wake of Texas’ blackouts

State leaders were quick to look for someone or something to blame when millions of Texans were left in the cold and dark starting early Feb. 15. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s finger pointing at wind generated energy was met with sharp backlash following an interview on Fox News. Abbott told Sean Hannity the shutting down of wind and solar power “thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.”

Texans were freezing and many were without water as those without power waited for it to return. By Friday morning, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said operations were out of emergency conditions. The group manages the Texas Electric Grid and is overseen by the Public Utility Commission, which has it commissioners appointed by Abbott. Abbott has blasted ERCOT’s response to the winter storm, calling it unreliable and dubbing its response a “total failure,” as he called for the resignation of its leadership. Reforms to ERCOT are one of Abbott’s emergency items this legislative session. He back pedaled his remarks about frozen wind turbines and the Green New Deal somewhat in a Wednesday news conference. “I have repeatedly talked about how every source of power that the state of Texas has, has been compromised,” he said. “Whether it be renewable power, such as wind or solar, but also — as I mentioned today — access to coal generated power, access to gas generated power, also have been compromised.” As weather and power conditions in the state move toward normalcy, the policy debate revs up. ERCOT officials will testify before House and Senate committees on Feb. 25 about the outages, as lawmakers try to get to the bottom of the infrastructure collapse. Lawmakers have already expressed outrage on social media and in interviews, including debates over who’s at fault.

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Bloomberg - February 19, 2021

Ted Cruz gets a pass from Republicans after Cancun trip in storm

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is facing little blow-back from fellow Republicans so far over his trip to Cancun while millions of his constituents lacked heat or running water during a rare winter storm -- signaling he’s likely to be spared punishment by the party. Short of Cruz resigning -- and there’s no sign he’s bowing to pressure to do so from Democrats -- there is no mechanism for Texans to punish the senator until an election year. Cruz doesn’t face re-election until 2024, when he may also make another presidential run, and analysts suggest that even Republicans who don’t like him will stick with him. Although the Houston Chronicle demanded his resignation in an editorial -- the second time it’s done so this year after Cruz supported former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election -- Republicans who control state politics said he was guilty of nothing more than being tone deaf.

“No one would ever state that Senator Ted Cruz is a natural-born politician who seeks out opportunities to do photo ops,” said Warren Norred, a member of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee. “I’m not trying to defend the action, I’m just saying that this is not a big deal.” The low-key response underscores some Republicans’ willingness to rally around their own, even one considered unpopular among his Senate colleagues, like Cruz. That tacit support ensures that Cruz faces criticism only from Democrats, allowing him to deflect the attacks as partisan jockeying. Senator John Cornyn, the state’s senior senator, didn’t criticize Cruz outright, but his Twitter feed has set a different example by being a frequently updated resource directory for Texans who need help. Other Republicans said Democrats were trying to “cancel” Cruz and ignoring similarly tone-deaf behavior by Democrats, such as California Governor Gavin Newsom dining at a fancy restaurant in the Napa Valley at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Newsom is facing a recall campaign. They also said Cruz is doing the things a federal official can do in a crisis managed by state leaders. “You’re welcome to turn on @tedcruz if you like,” Michael Berry, a conservative radio talk-show host in Houston, said on Twitter. “But he has done everything his voters have asked of him.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 21, 2021

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Suffering Texans need leadership from Gov. Greg Abbott

This week Texans endured an epic, unforgivable failure of state government. Millions left shivering in the cold for days without power. A state power grid that came within minutes of a catastrophic collapse. Regulators who deemed the system ready for winter when clearly it was not. A deepening utility crisis that has left millions without safe drinking water and put some hospital operations in peril. And elected leaders who shamefully failed to lead, with Gov. Greg Abbott absurdly warning Texas was a poster child for the ills of the Green New Deal — really?! — and Sen. Ted Cruz blithely jetsetting to Cancún. An Abilene man froze to death in his recliner. A Houston woman and her child died from carbon monoxide poisoning after seeking warmth in their car. Others around the state have died from exposure or fires as the lack of heat forced them to make desperate decisions.

They died because the state designed a power grid system that prizes cheap energy and corporate profits over a durable, reliable power supply for Texans. Unfazed by the failures of that system, and the widespread suffering and devastation it has wrought, former Gov. Rick Perry declared this week that Texans would be willing to suffer even more just to swat away the pesky hand of federal regulation. Seriously. Perry should try that argument with the Texans who spent this week turning furniture into firewood, standing in line for hours to get supplies and scooping up snow and pool water to keep their toilets flushing. It took the better part of four days, but Abbott on Thursday finally said what needed to be said: “I take responsibility.” He called on the Legislature to require power plants to harden themselves against the threats of extremely cold weather, and he called for state funding to accomplish the task. That’s a start. Exhausted, angry Texans must demand that Abbott and lawmakers actually follow through, or we’ll find ourselves in the same place the next time a severe winter storm strikes.

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WFAA - February 21, 2021

Deregulation of electric utilities was a 'big mistake,' Bexar County judge tells Texas lawmakers after massive outages

In a blistering review of the massive statewide power outages last week, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Texas should return to the “proven formula of utility regulation that Texas had prior to 1999.” “We ought to be ashamed of how we handled ourselves down here. In the Northeast, Northwest, they have weather much worse than this and much longer than this and they manage to get through it. We’re down here, and we can’t even get through it for four or five days,” said Judge Wolff on Sunday’s Inside Texas Politics.

On Friday, Wolff sent a two-page letter to the governor stating in part that “deregulation led to ‘just in time power’ purchases from wholesalers without the incentive for storing back-up generation power. Energy producers are selling energy out of the state at a time when we needed power.” “We find ourselves in a situation that puts profits first for utilities and reliability second. It is time to go back to the proven formula of utility regulation that Texas had prior to 1999,” he continued in the letter. On the television program, Wolff was blunt. “I think they made a big mistake back in 1999 when they threw out the integrated utility systems, when they threw out regulation. They broke up the energy sector into three different groups: transmission lines, retail sellers of energy and then energy producers. What we see today is a system that gives no incentive to provide reliability. It’s more focused on short-term profits. We weren’t ready for this. Now we see the consequences of it,” he explained.

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WFAA - February 20, 2021

Thousands of Texas electric customers will be involuntarily switched to new providers, as companies fail

Thousands of Texans will be involuntarily switched to a new electric company, as a number of electricity providers cannot meet their financial obligations to serve their customers. In response, at an emergency meeting on Friday, the Texas Public Utilities Commission gave authority to TXU Energy to absorb customers of failing companies and to offer them competitive rates. It’s happening because, when the cost of electricity spiked during the cold snap, some retail electricity companies could not afford the high wholesale prices, forcing them into financial failure. A comprehensive list of failing electricity providers is not yet available.

“The travesty of this is the Public Utility Commission is supposed to make sure these firms are qualified to handle your money. And in many instances over the years we found several that don't and the customers are out of luck,” said Ed Hirs, who teaches energy policy at the University of Houston. In the case of failures like that, the state switches customers from those insolvent companies over to a new company, known as a Provider of Last Resort, or POLR. However, POLR rates are generally higher than standard electric rates. To avoid making customers pay for the failure of grid operators, the PUC has passed an emergency resolution to help ease that transition. Specifically, it authorized TXU to absorb those stranded customers and bring them over at competitive electricity rates instead of emergency rates. What should customers do if they find they’ve been switched? “Find out how this contract came about. What their obligations are? If they can switch on the Power to Choose website. If not, see what they can do to break the contract,” Hirs said. PowerToChoose.org is the marketplace where customers can shop for electricity in Texas. There could be another billing problem on the horizon as well, this with Smart Meters. Normally, when a meter gives a reading of zero, billing software assumes there's been some kind of glitch and bills the customer for an historical average.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 22, 2021

'Losing the war’: An account of what went wrong at CPS Energy, SAWS

Ahead of the winter storm last Sunday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other top city officials were concerned primarily about icy roads. No one raised the prospect of a catastrophic power failure — not even the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a nonprofit that manages the grid for most of the state. “The conversation up to that point was preparing infrastructure, mostly transportation,” Nirenberg recalled. “We were given no notification from ERCOT, who went from threat level 1 to 3 in the dead of night. That was Monday morning. I got notification from Mulberry, my dog, that something was wrong when she got on my head.” Mulberry, a large boxer who usually sleeps at the foot of the mayor’s bed, was startled at 3 a.m. by the beeping and chirping of a surge protector and a smoke alarm, both of which had lost power. After Nirenberg removed the shivering dog from his head, he and his family suffered through the same recurring power outages as other San Antonio residents, sleeping in the freezing cold for the next two nights.

The mayor of the country’s seventh-largest city hadn’t been told by state utility officials that the power grid was on the brink of collapse. As temperatures plunged into the single digits and demand for heat soared, power plants that hadn’t been built to withstand cold temperatures began to fail, forcing ERCOT to resort to rolling blackouts starting early Monday morning. That decision saved Texas from a catastrophic grid failure that could’ve left the state without power for months. But it triggered a humanitarian crisis: Millions of Texans lost electricity, then access to clean drinking water and, later in the week, found grocery store shelves cleared of food after icy roads delayed shipments for days. More than 4 million households in Texas, including 370,000 in San Antonio, lost power. Officials at city-owned CPS Energy initially told customers they could face up to 15 minutes without electricity. Instead, some neighborhoods lost reliable power — and thus heat — for days on end, while in some nearby areas lights didn’t so much as flicker, much less go dark. It’s still not known how many Texans died in the disaster. Among those identified so far: An 11-year-old boy who died in an unheated mobile home in Conroe after seeing snow for the first time. A 78-year-old man in Bexar County found dead outside his home after he fell in the freezing weather on his way to a dialysis appointment. In Abilene, a husband was found frozen to death in his recliner, his wife clinging to his side. She told firefighters they hadn’t had power for three days. An untold number of others died or fell ill of carbon monoxide poisoning as they used ovens, stoves and generators to heat poorly insulated homes. The grid failures were so widespread that utilities weren’t able to protect even the most critical infrastructure, including hospitals, nursing homes and water systems. Major pump stations lost power — including one near the University of Texas at San Antonio that CPS Energy took down early in the crisis, despite its status as critical infrastructure, according to San Antonio Water System officials. Half the state lost access to safe drinking water after the electricity powering pumps failed, forcing local officials to institute boil-water notices. In San Antonio, 40 percent of the city lost water or had low water pressure during the crisis, and the entire city was told to boil tap water before drinking it.

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KXAN - February 19, 2021

Texas lawmakers lining up questions for looming ERCOT investigation

As the snow begins to melt, the lights come back on for most Texans and plumbing problems linger, state leaders are lining up their questions for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC). “What the hell happened?” State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, asked rhetorically, when questioned about what concerns she wants ERCOT and PUC to address. ERCOT and PUC leadership are among those likely to testify in front of lawmakers from both chambers next week. The Texas House State Affairs Committee and Energy Resources Committee will hold a joint hearing on Feb. 25, as will the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. The Senate Jurisprudence Committee is also lining up a hearing to review legal culpability for the long-lasting outages that began during the storm and extended for days.

“Why didn’t the Public Utility Commission— appointed by the governor— do what they should do, which is to guide these private sector industries to make sure that the “R” in ERCOT was continuing to stand for reliable?” Israel said. State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said some officials should be removed from their positions over the handling of the storm preparations and response. “Without question, there need to be people that are held accountable,” Leach said. Leach believes there are legislative changes that can be made at the state level to solve some of the problems that arose this week. “We can and will fix this, this session,” Leach said. “We’re going to make the necessary investments in our infrastructure to make sure this never happens again,” he added. “We owe it to the people of Texas who we answer to.” But Israel is wary of the governor’s emergency item to find funding to winterize power generating facilities.

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County Stories

KXAN - February 21, 2021

Travis County judge prohibits car washes until Thursday after residents question use during water crisis

Travis County Judge Andy Brown issued an order Saturday evening, prohibiting car washing services until Feb. 25 due to the water shortage. This was after KXAN checked in with leaders after receiving reports from several residents noting local car washes operating, while thousands of Texans in the Austin area continue to wait for enough clean water to drink or bathe.

In addition to being open, residents reported seeing long lines on Saturday afternoon at more than one business, including Barton Springs Car Wash located on 500 S. Lamar Boulevard. We are privileged to be back in business, it wasn’t easy but as a team we can do anything. To those of you who are currently without water our hearts reach out to you. We are conserving water as much as we can to still be operational by using recycled water in our troughs and automatic shut off nozzles on our hoses. The city is not on a water conservation notice only a boil water one. If you mention to the cashier that you are currently without water we will gladly give you a discount on your car wash and fill up any containers you bring with you. Despairing as it may be to go without water, all that we can control is what is in front of us and we can do a mind blowing car wash while conserving water as well.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 21, 2021

Houston rallies to repair homes, feed families after the freeze

About 3,000 cars received donations by 11 a.m. Sunday through a Houston Food Bank distribution site at NRG Stadium. The nonprofit estimated it had sucould give 25 to 30 pounds of food to 5,000 cars. For many people in line, water remained the top priority. The city spent most of the week on a boil water notice, which was only lifted later Sunday afternoon. And even with the city’s water supply usable again, so many Houstonians need to get busted pipes repaired. Megan Byrd, a couple cars down, said she won’t be able to get a plumber in until next week to fix her pipes and will have to make do without running water until then. The entire ceiling in her bedroom collapsed and her the pipes in her laundry room burst as well. Large piece of debris fell on her washer, dryer and water heater. It’s going to cost $4,000 to fix the pipes alone, she said. “It was a big money drop for us,” Byrd said. “We just have been spending money throughout the week.”

But for every Houstonian suffering, another stood ready to help. During the rolling blackouts, Bishop James Dixon sent an email blast to church leaders to the Community of Faith Church on the Northside, to see how soon they could respond. By Sunday afternoon, they organized a food drive and began collecting donations, distributing them through a network of nonprofits and community partners. “It’s a team effort,” Dixon said. “No one organization and no one church could support all of Houston during these times.” About 50 miles South in Gavelston, Amanda Huschle and her three grandchildren were first in line at a pop-up food stand Saturday afternoon, organized by a local insurance adjuster in a parking lot behind a Jack-in-the-Box. They collected hamburgers and chips for their first hot meal since their house lost power and running water during several days of freezing weather. “We don’t have anything, just bags of chips” Huschle said. “I don’t have the money to go to restaurants, so we’re blessed to have a community that can help us.” Huschle is single and unemployed, collecting disability checks to pay bills and care for her three grandkids, two of whom have special needs. Her son serves in the Army and is based in Poland, and sends money when he can. During the cold snap last week, Huschle’s Galveston house lost power and her family was to sleep in her sedan to keep warm as temperatures dropped below freezing. By Saturday, her power had returned but she still had no running water and all of the food in their refrigerator had spoiled.

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KVYUE - February 20, 2021

Your electric bills probably won't skyrocket, Austin Energy says. Here's why.

As Central Texans face an electricity and water crisis in the aftermath of this week's storms, many are now fearing a new foe: sky-high energy bills. Austin residents may not need to worry. Austin Energy customers "should not expect to see massive electric bills" as a consequence of the winter storm, the publicly owned utility announced on Saturday. PEC also reassured its customers that "the rate for your base power (per Kilowatt hour) during this weather event will not change." That's because of the way electric rates are calculated. People and businesses in Texas have the right to shop for their electricity rates, according to the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Customers who are seeing their electric bills spike likely have rates controlled by variable bill pricing, where rates are based on the market. You can save money when prices fall, but you are also vulnerable to surging prices when the energy market swings the other way. PEC and Austin Energy, on the other hand, use fixed rates, where prices are more rigid. Any changes to Austin Energy's prices must be authorized by Austin City Council after a thorough rate review process, according to Austin Energy. For context, City Council most recently asked Austin Energy to change its rates in 2017, when rates dropped 6.7%. Here's the good news: under PEC and Austin Energy's rates, residential customers are billed for their actual energy usage. So if you lost power this week, you had no electric use recorded, according to the utilities. If you did use power, you'll be billed at normal rates. But you might see higher bills for another reason: heating your home during cold weather can use more energy. Your rates could be affected in the longer run, though.

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National Stories

Washington Post - February 22, 2021

Impeachment is over. But other efforts to reckon with Trump’s post-election chaos have just begun.

The state of Michigan and the city of Detroit have asked a federal judge to sanction attorneys who filed lawsuits that falsely alleged the November presidential vote was fraudulent, the first of several similar efforts expected around the country. An Atlanta-area prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation into whether pressure that President Donald Trump and his allies put on state officials amounted to an illegal scheme to overturn the results of the election. And defamation lawsuits have been filed against Trump’s allies — the start of what could be a flood of civil litigation related to false claims that the election was rigged and to the subsequent riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Although Trump was acquitted by the Senate on a charge that his rhetoric incited the deadly Capitol siege, public officials and private companies are pursuing a multi-front legal effort to hold him and his allies accountable in other ways. The actions target the former president and numerous others — including elected ­officials, media pundits and lawyers — who indulged and echoed his falsehoods that President Biden did not win the election.

The goal, according to lawyers and others supportive of such efforts, is to mete out some form of punishment for those who helped undermine confidence in the election results and fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But even more, they said, they hope to discourage other public officials from rerunning Trump’s strategy of attempting to overturn an election result by sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the vote. “There has to be some consequence for telling these lies — because when you lie to people, they take action based on what they think is true,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican who received threats after false allegations of fraud in the counting of the city’s votes. “Because it’s such a dangerous new thing that occurred, there has to be some reconciliation. Moving on isn’t enough.” A federal judge in D.C. late Friday referred one lawyer for possible disciplinary action. Still, it’s not yet clear how far courts will go in pursuing sanctions against lawyers who may have believed in their own conspiracy theories, or whether prosecutors will ultimately bring criminal charges related to the election. The civil litigation could linger for years. And one side effect of the endeavors: They could provide new forums for Trump and his allies to showcase their false claims about the vote in 2020.

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Reuters - February 22, 2021

Americans may still need masks to fight COVID in 2022, Fauci says

Americans may still need to wear masks in 2022 even as the country relaxes other restrictions to combat COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said on Sunday. While daily infection rates are coming down dramatically, thousands of Americans still die every day from the virus, and less than 15% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against it. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR) President Joe Biden is trying to accelerate the campaign to vaccinate most American adults as local governments clamor for more doses to prevent the highly contagious illness that has claimed nearly 500,000 lives in the United States.

Fauci, Biden's top medical adviser, told CNN that the approaching deaths tally was "a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country." Asked if Americans should expect to still be wearing masks into next year, Fauci said: "I think it is possible that that's the case," adding that it depended on the level of the virus in communities and potential virus variants. "Obviously, I think we are going to have a significant degree of normality beyond the terrible burden that all of us have been through over the last year," Fauci said. In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press", Fauci said it was too soon to pinpoint when the United States might reach herd immunity. "We want to get that baseline really, really, really low before we start thinking that we're out of the woods." He told "Fox News Sunday" that whether people in the United States will later need a booster shot depends on the path the South African variant takes. While the currently available vaccines appear protective against the UK variant that has appeared across the country, they are less protective against the South African one, which so far is not dominant, he said. "If in fact this becomes more dominant, we may have to get a version of the vaccine that is directed specifically against the South African isolate," Fauci told Fox, saying studies were already underway.

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New York Times - February 21, 2021

Cruz and Cuomo face scandal. Trump can't save them.

Even by Washington standards, this has been a particularly shameless week. With millions of Texans freezing in their homes, Sen. Ted Cruz fled to a Mexican beach, offering his constituents little more than the political cliché of wanting to be a “good dad.” (Apparently, flying your daughters to Cancún is just like carpooling — if your minivan were the Ritz-Carlton resort.) Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas blamed the complete meltdown of state infrastructure not on a lack of preparation from leaders in the state but the Green New Deal — a liberal policy proposal that is not even close to becoming law. His predecessor, former Gov. Rick Perry, suggested that Texans would willingly endure days of blackouts to keep the “federal government out of their business.” It seems hard to believe that any Texan — or really any human — would choose to have to melt snow for water.

The outrageous behavior extended beyond the Lone Star State. In New York, a state lawmaker said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo had vowed to “destroy” him for criticizing Cuomo’s handling of the deaths of nursing home residents in the past year — an issue that is under investigation by the Justice Department. And Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin senator, said the armed attack on the Capitol did not seem all that well armed. Apparently, he missed the many, many videos of attackers carrying guns, bats and other weapons. And yet, beneath all this noise was the sound of something even more unusual: silence. For much of the past six years, former President Donald Trump has dominated the political conversation, prompting days of outrage, finger-pointing and general news cycle havoc with nearly every tweet. The audacious behavior of other politicians was often lost amid Trump’s obsessive desire to dominate the coverage. Well, the former president has now gone nearly silent, leaving a Trump-size void in our national conversation that President Joe Biden has little desire to fill. That has been a rude awakening for some other politicians, who find themselves suddenly enmeshed in controversy that is not quickly subsumed in a deluge of Trump news.

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Bloomberg - February 22, 2021

Goldman sees Brent Oil at $75 as supply response trails demand

Oil prices will rally sooner and higher than previously thought as the global energy demand recovery outpaces the supply response from the OPEC+ alliance, shale and Iran, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Consumption will get back to pre-virus levels by late July, while output from major producers is likely to remain “highly inelastic” to the rising prices, the bank said in a note. Goldman raised its Brent forecasts by $10 a barrel, to $70 next quarter and $75 in the following three months. “This faster re-balancing during what was expected to be the dark days of winter will be followed by a widening deficit this spring as the ramp-up in OPEC+ production lags our above-consensus demand recovery forecast,” bank analysts including Damien Courvalin said in the note.

Oil’s rebound to levels last seen before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy has been driven by Saudi Arabia’s unilateral output cuts together with the improving demand outlook. The rally has also been supported by investors using crude to position for a reflationary environment, Goldman said. Brent oil traded above $63 a barrel on Monday and is up around 22% this year. Supply will keep lagging behind demand for several reasons, the bank said: OPEC+ will fall behind the market rebalancing, especially as the pace of global drawdowns of stockpiles has accelerated; There are no signs of more activity from most non-OPEC+ producers outside of North America, creating a risk supply will fall 900,000 barrels a day short of the bank’s estimates in the coming year; The U.S. earnings season confirms that big explorers and producers, the key drivers of U.S. shale output, remain focused on returning cash to shareholders; Indications from the U.S. government suggest Iranian output likely won’t increase in the short term.

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Newsclips - February 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 19, 2021

Abbott appointees made 'astonishing' cuts to power reliability team before deadly Texas storm

Late last year, as winter approached 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 multiyear 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. The Public Utility Commission’s decision in November to end its contract with the Texas Reliability Entity didn’t cause the historic grid failures that this week transformed Texas into an undeveloped country, leaving large swaths of the state without power or water as temperatures dropped and stayed below freezing. A PUC spokesman said the agency still had ample protections to ensure energy companies followed state rules and guidelines.

On Thursday, Abbott called for a state law requiring power plants to be better weatherized. Yet over the past quarter-century, state leaders have refused to require the companies to prepare for severe weather, even as once-in-a-lifetime storms have arrived with increasing frequency. Critics say the utility commission’s move to strip away a regulatory layer, especially with potentially severe weather approaching, was just the latest example of the consistently light touch Texas politicians have used to oversee the complex industry that generates and distributes power. “It’s astonishing to me that the PUC would get rid of the independent reliability entity with no plan to replace it,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, who sits on the Texas House Energy Resources Committee. “No staff, no oversight on reliability.” Anchía said he would demand answers from PUC brass on the independent monitor function next week when House members will hold a hearing to investigate the factors that led to the Texas blackout. A spokesman for Abbott, who appoints the three members of the PUC, did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. In the meantime, the move highlights a little-known regulatory corner of an energy sector that has come under intense scrutiny in the past week as the Texas power grid was shown to be anything but reliable. Until relatively recently, power companies voluntarily worked together without federal oversight to achieve grid reliability, said Julie Cohn, an energy historian affiliated with Rice University and the University of Houston. But following a blackout that crippled Northeast cities, Congress gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to oversee the grid’s reliability in 2005.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 20, 2021

Texas politicians saw electricity deregulation as a better future. More than two decades later, millions lost power.

Ken Lay, the former CEO of the energy and utility company Enron, was fond of writing letters to his friend George on stationery bearing his company’s famous crooked E. Crossing out the “Dear Governor Bush” typed by his secretary, and penciling in “Dear George” in its place, he wrote to invite Bush to musicals, commiserate over knee surgery, thank the governor for a Christmas gift — and lay out the “benefits of competition” that electricity deregulation would bring. “We have already glimpsed this energy future, and it works,” Lay, who died in 2006 shortly after being convicted of a massive securities fraud, wrote to Bush in 1996, a year after Texas lawmakers had begun to dismantle the electric utility monopolies. Twenty-five years later, a fierce debate has erupted about whether the deregulation of the Texas electricity market contributed to the most calamitous week in modern Texas history, one that saw millions of Texans desperate and shellshocked as they sought out the most basic comforts of modern civilization — food, water, heat.

Was the future, in other words, as glimpsed by Lay, the closest many Texans will ever get to the Stone Age? “We have a deregulated power system in the state and it does not work," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Friday on NBC'S Today Show, "because it does not build in the incentives in order to protect people and that has to change.” Back in the 1990s, Ken Lay had many willing partners in his deregulation mission, including a governor who had presidential ambitions, Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, and, especially, the utilities and their biggest customers. The utilities had been regulated by the Legislature since the 1920s, when lawmakers created a single system for generating and transmitting power. Before that, utilities built their own power plants and wires, leading to an uncoordinated, ad hoc system in which work was often duplicated and some areas remained unserved. Regulation through the years stabilized prices and ensured the lights stayed on. And the electric utilities grew in size and clout, serving customers within specified geographic areas.

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Politico - February 19, 2021

Cruz family’s Cancun trip rattles their private school

Three weeks before Sen. Ted Cruz embarked on his ill-fated Cancun trip to escape the aftermath of Texas’s devastating winter storm, the elite K-12 Houston private school attended by his two daughters emailed a Covid warning to parents about international travel. The bottom line: St. John’s School students who travel internationally must quarantine for 7 to 10 days upon their return. And they won’t be able to even learn online while in isolation. The rules, pegged to CDC guidelines, were sent Jan. 30 in reaction to a controversy that gripped the school after its winter break, when the 11th and 12th grade classes had to promptly quarantine because students attended holiday parties that led to multiple Covid-positive infections.

A divide had formed between the parents and students who followed the safety guidelines and those who flouted them — a microcosm of the broader societal conflict that plays out daily across the nation. Cruz’s trip this week wrenched that divide wide open. As newly released text messages and Cruz-mocking memes exploded on social media, St. John’s parents demanded the school enforce the safety rules that will keep his kids out of class, taking the scandal out of the political realm and into his home. “At the end of the day, he’s taking this heat for using his children as an excuse for taking a vacation. And that’s a mistake,” said Lara Hollingsworth, a parent of three kids at the school. “From a parent standpoint, all I’m asking is the school follow the CDC guidelines, and I need to say I have no reason to believe they won’t.” Cruz has long held a reputation as a polarizing politician people love to hate, and Hollingsworth said some of his critics at the school believe he displayed “hypocritical behavior.” “You’ve got someone out here saying, ‘I did this to be a good dad.’ No one is trying to dispute that,” she said. “The question is are you fully aware of the consequences of what you did? Does it make you a bad parent? No. Does it make you a bad senator? Maybe.” The topic of the Cruz family’s travel became so hot that administrators of the St. John’s School Parents Facebook page closed down comments Friday on a post that referred “to this recent communication from the school regarding ... advisories (including CDC requirements links) for international travel.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2021

Biden signs major disaster declaration for 77 Texas counties, but Abbott asked for all 254

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for 77 Texas counties, the White House said Saturday morning, two days after Gov. Greg Abbott had asked for a declaration that covered all 254 counties coping with the effects of a winter storm that knocked out power and heat across the state. The declaration covers much of the Texas population, including Dallas and neighboring counties, and the counties that include Houston, San Antonio and Austin, but falls far short of what Texas officials sought. The assistance can include grants for temporary housing, home repairs, and low-cost loans.

“This partial approval is an important first step,” Abbott said on Saturday. Biden signed it late Friday, after telling reporters earlier that he would do so as soon as the Federal Emergency Management Agency put the request on his desk. The White House and FEMA offered no explanation for withholding the major disaster declaration from the rest of Texas. A state official said Texas must gather more information from the other counties. “I thank President Biden for his assistance as we respond to impacts of winter weather across our state,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texas will continue to work with our federal partners to ensure all eligible Texans have access to the relief they need. The funds provided under the Major Disaster Declaration may provide crucial assistance to Texans as they begin to repair their homes and address property damage.” The declaration triggers individual and public assistance and hazard mitigation, and allows eligible Texans to apply for aid for broken pipes and other property damage from the winter storms.

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2021

ERCOT, Entergy Texas sued for $100 million by family of Conroe boy who died during freeze

A Houston attorney has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Entergy Texas and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas claiming that widespread blackouts contributed to the suspected hypothermia death of an 11-year-old Conroe boy. A lawsuit filed Saturday by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee alleges that the suspected hypothermia death of Cristian Pineda would not have happened if ERCOT and the energy company had properly guarded the energy grid against severe winter weather or warned residents of prolonged outages at the outset of this week's deadly weather crisis. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the family in Jefferson County district court, accuses ERCOT and Entergy Texas of negligence and gross negligence. The Pineda family is seeking damages, funeral expenses and a judgement of more than $100 million, according to the suit.

"This is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family," ERCOT said in a statement. "We haven’t reviewed any pending lawsuits yet and will respond accordingly once we do." A spokesperson for Entergy Texas said the company could not comment due to pending litigation. "We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in our community," the company said. The petition accuses both defendants of failing to warn people of a known hazard, failing to properly guard against winter storms, failing to follow published industry practices and procedures, and failing to inform customers they would be without power for days, among other things. ERCOT and Entergy's actions involved an "extreme degree of risk," Buzbee claims in the lawsuit. Their negligence was the "proximate cause" of injuries sustained by the child, the attorney argues in the suit. ERCOT, which manages 90% of the state's electric load, instructed energy providers to conduct load shed as demand for heat and power soared during severe winter weather, cutting power to millions of Texans. More than half of Houston-area households lost power. In a Conroe mobile home park, the Pineda family of five huddled to stay warm after losing power Monday morning. Cristian shared a bed with his younger brother, trying to warm him Monday night. Nearby, his mother and stepfather comforted his baby brother. Maria Pineda found her son unresponsive the next day. She called 911 and attempted CPR, but the boy was dead.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2021

Texas officials cut number of COVID-19 shots for Dallas residents, county says

The number of first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for Dallas and Tarrant county residents next week will be cut in half due to a decision by the state, county officials said on Friday. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the state cut the roughly 40,000 doses allocated for DFW residents next week to about 20,000 because Dallas and Tarrant counties are getting about 20,000 shots from FEMA. But those extra FEMA shots are only for residents in 17 economically-disadvantaged zip codes, Jenkins said.

That means fewer shots will be available for North Texas residents in need who live outside those 17 zip codes, he said. The state’s decision affects the county’s vaccine allotment for the next three weeks, Jenkins said. “These were extra doses to help more Texans,” Jenkins said Friday evening. “We shouldn’t be punished because we’re trying to get more vaccines.” Department of State Health Services Commission spokesman Chris Van Deusen said Dallas County will be “more or less level with what it has been for the last few weeks.” The county has “been overallocated based on its share of the population,” he said. “So, this was an opportunity for us to help catch up other parts of the state that had not been getting vaccine.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2021

Dave Lieber: No surprise Texas’ electricity system is a national laughingstock. Only customers cared, until now

Now you hear it everywhere in this state. People are talking and understanding what our leaders’ laissez faire disregard for oversight has done to us. Those beloved words “free market” have left us cold, without water, in the dark. The energy capital of America is a laughingstock, and deservedly so. Who knew that our own leaders could destroy us? The enemy is within. It’s not California values. It’s not the federal government. It sure isn’t windmills. For a decade, I’ve been knocking my head against the wall, pleading, yes, begging state lawmakers in The Watchdog column to take a hard look at the state’s deregulated electricity marketplace and fix its flaws. I call it Version 2.0. They mostly ignored this, just like they ignored warnings after the 2011 Super Bowl ice storm. Nothing to see here, say energy industry lobbyists who hold sway. Year after year, state lawmakers listened to the Public Utility Commission boast that the system is fabulous, best in the country, unregulated free market, blah, blah, blah.

But I listened to your complaints about a system that is purposely confusing to consumers and filled with unpunished marketing deceptions designed to get you to overpay for electricity. Hundreds of Texans joined me in this quest that fails every other year in the Legislature. We sent emails and filed complaints. But former Gov. Rick Perry and Gov. Greg Abbott never cared. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick turns away. Who do we blame for this weather catastrophe? That’s easy. The ones who blame the others. Blame former 14-year-long Gov. Rick Perry, who the other day said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” Perry, with his stream of pro-industry appointees to the Public Utility Commission, was ringleader of the gang that fights for a hands-off attitude. Blame Abbott, forever to be known as the governor who couldn’t keep the lights on. Like so many areas where we’re behind in our state, he never made it a priority to update our busted electricity system, from the grid all the way to the consumer end users. The Texas economic miracle that Abbott touts has little to do with his leadership. It has to do with the good fortune that we live on land with trillions of dollars’ worth of precious liquid gold, oil and gas resources buried beneath.

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott, other state leaders deplore ‘skyrocketing’ energy bills faced by some Texans

Gov. Greg Abbott and legislative leaders say they’re shocked by the “skyrocketing” energy bills that some Texans are facing in the wake of a brutal freeze that caused multi-day power outages last week. On Saturday, Abbott held a hastily arranged, virtual meeting with 11 key lawmakers to discuss how to cushion already-traumatized state residents who had the misfortune of selecting retail electricity plans keyed to suddenly soaring wholesale power prices.

Over the next week, state leaders will work to try to “reduce this burden” so that “Texans are not left with unreasonable utility bills they cannot afford because of the temporary massive spike in the energy market,” Abbott said in a written statement. Though Abbott characterized the meeting as productive, he offered no details about possible fixes. Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who was added to the list of participants after Abbott announced the emergency huddle Saturday morning, said Texas’ deregulated electricity market is complex and both lawmakers and citizens will need to do hasty “fact finding” to get up to speed. “And so the question becomes, while we’re doing that, whether or not we’ll be able to come up with some short term solutions,” said West, a Democrat who has spent nearly three decades in the Texas Senate – and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year. A readout about the meeting by Abbott’s office said both the Republican governor and West spoke of a need for bipartisan cooperation. “I applaud Republican and Democrat members of the Legislature for putting aside partisan politics to work together on this challenge,” Abbott said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 21, 2021

‘They were not prepared’: After winter crisis, Texas will have to confront its energy, politics and culture

Like so many Texans, LaShonda McGrew spent most of Sunday dazzled by the rare blanket of snow that covered her suburban Fort Worth home. It was beautiful, she told her husband, as they spent the day listening to sermons, sitting next to the fire and preparing for the workweek. As the evening approached, the warnings of a more serious weather event started to pop up. McGrew paid attention. She audited her food and water. She placed candles and flashlights with fresh batteries throughout the house. The family charged extra cellphone batteries. At about 1:30 a.m. Monday, the power went out.

“We were prepared for a few hours,” she said on Friday, recalling the historic and catastrophic events of the week. “But we weren’t thinking that it would never come back.” McGrew, her family and more than 3 million other Texans would spend the next several days enveloped in the horrendous winter storm that crippled the infrastructure of the nation’s second-largest state. For more than 48 hours, the family huddled around a fire in their living room, rationing food and cellphone batteries to stay connected with other kin and monitor the news. To pass the time, McGrew — whose nickname is Sunshine — and her family looked at photo albums. They played cards and imagined their vacation to somewhere warm. “It’s gonna get better,” they told each other. It didn’t. In the same week: The McGrew family would join half the state’s population — about 13 million — as residents ran out of water or were forced to boil whatever dripped from faucets to ensure it was safe to drink. “It’s like a bad dream,” she said. “It’s hard to keep a good spirit when you don’t know when things are going to end.” The cascading catastrophes not only tested McGrew’s disposition but also the wherewithal of all Texans.

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2021

‘Scared she’d freeze to death’: How two women found refuge for their families on a Dallas bus

As the temperatures plunged early Tuesday, Marleny Almendarez held her son, Aaron, an 11-year-old on the autism spectrum, to keep him warm. Their Pleasant Grove home had lost power a day earlier. Matthew, her 14-year-old, also slept in her bedroom. They shut the door to preserve heat and covered themselves with blankets. When the sun started to rise behind cloudy skies, their pet bird, Little Rainbow, did not sing its morning song. “We usually in the mornings always have to yell, ‘Little Rainbow, Little Rainbow, be quiet!’” said Almendarez, 38. They wrapped Little Rainbow in towels, compressing his chest. But their colorful parakeet appeared dead.

Miles away from Almendarez’s home, Gloria Sanders on Wednesday called 911. The 76-year-old moved in with her mother two years ago after the elder woman’s dementia became more severe. And now the temperatures in their home were plummeting. Police told her to follow them to a warming center close to their home. With the help of neighbors, Sanders got her mother inside her four-door Kia. Sanders’ mother, Maria Barajas, uses a wheelchair. She is 100 years old. Once they were in the car, Sanders followed Dallas police to a nearby rec center. Sanders bundled her mother up in layers, placing a colorful ear warmer headband on top of her shoulder-length white hair.

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Dallas Morning News - February 20, 2021

Dallas County adds 25 COVID-19 deaths; Jenkins hails lowest hospitalization totals since November

Dallas County reported 25 COVID-19 deaths and 333 new coronavirus cases Saturday. The latest victims included 19 Dallas residents, of whom four had been living at homes and five had been in long-term care facilities. The remaining victims lived in Addison, DeSoto, Duncanville, Garland, Irving and Richardson.

Sixteen of the victims were 60 or older, while eight were in their 40s and 50s. The youngest victim was a Dallas man in his 30s. All of the victims had underlying health conditions. County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that while the current numbers are “artificially low” due to this week’s winter storm, officials believe that overall, Dallas County is trending in the right direction. Of the new cases, 255 were confirmed and 78 were probable. The numbers bring the county’s overall case total to 276,672, including 242,541 confirmed and 34,131 probable. The death toll is 2,816. Health officials use hospitalizations, intensive-care admissions and emergency room visits as key metrics to track the real-time impact of COVID-19 in the county. In the 24-hour period that ended Friday, 537 COVID-19 patients were in acute care in hospitals in the county. During the same period, 411 ER visits were for symptoms of the disease. According to the state, 252,233 people in Dallas County have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 106,798 are fully vaccinated. Jenkins said vaccinations at Fair Park would resume Sunday for those who were due for a second shot on Feb. 12 or earlier.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 21, 2021

Ryam Rusak: Yes, we messed up on electricity. But the Texas way of governing is far from broken.

The great winter storm of February 2021 has been just awful for most Texans. But for those who look for any reason to bash Texas and, in specific, its conservative leadership, it’s been intoxicating. They’ve spent days in the warm bath of schadenfreude, even to the point of mocking Texans who understandably didn’t have the equipment or know-how to deal with perhaps the worst winter freeze the state has ever known. It didn’t help that leaders such as Sen. Ted Cruz served up golden opportunities for criticism with his ridiculous trip to Cancun. Others spent time in a political snit over renewable energy while Texans were melting snow to flush their toilets.

There’s no question that Texas government and industry failed to prepare for this crisis or deal with it well when it arrived. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas proved inept at the worst possible time. The Legislature and recent governors deserve scrutiny for years of decision-making. Let’s tap the brakes, though, on declaring Texas’ entire philosophy of governing rotten. One of the maddening features of our political debates these days is the effort to wrap every event into The One True Narrative. Life is rarely so neat. No system is perfect. But one week, awful though it was, doesn’t negate decades of prudent governance that have made Texas the premier destination for both people and businesses. It wasn’t a mistake to make energy relatively cheap and abundant. It draws business and fuels growth, and economic growth improves lives in ways no government program ever can. Combined with a dedication to low taxes and unoppressive regulation, Texas has become a place where businesses can thrive, home ownership is possible and jobs are plentiful. Not many other large population centers can boast a similar sustained record.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 21, 2021

Texas must change to avoid widespread power outages. Here’s how that might look

In 2000 and 2001, California experienced the Enron blackouts. Demand far outstripped supply in high-demand summer months, and Enron, using sophisticated arbitrage techniques, manipulated the market and contributed to price spikes and outages. When the lights were back on, the state’s residents recalled the governor, replacing Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the lawmakers tightened regulations on what had been a market with little regulatory oversight. Ed Hirs, a University of Houston economics professor and energy fellow who has become a go-to source regarding this week’s outages, likens what Texas is going through to its California moment. “People have to step back and look at the full system,” he said.

Just like with California, a state many Texans are begrudging to even acknowledge, Hirs and others say the answers for Texas should be more regulation. Although Texas’ energy system is referred to as deregulated, Hirs says it’s actually “just regulated differently” than everywhere else. The Legislature can make all kinds of adjustments, from mandating winterization techniques to adopting control measures for the state’s open electricity market. The question is whether the blackout crisis has provided enough fuel for legislators to build mandates common across the rest of the country. “There has to be political will to follow through, and that’s difficult in Texas,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor and author of “Inside Texas Politics.” “That pretty much has to come from the governor.” So will Texas see big changes? And how might they look? Here’s a primer on what we might see — and what experts and lawmakers say we should see — in the coming months to avert another disaster.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 20, 2021

At funeral, Rep. Ron Wright’s career in public service described as a ‘calling from God’

Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth described the late Rep. Ron Wright on Saturday as a devout Christian who saw his work as a public servant as a product of his faith. “Ron came to recognize that his governmental work in Arlington and Tarrant County and in the United States Congress was not simply a noble career in itself, but also a calling from God,” Olson said into a microphone at the beginning of Wright’s funeral Mass in Fort Worth. “His sense of duty was transformed into a sense of discipleship.” Wright, a 67-year-old Republican congressman, died on Feb. 7 after a battle with COVID-19. Wright, a staunch constitutional conservative and a member of the Freedom Caucus, was the first sitting congressperson to die after contracting the coronavirus. Wright lay in repose on Friday at AT&T Stadium for a viewing open to the public. Hundreds gathered inside the Will Rogers Memorial Center for the funeral.

The funeral attendees, which included prominent Republican leaders like Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, sat socially distanced in chairs inside of the ballroom. A black backdrop hung behind the alter. Price told the Star-Telegram after the funeral she knew Wright for around 22 years, from the time he worked on her first campaign for Tarrant County tax assessor. He took over for her as a Tarrant County tax assessor in 2011 when she ran for mayor. Wright was an all-around good guy, Price said, who focused on the needs of his constituents and didn’t hide his faith. “He was a firm Christian — he was the first one to put “In God We Trust” on the envelopes — but he had a really funny sense of humor too,” Price said. “Ron had this quiet, calm sense of humor, and a smile that would kind of creep up on you. I always thought, ‘What’s he up to next?’” Wright is survived by his wife, Susan, three children, grandchildren and members of his extended family. His wife also caught COVID-19 and spent two weeks in a hospital but was discharged before Ron’s death, Wright’s office has said. Wright was elected in 2018 to serve the 6th Congressional District, which includes southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. He was also a member of the Arlington City Council from 2000 to 2008. Some tributes to Wright were posted to social media over the weekend, including a tweet from Arlington police, whose honor guard was at the public viewing at AT&T Stadium. The late congressman “was instrumental in many things in Arlington including establishing Heroes Park,” police said in a tweet.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 20, 2021

Arlington man gets $17,000 electricity bill. Gov. Abbott will address price spikes

After an Arlington man was hit with a $17,000 electricity bill and other Texans received bills in the thousands, Gov. Greg Abbott will have an emergency meeting with top-state officials to address the issue, he announced Saturday. The governor will meet with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan and members of the Texas Legislature to get Texans off the hook for the unreasonable spikes. “It is unacceptable for Texans who suffered through days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat to now be hit with skyrocketing energy costs,” Abbott said.

Currently, the electric company Griddy is under fire after its customers are reporting having bills in the thousands because of the winter storm conditions. The company charges customers a $9.99 monthly fee and the cost of spot power traded on Texas’ electric grid based on the time of day they use electricity. Ty Williams of Arlington, a Griddy customer who didn’t lose electricity during the outages, was slapped with a $17,000 bill, KDFW reported. While DeAndre Upshaw of Dallas owed $5,000 to the company for his 900-square-foot, two-story townhouse, the Dallas Morning News reported. Karen Cosby also had a $5,000 bill from Griddy, the DMN reported. Both Upshaw and Cosby are looking for a new provider. What baffled Williams is that while he didn’t lose power, his family did everything they could to conserve energy. He was eventually able to switch providers.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 21, 2021

Tarrant County public health authorities report 401 new coronavirus cases, 26 deaths

Public health authorities on Saturday reported the deaths of 26 people caused by COVID-19 and 401 new coronavirus cases in Tarrant County. The authorities have reported a total of 238,077 COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County that have included 2,757 deaths and an estimated 211,905 recoveries. The people whose deaths that Tarrant County Public Health reported on Saturday were:

One person older than 90: a woman from Bedford. Five people in their 80s: a man from Kennedale, a man and a woman from Fort Worth, a man from Westworth Village and a man from Benbrook. Eight people in their 70s: three men from Arlington, two men and a woman from Fort Worth, a woman from Grapevine and a woman from Bedford. Seven people in their 60s: two men and a woman from Fort Worth, a man from Haltom City, two men from Arlington and a man from Mansfield. Three people in their 50s: a woman from Fort Worth, a man from Mansfield and a man from unincorporated Tarrant County. Two people in their 40s: a woman from Haltom City and a man from Arlington. Each had underlying health conditions, the public health department said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 21, 2021

In a state that once sang ‘Freeze a Yankee,’ the myth of an invincible Texas crumbles

Forty years ago, Texans felt so indestructible that we sang along when a Dallas radio station played “Freeze a Yankee”: Cut off the gas, turn off the oil; And let ‘em all freeze and boil. After the most costly storm in state history destroyed homes, businesses, cities and lives, songwriter Bob Arnold of Dallas said last week was “just completely embarrassing” for Texas. “Now the Yankees are not freezing — we are,” he said.

Texas’ pinchpenny failure to prepare for decennial winter storms, along with state bureaucrats’ grossly lazy oversight of energy companies, put another giant dent in the myth of an invincible Texas. “Nobody wants to spend a lot of money, and now that’s come to bear fruit,” said Arnold, a former energy company spokesman who co-wrote the 1979 lyrics for his folk group, the Folkel Minority, a spinoff from the Vocal Majority chorus: We gonna keep all the gas we can make; And let them Yankees shiver ‘n’ shake. “Back then, there were so many states that didn’t want drilling — they expected Texas to do that,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t do us any good if we can’t run the power plants.” If you thought the last week was the end of the nightmare, think again. Both years Texas had record winter cold — 1899 and 1949 — they were followed by deadly floods.

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2021

Erica Grieder: It defies belief, and arithmetic, to blame wind turbines for this week's disaster

It’s a sad state of affairs when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick represents a lone voice of reason, if you can call it that, among our statewide leaders. Of course, the situation we’re in is about as sad — and demoralizing, and infuriating — as possible. A winter storm for which the state was clearly not prepared has left some 30 people dead in the Houston area, a figure that is almost certain to rise as recovery efforts continue. Millions of Texans spent at least part of the week without power, and as of Thursday, roughly half the state’s population remained under boil-water notices — assuming that they were lucky enough to have water to boil. You know all this already, of course. You’ve lived through it, just as you’ve lived through previous disasters, which seem to hit this state with increasing, disturbing regularity.

You may also have noticed that state leaders have been trying, absurdly, to blame this one on wind turbines, which certainly doesn’t boost one’s confidence in their ability to ensure that this never happens again. Gov. Greg Abbott led the charge. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid and that thrust Texas into this situation where it was lacking power (on) a statewide basis,” Abbott said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. He argued that the disaster at hand “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” This is wrong, for reasons that should be self-evident. Texas lost more than a third of its generation capacity Monday. In other words, regardless of how poorly wind and solar performed during the crisis, they were not the sole or even main cause of the crisis. They couldn’t have been. That’s just arithmetic. The bulk of the generation shortfall this week was due to freezes at coal, nuclear and natural gas plants — which make up most of our generation capacity. Had they been weatherized, this disaster could have been avoided. The governor knows this, too. At a news conference Wednesday — his first since temperatures began plummeting Sunday — Abbott acknowledged that there were problems with other forms of energy, too, as a result of the freeze. Abbott then suggested that he was simply peer-pressured into pointing the finger at green energy when he sat down with Hannity.

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Houston Chronicle - February 20, 2021

'None of this is normal': For health care workers, Texas storm just the latest bit of chaos

After hearing news of an impending ice storm, Maritza Ramirez did what she has so many times before: She packed a to-go bag and volunteered to work. For Ramirez, a nurse at Methodist Hospital, five years of catastrophes made the ice storm feel almost routine. Like so many others in Houston’s health care industry, the 29-year-old nurse has come to expect the unexpected — chaos on top of chaos. The seemingly endless stream of catastrophic events has sometimes made it difficult for front line workers to take a step back and process the mayhem that has become the norm. “It’s definitely not normal,” she said. “And I think anyone who says this is normal is kidding themselves or hasn’t processed it. Because none of this is normal.”

Ramirez chose to work with Methodist’s COVID-19 patients nearly a year ago, and during Tropical Storm Imelda, Hurricane Harvey and the onslaught of other natural disasters to hit southeast Texas in recent years. Then, last week, amid forecasts of a potentially dangerous winter storm, she again raised her hand for what became a four-day shift in one of the worst disasters to hit Texas in decades. By Tuesday — the third day in her stretch — some 4 million Texans were without power in frigid temperatures. Dozens would ultimately die. She spent the week sleeping on an air mattress, worrying about patients and trying to check in with her family when possible. Across the region, nurses and doctors similarly juggled their own problems at home while tending to sick and dying patients, or the hundreds of people hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning and other health emergencies. “You're like OK, I mopped up my kitchen floor and the busted pipe,” said Dr. Ben Saldana, who oversees Methodist’s emergency departments. “Now I’ve got to go to work and deal with someone else's anxiety and make sure they're safe.” Saldana said at least half of his staff’s homes were affected by the storm, and some were unable to commute throughout the week. But he said they never felt particularly overwhelmed — the challenges posed by COVID-19 over the last year have forced staff to become more “agile,” he said, and they’re now used to working in unprecedented conditions.

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Houston Chronicle - February 19, 2021

Texas Rep. Gary Gates facing backlash after taking private jet to Florida amid outages

State Rep. Gary Gates is under fire from his constituents for leaving House District 28 on Wednesday as much of Fort Bend County struggled without water and power. After losing power Tuesday, Gates left his home via his private jet Wednesday night and traveled to Orlando, Fla., sparking outrage among many who believe the freshman lawmaker should have remained in his district. “It really would have been nice to have a state representative helping on the ground, working at a warming center, packing food, etc. rather than immediately (flying) off on a private plane when the going got tough,” said Brian Walz, one of Gates’ constituents. “My neighbors didn’t get to do that when her pipe burst.”

Gates acknowledged the frustration of his critics, but stated that the decision to leave Texas was based on the needs of his family. His pipes burst, he said, and 30 percent of his home was flooded, leaving his sick wife and special needs daughter at risk. “My wife is still recovering from an illness she has been battling for two weeks, and the room of my adult daughter, who is mentally handicapped and still lives with us, flooded,” Gates said. By Wednesday morning, Gates added, mold had set in. He had planned to stay with one of his daughters, but she, too, lost power. With no other options, Gates said, he and his family flew to Florida. Gates’ explanation for leaving was conflicting, according to Stefan Modrich from the Fort Bend Star. “I spoke to (Gates’) chief of staff today. Gates, owner of Gatesco Inc., a property manager of several apartment buildings in Houston, was on a business trip and meeting with a ‘major vendor’ in Orlando and is returning tomorrow,” Modrich wrote on Twitter. When questioned about the inconsistent reports, Gates contended that the person Modrich spoke with was not his chief of staff. Gates acknowledged that he did meet with a vendor while in Florida, but it was only because he was already there.

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Houston Chronicle - February 19, 2021

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visits Houston-bound with $2 million to help Texans after winter storm

New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was traveling to Houston on Friday with more than $2 million to help Texas recover from a week of catastrophic blackouts and water outages. “I’ll be flying to Texas today to visit with Houston Rep. Sylvia Garcia to distribute supplies and help amplify needs & solutions,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. Earlier in the week, Ocasio-Cortez sent out fundraising appeals to her massive campaign donor network and her nearly 13 million social media followers. “Please chip in what you can afford today and 100% of your donation will automatically be split between these organizations on the ground providing immediate relief,” the fundraising pitch said. Those organizations include the Houston Food Bank, the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, Corazon Ministries, Central Texas Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank and Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.

Her outreach to Texas comes just days after Gov. Greg Abbott slammed her support for the Green New Deal, warning that the push for renewable energy was part of the problem that resulted in millions of Texans losing power. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said to Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.” But Abbott didn’t point out that freezing temperatures shut down natural gas, coal and nuclear plants that were not weatherized. Those fuel sources represent more than 80 percent of the state’s electricity grid, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although Ocasio-Cortez represents the Bronx, she has ties to Texas. Ocasio-Cortez spent more than a decade growing a bond with Texas through an education program called the National Hispanic Institute. She said she spent many hours traveling between San Antonio and the Texas border working with Latino families when she was the group’s education director in 2017 just before running for Congress. “People understand that now is the time for collective action and doing what we can w/ whatever we’ve got,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter on Friday before heading to Houston.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 19, 2021

John Bridges: Texas government is broken. We deserve one that works.

(Bridges is executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman.) “The government you elect is the government you deserve,” Thomas Jefferson famously said. Tom must've never made it to Texas. Texans deserve better government. For too long, Texans have elected people more interested in dismantling government than actually running one. As we painfully learned this week, small government sounds good right up until the power goes out and the faucet runs dry. Texans deserve a government that puts the people, the governed, first. For too long, our elected leaders have put their own political interests first, their cronies second and business interests third. Texans deserve a government that actually does the hard work to build and safeguard the critical systems on which we all depend. For too long, our politicians have been more interested in wedge issues to win party primaries increasingly dominated by extremists.

How much time did our Legislature spend debating transgender bathrooms? How many new ways can we find to restrict access to abortion and promote out-of-control gun culture? How many times can we sue the federal government for political sport? ("I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home," Greg Abbott boasted when he was attorney general, starting a tradition his successor has been proud to continue, even when it means trying to disenfranchise millions of voters.) Our government has dismantled the social safety net and outsourced what's left. Our regulatory agencies work to protect the businesses they regulate, not the people they serve. Our state officials repeatedly undermine local governments. The last Legislature restricted local taxing authority, much of which is spent on public safety. Now the governor wants to forbid cities from controlling their own police budgets. This all might have seemed liked good political theater until we take stock of what it has wrought.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 20, 2021

With storm over, Austinites' eyes turn to long recovery

Austinites emerged Saturday from a nightmarish week of darkness, cold and thirst to survey the damage to their homes and take stock of supplies. Many, still left without water as an energy calamity turned into a water supply catastrophe, flocked to food banks for household essentials. A massive phalanx of plumbers and city workers, meanwhile, deployed to repair a region whose very bones had been broken, as pipes massive and small burst with water.

As of Saturday, Texas homeowners and renters in 77 counties, including Travis, Hays and Williamson, who sustained damage related to the disaster may apply for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. The individual assistance can include "grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," according to the White House. By midday Saturday, the city of Austin had distributed at least 8,000 cases of water at shelters and other critical care facilities and distributed nearly 3,000 more through such partners as Capital Metro, which was sending water door-to-door for its Metro Access customers — people whose disabilities prevent them from riding its other bus and rail services. Across Texas, about 14.3 million people — half the state's population — lived in areas with compromised water systems, according to Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 21, 2021

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Suffering Texans need leadership from Gov. Greg Abbott

This week Texans endured an epic, unforgivable failure of state government. Millions left shivering in the cold for days without power. A state power grid that came within minutes of a catastrophic collapse. Regulators who deemed the system ready for winter when clearly it was not. A deepening utility crisis that has left millions without safe drinking water and put some hospital operations in peril. And elected leaders who shamefully failed to lead, with Gov. Greg Abbott absurdly warning Texas was a poster child for the ills of the Green New Deal — really?! — and Sen. Ted Cruz blithely jetsetting to Cancún. An Abilene man froze to death in his recliner. A Houston woman and her child died from carbon monoxide poisoning after seeking warmth in their car. Others around the state have died from exposure or fires as the lack of heat forced them to make desperate decisions.

They died because the state designed a power grid system that prizes cheap energy and corporate profits over a durable, reliable power supply for Texans. Unfazed by the failures of that system, and the widespread suffering and devastation it has wrought, former Gov. Rick Perry declared this week that Texans would be willing to suffer even more just to swat away the pesky hand of federal regulation. Seriously. Perry should try that argument with the Texans who spent this week turning furniture into firewood, standing in line for hours to get supplies and scooping up snow and pool water to keep their toilets flushing. It took the better part of four days, but Abbott on Thursday finally said what needed to be said: “I take responsibility.” He called on the Legislature to require power plants to harden themselves against the threats of extremely cold weather, and he called for state funding to accomplish the task. That’s a start. Exhausted, angry Texans must demand that Abbott and lawmakers actually follow through, or we’ll find ourselves in the same place the next time a severe winter storm strikes.

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Washington Post - February 20, 2021

Biden’s low-key approach to storm wins praise but courts risks

Democratic state Rep. James Talarico says the most he's heard of federal help in his area during the devastating winter storm is a FEMA water truck that apparently got stuck in ice. K.P. George, the top elected official in Fort Bend County, Tex., said federal officials have told him help is on the way — just not fast enough: "We can't wait another 72 hours to get food and blankets and things like that," he said. And U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Tex.), a congressman from Dallas, said what would help most, beyond an infusion of federal dollars, is a visit from President Biden. "This has been something like the Dark Ages here in Texas," Allred said. "I mean, people are burning their furniture and their fences for warmth and for heat. They're finding older folks literally frozen to death in their beds. When the president has toured — seen the damage, spoken to the people who were affected — I think that makes it a little bit hard to say, 'Well, I'm sorry, you're going to be on your own.'?"

As the Biden administration faces its first natural disaster, the president himself is taking a notably low-key approach. He has not visited the stricken region or delivered prime-time remarks; he did not mention the disaster at a recent town hall; and he is studiously avoiding the controversy over whether wind energy or fossil fuels are to blame for widespread power failures. It's a marked contrast to former president Donald Trump's habit of making himself the often-hostile center of attention during natural disasters. He famously tossed paper towels to hurricane victims, excoriated Californians for "gross mismanagement" of forests and called Puerto Rican leaders "corrupt and incompetent" for their handling of aid money. While Biden has won praise for his quieter, more businesslike approach, he is also running the risk that he — and the federal government — can appear almost absent. State and local officials say a big test will come in the months and years ahead, as Texans replace burst pipes in flooded homes, clear out dead crops and livestock and investigate the collapse of an electrical grid that left millions shivering in the dark. “This is a catastrophic loss across the board,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said by phone from Stephenville, where he was tending his cattle. The storms knocked out this year’s and next year’s citrus crops in three Texas counties, a loss of more than $300 million, and Miller ultimately expects all 254 counties in Texas to be declared federal disaster areas in coming weeks. “We poured out over 1,600 trailer trucks of milk because we can’t pasteurize it,” Miller said. “It’s affected the poultry farmers, the hatcheries. We’ve got little chicks that froze to death and incubators that we can’t keep warm, so those eggs aren’t going to hatch.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 20, 2021

Greg Jefferson: Why H-E-B comes through in a crisis when Texas government doesn't

One of the barbs tossed around frequently on Twitter last week — more wistful than angry — was that we’d all be better off if H-E-B took over the Texas power grid. It would have been hard to argue the point, especially while sitting in a cold, dark house or apartment. Nobody bothered. Charles Butt, the elusive chairman and CEO of the San Antonio-based grocery chain, doesn’t leave much, if anything, to chance. His management team makes decisions rooted in data, plans for the unexpected and adapts quickly when circumstances go south. Think back to 2017, when Hurricane Harvey devastated the Gulf Coast. To keep shelves as well-stocked as possible, H-E-B helicoptered truck drivers from San Antonio to Houston, mapped out alternative routes between distribution centers and stores, and directed suppliers to ship directly to stores. Remember the start of the pandemic a little more than a year ago.

Few business and government leaders in Texas foresaw the devastation the coronavirus would cause. H-E-B knew — or at least had a much firmer grip on what was coming. As we reported in July, the company had commissioned forecasts of the virus’ potential spread from Johns Hopkins University. The company shared that information with Gov. Greg Abbott in a meeting at the Capitol on March 10, at the urging of San Antonio banker and Abbott confidant J. Bruce Bugg Jr. By then, the chain was already well into its preparations for the outbreak. Early on, H-E-B restricted purchases of eggs, bottled water and other staples. “We are constantly in a year-round state of preparedness for different emergencies,” H-E-B President Craig Boyan said in an interview with Texas Monthly. “We keep emergency supplies at almost every warehouse and have water and other supplies staged and ready to go and kept in storage to make sure that we are ready... when a crisis emerges, whether it be a hurricane or a pandemic.” We learned that the company had been fine-tuning a pandemic response since 2005, when H5N1, or bird flu, emerged in China. As we saw last March and April, and again during last week’s winter storm, H-E-B’s foresight doesn’t prevent shortages or long lines during a crisis. As Texas froze over, the chain closed some of its San Antonio-area stores. It soon re-opened all but one and ran them with mostly reduced staff. It cut operating hours and limited purchases of water, eggs, milk, bread, ice and propane.

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Texas Observer - February 20, 2021

Nine Texans on how they survived a frozen week

As a winter storm sent temperatures plummeting across Texas this week and the state’s power grid approached total failure, millions of people were left freezing in their homes without heat. Crises have compounded crises as residents are forced to contend with single digit temperatures, icy roads, non-potable or non-existent water sources, and food shortages—all amid an ongoing pandemic. We spoke with people around the state about their experiences and how they made do during this long, cold week.

It's life or death," says Michael Gienger, a pastor at Galveston Central Church, which has become a makeshift shelter for community members, many of whom are homeless. Gienger is grateful his church could respond to the crisis, but he thinks, “What choice do we have?” Gienger is frustrated by what he says are failures of the housing system for homeless people. In jails across Texas, the situation right now is dire. Arthur White, currently incarcerated in Harris County Jail, says they have no running water, aren't being fed, and have few resources to stay warm. He says he feels “close to despair.” After Houstonian Cressandra Thibodeaux’s power went out, she desperately sought a place to bring her elderly mother. Her 87-year-old mother was recovering from a case of COVID-19 that had landed her in the emergency room and was suffering from temporary dementia brought on by the virus. Neri Curiel, a community organizer with La Union del Pueblo Entero in Donna, is worried about the future. Colonias in the Rio Grande Valley have been ravaged by flooding, and climate change is only making conditions worse. “We were just emerging into the light from this pandemic," she says. "Now this came and threw us into chaos."

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National Stories

Associated Press - February 21, 2021

New legislation would protect drivers who hit protestors

When massive demonstrations against racial injustice erupted across the nation last summer, protesters used an increasingly common tactic to draw attention to their cause: swarming out onto major roads to temporarily paralyze traffic. This method sometimes resulted in searing images of drivers plowing through crowds, causing serious injuries and in some cases, deaths. Now, Republican politicians across the country are moving to stop the road-blocking maneuver, proposing increased penalties for demonstrators who run onto highways and legal immunity for drivers who hit them. The bills are among dozens introduced in Legislatures aimed at cracking down on demonstrations. “It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others,” said Rep. Kevin McDugle, the author of an Oklahoma bill granting criminal and civil immunity to people who drive into crowds on roads. “The driver of that truck had his family in there, and they were scared to death.”

He referred to an incident in July in which a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer drove through Black Lives Matter protesters on Interstate 244 in Tulsa. Three people were seriously injured, including a 33-year-old man who fell from an overpass and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Tumultuous demonstrations by left-leaning and right-leaning groups have stirred new debate about what tactics are acceptable free speech and which go too far. In addition to blocking roads, Black Lives Matter demonstrators have taken over parks and painted slogans on streets and structures, while right-wing groups have brandished firearms and stormed capitol buildings. Local authorities’ responses have wavered as they try to avoid escalating conflicts. Now legislators in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah and about a dozen other states have introduced new counterprotest measures. The traffic-blocking tactic has attracted the most concern because of the obvious hazard. In one particularly chilling incident in Minneapolis, a large tanker truck drove at high speed through thousands of protesters gathered on a closed highway. Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt, though a criminal complaint says at least one protester suffered abrasions. Mark Faulk, a longtime Oklahoma activist who was arrested last year for blocking a roadway, said dramatic tactics are necessary to get people’s attention. “The idea of escalating it to the point where you disrupt the convenience of the citizens and of the status quo, you have to do that sometimes to make a point,” Faulk said. But Carmyn Taylor, 20, recalled the sight of a pickup truck bearing down on protesters spread across the six-lane I-244 in Tulsa.

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Associated Press - February 21, 2021

Snubbed as Obama high court pick, Garland in line to be AG

The last time Merrick Garland was nominated by the White House for a job, Republicans wouldn’t even meet with him. Now, the once-snubbed Supreme Court pick will finally come before the Senate, this time as President Joe Biden’s choice for attorney general. Garland, an appeals court judge, is widely expected to sail through his confirmation process, which begins Monday before the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support. “Judge Garland’s extensive legal experience makes him well-suited to lead the Department of Justice, and I appreciated his commitment to keep politics out of the Justice Department,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Unless I hear something new, I expect to support his nomination before the full Senate.” Biden’s choice of Garland reflects the president’s goal of restoring the department’s reputation as an independent body. During his four years as president, Donald Trump had insisted that the attorney general must be loyal to him personally, a position that battered the department’s reputation. Garland’s high court nomination by President Barack Obama in 2016 died because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing.

Garland will inherit a Justice Department that endured a tumultuous time under Trump — rife with political drama and controversial decisions — and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they saw as the politicizing of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies. The department’s priorities and messaging are expected to shift drastically in the Biden administration, with a focus more on civil rights issue, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Garland plans to tell senators the department must ensure laws are “fairly and faithfully enforced” and the rights of all Americans are protected, while reaffirming an adherence to policies to protect its political independence, with the attorney general acting as a lawyer for the American people, not for the president. The Justice Department on late Saturday released a copy of Garland’s opening statement. Garland will also confront some immediate challenges, including the criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, and calls from some Democrats to investigate Trump, especially after thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify Biden’s electoral win. Garland, in his prepared remarks for the Senate committee, calls the insurrection a “heinous attack that sought to distrust a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.” A special counsel’s inquiry started by William Barr, while he was attorney general, into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation also remains open. It will be up to Garland to decide what to make public from that report,

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Wall Street Journal - February 21, 2021

Incitement case against Trump for Capitol riot would present challenges

As Donald Trump was acquitted at his impeachment trial on one charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some Republicans suggested that the proper forum to consider the legality of his behavior was a U.S. court. A top federal prosecutor investigating the riot also has suggested the Justice Department could review Mr. Trump’s actions as part of its sprawling investigation into the attack. And District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat, “is investigating whether former President Trump or any other individual violated district law and illegally incited violence on Jan. 6,” according to a spokeswoman, though his authority is more limited. Prosecutors would face clear challenges in bringing any case, according to former prosecutors and experts.

Tom Firestone, a lawyer with Baker & McKenzie LLP and former assistant U.S. attorney in New York, said prosecutors would have to consider several factors, including whether Mr. Trump was engaged in constitutionally protected political speech or instead crossed a line that prompted supporters to commit violence. “If you look at his speech, there’s evidence that both sides could use,” Mr. Firestone said. Other important considerations would include Mr. Trump’s intent, what he knew about his supporters’ intentions, and whether the attack on the Capitol was reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances. “I think all of these factors would make it a difficult prosecution, though not an impossible one,” Mr. Firestone said. A representative for Mr. Trump declined to comment. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have called incitement allegations absurd, saying the former president was exercising his First Amendment rights to speak out against how the U.S. election was conducted and never encouraged violence against lawmakers. They have emphasized that Mr. Trump specifically stated that rally goers should express themselves peacefully.

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CNN - February 20, 2021

Trump to speak at CPAC in first public appearance since leaving White House, while Pence declines invitation

Former President Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, next Sunday, according to a source familiar with the matter, while former Vice President Mike Pence declined an invitation to speak at the conference, two sources told CNN. One source said organizers still hope to change Pence's mind about attending, while another source said Pence is planning to stay under the radar for the next six months. Politico first reported that Pence declined the invitation. The divergence between the two former leaders, which comes as the GOP is grappling with its future in the wake of the Trump presidency, follows tensions between Trump and Pence surrounding the January 6 riot at the US Capitol and Pence's role certifying the results of the election for President Joe Biden. "We accept Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States," former Pence chief of staff Marc Short told CNN's Pamela Brown on "Newsroom" Saturday evening, despite Pence playing a role in perpetuating baseless election fraud theories that Trump repeatedly pushed ahead of the attack on the Capitol.

Unlike Trump, Pence attended Biden's inauguration in Washington, DC, last month -- after skipping Trump's farewell ceremony. Short said Saturday that Trump and Pence "departed amicably" and that they've spoken since. The source familiar with Trump's plans to attend CPAC, who is also familiar with the former President's speech, told CNN on Saturday that "he'll be talking about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement." "Also look for the 45th President to take on President Biden's disastrous amnesty and border policies," the source added. The speaking engagement would mark Trump's first public appearance following his departure from the White House last month and comes as senior Republicans are split over how to treat the former President, with his loyalists paying him visits recently in Florida. One of Trump's campaign managers, Brad Parscale, met with the former President at his club in Mar-a-Lago this week for a lengthy meeting, according to a source familiar. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago Saturday night, according to another source familiar, a potential sign of more visits to come. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, met privately with Trump on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, CNN reported, the day before Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed never to do so. The simmering feud between Trump and McConnell has escalated in recent days, raising questions about whether the two can ever work together for the future of the GOP. Trump went after McConnell in a lengthy statement released Tuesday night after McConnell harshly criticized the former President from the Senate floor last Saturday and in an op-ed on Monday in the Wall Street Journal, despite voting to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial.

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New York Times - February 20, 2021

Where will Rush Limbaugh’s 15 million listeners go now?

o who now takes the place of Rush Limbaugh as the media ringmaster of the right? The answer, most likely, is nobody. That is not because Mr. Limbaugh, who died on Wednesday at 70, was uniquely talented among conservative broadcasters, although his popularity and influence on American politics surely rank him in the highest tier. Mr. Limbaugh almost single-handedly created a right-wing mass-media universe — with its kneejerk hatred of Democrats, mocking nicknames and own-the-libs glee — that allowed him to imprint his grievances and goals on the national debate. About 15 million people a week tuned in for his daily three-hour program. But Mr. Limbaugh’s monopoly on outrage was fractured by a thousand rivals.

Fox News, which Sean Hannity acknowledged on Wednesday would likely not exist without Mr. Limbaugh paving the way, became hugely influential in mainstream Republican politics. Younger MAGA devotees are more likely to download popular podcasts from Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino than try to catch Mr. Limbaugh’s live broadcasts on a radio at lunch break. Once the enfant terrible of conservatives, El Rushbo sometimes sounded tame when compared with conspiracy sites like Gateway Pundit and Infowars, which engaged in harder-edged rhetoric, to the delight of Donald J. Trump and his fans. All of which means that whichever conservative pundit inherits Mr. Limbaugh’s golden microphone is unlikely to command quite the same sway. Jimmy Fallon may host “The Tonight Show,” but he’ll never be Johnny Carson. “There’s so many different platforms to interact with conservative voices, and there are so many more voices,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist and longtime press aide to Mitt Romney. “If you’re pro-Trump, you’ve got Breitbart and Newsmax. If you’re more of a moderate Republican, you’ve got The Bulwark and Charlie Sykes. I follow 25-, 26-year-old conservatives on Instagram who are sharing two-minute videos that young people connect with personally.” He added, “I don’t think you’ll see it ever again where one person is the king of this realm.”

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Newsclips - February 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 18, 2021

This year’s winter storm could become the costliest weather event in Texas history

The deep freeze and snowfall that paralyzed Texas this week could be the costliest weather event in state history as home and auto claims start to pour in, insurance industry officials warn. Ice, snow and some of the coldest temperatures in decades will likely result in large insurance claims from customers in every part of the state after the winter storm prompted a precedent-setting weather warning in all 254 counties. “We are used to our storms here in Texas with tornadoes, hurricanes and hail,” said Camille Garcia, communications director with the Insurance Council of Texas, a trade group for the state’s home, auto, renters and business insurance agents. “But those are regional. We are talking about an event that reached every part of Texas.”

This storm, which isn’t over as many parts of the state are still experiencing snow and sub-freezing conditions, will probably be costlier than Hurricane Harvey, which amounted to $19 billion in insurance claims or about $20.1 billion adjusted for inflation, Garcia said. And that only includes losses from the home, auto, renters and business insurance market and wouldn’t cover costs from public infrastructure, energy pipelines and power plants that are under extreme pressure from high demand and debilitating weather. Hurricane Harvey tortured the Gulf Coast for days in 2017 after making landfall in Rockport and stalling over Houston, dumping record-setting rainfall that flooded neighborhoods and damaged refineries. North Texas’ most expensive weather events have come in the form of hailstorms in 1992 and 1995 that each resulted in less than $3 billion in damage. The October 2019 tornadoes that ripped through Dallas and Richardson created about $1.5 billion in claims. In fact, the storm that froze Texas and surrounding states could be the most expensive in U.S. history, dwarfing a 1993 winter storm that paralyzed the southern U.S., including Texas, and cost about $5 billion total and $2 billion in insured damages, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

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Dallas Morning News - February 18, 2021

Texas power grid was ‘seconds or minutes’ from a total blackout that could have lasted months, ERCOT says

The state’s power grid operators are defending their decision to initiate controlled outages, saying Thursday the electrical system was “seconds or minutes” from collapsing and plunging Texans into the dark for months. “Our frequency went to a level that, if operators had not acted very rapidly … it could have very quickly changed,” said Bill Magness, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that oversees the grid.

Starting about 11 p.m. Sunday, generation units started knocking off “in rapid succession,” Magness said. Several big units could have gone offline by the minute had officials waited, he said. Magness defended the decision to initiate controlled outages, saying a true blackout would leave the entire state without power for an indefinite amount of time, possibly months. But Gov. Greg Abbott had harsh words for ERCOT during a news conference Thursday afternoon. In calling for reforms, he said that what happened in Texas “can never be replicated again.” Abbott said Magness told state officials five days before the storm that that ERCOT was “ready for the cold temperatures coming our way.” “He said that ERCOT had issued a notice to power plants to ensure that they were winterized properly and ERCOT’s annual winter assessment, which is designed to ensure that the state is prepared, assured the public that there would be enough power to meet peak demand this winter,” Abbott said. “ERCOT failed on each of these measures that they said they had undertaken,” the governor added.

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Toll of harsh winter weather comes into focus as reported deaths climb sharply

Soon after Carrol Anderson lost power in his Crosby home earlier this week, his oxygen machine stopped working. He had asked his provider for more tanks the previous week but didn’t get any before harsh winter conditions set in. The 75-year old Vietnam War veteran turned to two small bottles of oxygen he had, but his supply quickly depleted. With no firewood left and temperatures plummeting, Anderson turned to his last resort to breathe: A small portable oxygen tank he kept in his truck. It was 19 degrees outside. He died in his truck Tuesday. “He shouldn’t have had to die because he couldn’t breathe because we didn’t have power,” said Gloria Anderson, Carrol’s wife of 30 years, through tears in a telephone interview.

Anderson’s death was one of four deaths caused by hypothermia that Harris County authorities announced on Thursday. Two people, Jimmie Gloud and Mary Gee, died at their Houston homes. A man was also found dead early Thursday in a parking lot in the northern part of Harris County, a fatality also attributed to the cold weather. As temperatures rose and the Houston region began to thaw after several days of sub-freezing temperatures, the number of reported local deaths related to cold weather doubled on Thursday, bringing the toll of the crisis into sharper focus. In addition to the Harris County deaths, Galveston and Brazoria counties reported nine fatalities, bringing the number in the area who are believed to have died in weather-related incidents to 25. That several people were found dead from hypothermia inside their homes underscored how the extreme frigid weather since Monday combined with massive power outages had created unusually severe conditions. Temperatures were expected to drop into the 20s overnight before climbing into the mid-40s on Friday.

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Sen. Ted Cruz pins controversial Cancún flight on 'wanting to be a good dad' amid calls to resign

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was feeling the heat Thursday as photos circulated online showing the Texas Republican traveling to Cancún while millions in his home state were left in the cold without power and water, reeling from a major winter weather disaster. The senator, who was spotted on a Wednesday flight, said in a statement that his family lost heat and power like many, and with school out for the week, his daughters asked to go. “Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Cruz said. It was unclear whether the quick return was originally planned, but it wasn’t quick enough for many regardless. By Thursday morning, the trip had already sparked renewed calls for Cruz’s resignation — six weeks into 2021, the senator with 2024 presidential ambitions has also been the focus of scorn over his objections to certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory, an effort his campaign used to raise money that also led to calls for his resignation and an ethics complaint from Senate Democrats.

Cruz was also called out earlier this week for having mocked California’s rolling blackouts in 2020. “I got no defense,” Cruz tweeted in response. “A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good. Stay safe!” Political experts in Texas, however, don’t expect all this bad PR to stick. Even after the insurrection at the Capitol, Cruz consistently ranks among the most popular Republicans in the state. He was second only to Donald Trump in a University of Houston poll released last month, easily weathering the outrage from the Capitol attack. “While he may be one of the most disliked politicians in Texas, he is also one of the most well liked — and his base is not going to budge, even under these circumstances,” said Renée Cross, senior director at UH's Hobby School of Public Affairs, which conducted the poll.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

CenterPoint says astronomical gas bills a mistake; promises to fix them

CenterPoint Energy natural gas customers were shocked on Thursday to receive whopping bills for usage, some reportedly as high as six figures, but the Houston utility said the astronomical charges are a mistake. "We have just been alerted about an issue involving incorrect billing information for CenterPoint Energy natural gas customers," the company said. "We are looking into the issue to address it. Customers do not owe this amount, and it will not be drafted from their account. We’ll update our customers and media once we have a resolution."

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: As Texans froze, Ted Cruz got a ticket to paradise. Paradise can have him.

Texans’ anger with Ted Cruz right now could power an entire electrical grid. The outrage was sparked by viral images on social media Thursday showing Texas’ junior senator making his way through the airport, bag in tow, and boarding a flight to sunny Cancun as more than a million of his humble constituents shivered in the cold without power, heat, light, or in many cases, running water. With the statewide death toll mounting into the dozens, snowmegeddon melted into catastrophe for struggling Texas families already on the brink amid a global pandemic. Even as millions saw their power restored, others faced burst pipes, boil water notices, long lines for food, and warnings of another hard freeze on the way.

It’s a mess. We don’t begrudge anybody their “wanna get away” fantasies. But a senator elected to represent nearly 30 million people? He got a ticket to ride and he don’t care. While it’s not Cruz’s job to shovel the coal, and the crisis is the handiwork of state officials, not federal, we expect leadership and perhaps a little solidarity from a man whose re-election campaign heavily rested on claims of his compassion and advocacy for suffering Texans after Hurricane Harvey. “When the hurricane hit, you stood up for Texas,” a 2018 TV ad proclaimed. “And Ted Cruz stood up for you.” Not this time. He plopped himself down on a direct flight to paradise and left us to fend for ourselves in this frozen hell. Cruz quickly announced plans to fly back and defended his tone-deaf travel as a gallant act of good parenting. He released a statement saying his daughters had asked to go on a trip to Mexico with friends since school was canceled for the week and he had merely accompanied them on their flight.

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Responding to energy crisis, Texas lawmakers call for more fossil fuels in power grid

With millions of Texans having lost power during the winter storms, key players in the Legislature say one of the most immediate reforms they will push for is recalibrating the state’s electricity grid to ensure more fossil fuels are in that mix and fewer renewables. While all energy sources were disrupted during the historic freeze, Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature say renewables have been given all the attention over the years, yet proved to be unhelpful during the state’s crisis. “It’s cool to be into wind and solar these days, but the problem is it leaves us frigid in the winter,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who leads the GOP caucus in the Texas Senate.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said most of the generating plants that went offline this week were natural gas, coal or nuclear facilities. But still, Republicans have singled out wind and solar as targets over the objections of Democrats and renewable energy advocates. Texas utilities ratepayers have funded more than $7 billion over the last eight years building transmission lines to take wind power from West Texas to the big cities. It’s made Texas the biggest wind producer in the nation. But Bettencourt and other Republicans say advantages like federal subsidies for wind and solar have to be evened out. “We need a baseload energy generation strategy in Texas that is reliable and not based upon renewables so strongly,” he said. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, this week reupped a bill he filed last session that would require ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission to write rules that would “eliminate or compensate for market distortion caused by certain federal tax credits.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

State's power crisis spills into retail market with fewer choices, higher prices

The state’s power crisis is spilling into the retail electricity market, reducing the number of plans offered on the state’s electricity shopping site and raising prices, at least temporarily. Fewer than 30 plans were listed on the Power to Choose site, down from the usual 250 as retail electricity providers try to navigate the power shortages that have sent wholesale power prices soaring to the state maximum of $9,000 per kilowatt hour. Wholesale power averaged $22 per megawatt hour last year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Retail power companies typically buy futures contracts to supply electricity to their customers and buy on spot markets as needed. Those needing to buy now are getting slammed by the soaring electricity costs, which exceed what they are charging retail customers in contracts.

Rob Cantrell, president of Pulse Power, a retail electric company, said this is longest stretch he’s experienced that prices have stayed at the $9,000 maximum, hovering there for much of the past three days. He expects that many companies that buy power on credit could end up bankrupt. “I think you're going to see a massive number of defaults, you're going to see lots of companies unable to meet their obligations,” Cantrell said. “Half of the retailers that currently compete in Texas could probably be out of business.” Retail electricity companies are trying to reduce their exposure to the wholesale market. Cantrell said his company is offering his customers a chance of winning a Tesla if they lower their power consumption by 10 percent. Other companies are also making pleas to their consumers to conserve. Austin-based Bulb is offering up to $200 to customers for saving energy, according to Bloomberg News. Reliant Energy has been urging customers to conserve energy sending out releases with tips on how to conserve energy.

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

'How does that happen?': Water crisis unfolding in Houston amid power outages, frozen pipes

Millions of Houstonians awoke Wednesday to a notice from the city that their water was unsafe to drink unless boiled, an impossible task for many residents who continued to suffer power outages from the winter storm. A large chunk of Houston households had already lost water pressure altogether or had seen their pipes freeze, preventing access to the city’s water system. The crisis extended to key facilities, depriving hospitals and the Harris County Jail of running water. Houston Methodist canceled most non-urgent surgeries and procedures due to the water shortage and may do so again Thursday, a spokeswoman said. Houston officials predicted water pressure will return to operational levels by the end of the day Thursday, though the boil water notice will extend longer, as state law requires cities to continue testing water samples for 24 hours before the notice can be lifted.

The plummeting water pressure was the result of bursting pipes across the city and equipment failures at water distribution facilities due to frigid weather conditions, said Carol Haddock, director of Houston Public Works. Under the boil water notice, residents are advised to use only boiled or bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth. City officials said residents can safely shower as long as they avoid ingesting any water. The water shortages caught many Houstonians off guard, even those who had tried to prepare for the winter storm. Caralena Morales took several precautions ahead of Wednesday’s outages, finding candles and flashlights, stocking food, filling a bath tub with water for flushing toilets. The family, however, did not plan on losing running water. As a result, Morales and her 19-year-old son, Esteban, spent 45 minutes waiting in line Wednesday morning outside a Spring Branch H-E-B to buy four cases of water. Morales, 35, said she mostly blamed herself for the oversight, though she questioned why her home lacked water when her pipes did not freeze. “We went from water to no water to a trickle to no water,” Morales, 35, said, sighing when she learned the city issued a boil advisory Wednesday morning. “How does that happen? We knew it was going to be this cold.” Virtually the entire Houston area came under some form of the water crisis, with surrounding municipalities also issuing boil water notices to residents who largely lacked water access. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said county residents should assume they need to boil water “unless they’ve heard otherwise.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Tony Buzbee sleeps on Houston streets during Arctic storm, then returns to luxury hotel

Former mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee slept on the streets of downtown Houston Tuesday night to "prove a point and raise awareness," according to a video posted on his Facebook page. Buzbee, a trial lawyer, has been staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston since Jan. 11 while his home in River Oaks undergoes renovation. He previously took up residence at the Post Oak Hotel in December 2020. "I got run off twice from the Four Seasons," he said in a second video, which posted at midnight on Wednesday. "I was chased by another homeless person, since I'm homeless tonight."

In a third Facebook post on Wednesday morning, Buzbee said that he had only a sleeping bag, stick and hoodie for his night spent on the street: "I spent a night on the street last night, with only a sleeping bag and a stick. I had a hoodie, but no coat. It was only one night. It certainly wasn’t pleasant, but it was a learning experience. I can only imagine the mental, physical and emotional toll it would take on you to be out there day after day, night after night. It was cold, so I kept moving until I was absolutely sure I had found a place on the streets safe enough to lay down and sleep. But I didn’t feel safe. In fact, the whole time I felt the presence of constant threats, even small. I was asked to move along repeatedly. Funny, the same guy who was quick to help me with my bags the day before was even quicker to tell me to “move on” off the hotel property. There was kindness. I was implored a few times to go to the GRB warming station blocks away. I was followed by a guy waving a large white blanket once. Most people I happened to come across, though, ignored me and looked right through me, like I didn’t exist or matter. Home is a special place for us. Without one we lose that sense of security and comfort. When our leaders fail us and our home has no power, water, no communications, it loses those key features that make it home. I was only out for one night. Now I’m back, warm and safe. Others aren’t so lucky." He also said he "quickly learned not to be using a phone, lest you want to lose it!"

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Dallas Morning News - February 19, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: The blame game power play

The search for a scapegoat for this week’s power outages has reached fever pitch. We would prefer that leaders focus on finding solutions rather than finding a place to drop the blame. The first whipping boy to emerge was wind energy. Tuesday night, Gov. Greg Abbott appeared on The Sean Hannity Show where, apropos of nothing, he talked about the Green New Deal. The truth is, wind did fail us this week. So did nuclear, coal and natural gas. Multiple sources have confirmed that wind represented a small percentage of the power lost from the storm. In an interview with Houston’s KTRK, Abbott shifted his ire to corporations. “The people who have fallen short with regard to the power are the private power generation companies,” Abbott said. Another ready target has been the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT. In yet another media appearance on Wednesday, Abbott said he thinks its leaders should resign.

It’s important to understand ERCOT’s role in this week’s outages. It’s a nonprofit. It doesn’t produce energy or own or operate energy assets, ERCOT vice president Chad Seely said. Think of ERCOT as a traffic cop, managing the intersection of supply and demand. As that intersection has grown troublingly cold and deserted this week, ERCOT has taken the heat. In fact, ERCOT had to take the names of its board and officers off its website because they had received threats, a spokesperson said Wednesday. Nine of the council’s 16 board members are elected by its 250-plus member organizations, which include electric delivery companies, retail providers, generators and more than 100 cities, of which Dallas is one. Five board members are unaffiliated, meaning they don’t represent any market segments and, in fact, are closely vetted to make sure they have no interest in any company doing business with the grid. The remaining two seats on the board go to ERCOT’s chief executive officer and the chairperson of the Public Utility Commission.

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Dallas Morning News - February 18, 2021

Ted Cruz insists he’s just ‘good dad’ taking girls to Cancun but leaves after 1 night—long enough to get blistered

As 3 million Texans shivered in the dark, Sen. Ted Cruz jetted off to Cancun with his family, outed instantly by fellow vacationers and berated by critics for abandoning constituents during an epic statewide power crisis. He spent just one night out of the country – not long enough for a sunburn, but plenty of time to get blistered. Social media photos from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and aboard the flight to the sun-drenched beach resort flourished Wednesday evening. By Thursday, when temperatures along Mexico’s Caribbean coast were on track to hit 83 degrees, the pile-on was at full boil.

Detractors dusted off vintage Cruz comments denying the existence of climate change and decrying Democrats as coastal elites who care not a whit for the plight of ordinary Americans. With Cancun, CancunCruz and FlyinTed (an homage to Donald Trump’s “Lyin’ Ted” epithet) trending online – along with “Heidi,” as in Heidi Cruz, his wife – the senator remained uncharacteristically silent overnight. Aides ignored inquiries about the uproar the boss’s getaway triggered until just after noon Thursday, when they revealed that he would fly back to Texas 24 hours after he left. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. I’m a dad and just trying to be a good dad, and take care of my kids. I’m also a senator and working hard to fight for the state of Texas each and every day. I’ll keep doing that,” Cruz said Thursday in Cancun, just before boarding a flight back to Houston, in a video exclusively obtained by Al Dia and The Dallas Morning News. Cruz’s comments, and a written statement issued by his office Thursday afternoon, left it unclear whether he had planned such a quick turnaround or abruptly changed his ticket as the condemnation mounted. He told an NBC/Telemundo crew in Cancun that his daughters asked on Wednesday for a trip, suggesting a scramble to buy tickets, pack and catch a 4:45 p.m. flight the same day.

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Dallas Morning News - February 18, 2021

Don’t panic-buy as Texas gas stations regain electricity in coming days, experts caution

Industry experts are warning Texans not to panic-buy gasoline as soon as service stations regain power and reopen, with this week’s extreme winter weather expected to cause price spikes at the pump. Millions of barrels of oil refining capacity are offline this week due to Gulf Coast refineries’ inability to withstand freezing temperatures. Eleven Texas refineries have at least partially shut down. The national average price for gas could jump 10 to 20 cents a gallon from its current price of $2.54 over the next two weeks, according to a GasBuddy forecast this week. In Dallas, the average gas price sat at $2.29 on Thursday, according to AAA Texas.

“Even after this event is over, it may take refineries days or even a week or two to fully return to service, and with gasoline demand likely to accelerate as we approach March and April, the price increases may not quickly fade,” GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan said. Tom Kloza, the OPIS global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, is more optimistic that higher prices could last only days, rather than weeks. His advice: Don’t make a gas run right away if you don’t need to do so because gas supplies could be quickly depleted. “As soon as [gas stations] get electricity back on, they may run out very, very quickly since a typical station might have 20,000 gallons of inventory,” Kloza said. Before the Arctic chill enveloped Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic had driven demand for gas down to 85% of normal levels. Kloza and others draw comparisons between winter storm Uri and natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. But unlike a hurricane, the winter storm didn’t cause physical damage to refineries. “Prices are going to be a bit higher for a little while,” Kloza said. “But there shouldn’t be a panic. Patience will be rewarded with back-to-normal [conditions].”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 19, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: At the height of the electricity crisis, Texas leaders couldn’t communicate clearly

The electricity crisis across Texas has shown us how dependent we are on a force we can’t see. When another such commodity — clear, honest, precise communication — is in short supply, it drives frustration and deepens danger. Unfortunately, that’s what we saw at all levels, at least early on. And there’s a direct line between governments’ efforts over the years to stymie the flow of information and their inability to communicate clearly with the public now. If there were a medal for muddled messages, it should be named the ERCOT Award. The agency that runs the state power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, was far from alone, but it was easily the worst offender.

The biggest communication blunder, the one that caused the most anger and distrust among millions of Texans, was that we should expect “rolling” or “rotating” blackouts. Texans were willing to share the burden, to have their power cut for a while and restored so their neighbors could have electricity for a while, too. But that’s not what happened. Customers began seeing shutoffs Sunday night that extended for hours and days as the most stinging cold set in. Pipes burst; lives were endangered. It’s possible that the incorrect information prompted some to skip some preparations, figuring a few hours at a time without power isn’t that disruptive. ERCOT never really owned up to this botched message. Agency officials explained that it was not possible to rotate outages without risking the entire grid for weeks or months. Those of us without degrees in electrical engineering will have to take them at their word. But if it’s the case, they must have known beforehand it was a possibility, and they shouldn’t have let customers believe in a scenario that wasn’t true.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 18, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tells lawmakers to mandate winterization of power generators

Texas power plants should have been ready to handle the freezing temperatures seen across the state, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday, prompting him to announce a two new emergency items for lawmakers to consider. Abbott is calling on Texas legislators to pass measures mandating the winterization of power generators, as well as provide funding to ensure the winter preparations and modernization occurs.

“I want everyone to know that all of us in the state of Texas believe it is completely unacceptable that you had to endure one minute of the challenges you faced,” Abbott said. “All of us agree on the necessity of action. Not just the action taken to restore your power, but the action to ensure that you never have to endure anything like this ever again.” Abbott has slammed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in recent days over its handling of the winter weather event that led to millions of power outages. Abbott claimed that ERCOT, which oversees Texas’ power grid, purported to be ready for the cold weather in the days ahead of its arrival. After freezes and blackouts in 2011, the Legislature passed a bill related to winterization for power generators. But the legislation lacks enforcement teeth and only requires generators file a weather preparation report with ERCOT that’s then sent to the Public Utility Commission.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 18, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: While you’re freezing in your Texas home, Sen. Ted Cruz took off for Cancun. Really.

When he burst onto the scene in 2012, Ted Cruz pulled a remarkable political feat. He defeated a well-known three-term lieutenant governor and other top contenders to win Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, despite a low-political profile heading into the race. Cruz understood before his rivals that the tea party sentiment and desire for a “fighter” had firmly taken hold among staunch Texas Republicans. His political instincts carried him to an upset and then almost to the GOP presidential nomination four years later, until he ran into an even bigger disruptor, Donald Trump. Cruz’s instincts — and apparently his judgment — have abandoned him now. The junior senator from a state where millions of residents have been freezing without power, lacking safe drinking water and running out of food took off for Cancun sometime this week with his family.

To be clear, Cancun is not part of Texas. Cruz was not working, unless applying another coat of sunscreen counts as a senatorial duty. Cruz’s office hasn’t confirmed that he took the trip, and aides have not replied to a request for comment. But the Associated Press reported that it was a long-planned family trip, and the photographic evidence is substantial. Cruz has come in for the usual online bashing, and in this case, it’s fully deserved. He’s been tagged “Flyin’ Ted,” a takeoff on Trump’s nickname for him during those fierce 2016 primary battles. Normally these kind of ritual savagings quickly go too far. In Cruz’s case, he deserves every bit of it. It’s not that Cruz could do much to contribute to relief efforts, other than harangue federal officials. The state and private utilities, however imperfectly, run the show on getting power up and running, and water is mostly a municipal matter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already swung in, too. Cruz and colleague Sen. John Cornyn wrote to President Joe Biden on Sunday asking that he approve Texas’ request for federal disaster relief, which Biden did the same day.

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Washington Post - February 18, 2021

Greg Sargent: The latest GOP nonsense on Texas shows us the future Republicans want

Texas is showing us the future Republicans want. This isn’t intended to mean that Republicans want a future beset by the sort of power shortages that have crippled Texas, which have left millions without power in frigid temperatures and are being exacerbated by other dire conditions, such as water shortages. No doubt many Republicans expressing outrage at the failures producing this disaster — and calling for accountability and reform — are sincere in their intentions, though we’ll see how long those demands persist. But it’s painfully obvious that in an important larger sense, many aspects of their reaction to the Texas calamity do indeed demonstrate the future they want. It’s a future in which the default response to large public problems will be to increasingly retreat from real policy debates into an alternate information universe, while doubling down on scorched-earth distraction politics and counter-majoritarian tactics to insulate themselves from accountability.

In response to the Texas disaster, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott blamed renewable energy sources. “Our wind and our solar got shut down,” Abbott said on Fox News, adding that this “thrust Texas” into a “situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.” Numerous other Republican elected officials made similar claims, as did many conservative and Fox News personalities. But as a Post fact check shows, the real culprit is a combination of factors. The state is far more reliant on natural gas than on wind power. The shutdown of plants relying on natural gas caused a far larger loss of power than frozen wind turbines did. Meanwhile, the lack of regulation of Texas’s stand-alone grid — and the faulty structure of financial incentives in the state — discouraged preparation for unexpectedly cold weather. In short, the disaster makes a strong case for more government planning for extreme weather fluctuations — a problem generally exacerbated by climate change — and for more infrastructure fortification.

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Washington Post - February 18, 2021

Julie A. Cohn: Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price.

(Julie A. Cohn is a historian of energy, technology and the environment, affiliated with both the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the University of Houston’s Center for Public History.) Add to list Writing from in front of my gas fireplace, wearing multiple layers of clothing and sipping a hot beverage, I await the end of this week’s apocalyptic winter storm and the return of reliable electric power. I am contemplating the grid — the term we use to describe a collection of generating plants, transmission lines, substations, and sometimes even the smaller distribution lines and electric meters that transform gas, coal, falling water, uranium, wind and sunlight into usable electricity and bring it to our homes and workplaces. When asking how the Texas grid operator happened to fail so miserably at keeping people here warm and well-lit for the past couple of days, though, we get so much wrong. There’s a big picture, and a Texas picture, and both illuminate some of what is happening.

First, the big picture: The grid is shorthand for a collection of technologies owned and operated by thousands of entities — from government agencies to homeowners with rooftop solar panels. There are, in the contiguous United States, three major interconnected systems — one covering everything east of the Rocky Mountains, one for everything west of the Rocky Mountains, one for Texas. The Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection are made up of multiple grid operators and dozens of smaller networks that serve power needs through continuous coordination, across state lines when necessary. In Texas, we have one grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), one control area, hundreds of infrastructure owners and lots of coordination to make it work. So the casual use of the term “the grid” results in the common misconception that everything is under the control of, say, an electricity czar. But in the United States, even the federal government does not have that role. When something goes wrong, as happened here this week, it is a mistake to look in one direction for one culpable party. Then there’s the Texas picture. There are three things to remember: The power system that serves 95 percent of the state is intentionally isolated from the rest of the country; our competitive wholesale power market offers scant incentives for investment in backup power, and Texas generally does not have winter storms like this one.

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CNN - February 18, 2021

Ted Cruz has repeatedly slammed politicians for vacationing during crisis

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is facing backlash for traveling to Mexico as a winter disaster ravages his home state, has repeatedly criticized politicians who vacationed or took part in leisure activities during times of crisis, a CNN KFile review finds. This past December, Cruz attacked Austin Mayor Steve Adler for going to Cabo, Mexico, during the coronavirus pandemic. "Hypocrites. Complete and utter hypocrites. And don't forget @MayorAdler who took a private jet with eight people to Cabo and WHILE IN CABO recorded a video telling Austinites to 'stay home if you can...this is not the time to relax,'" tweeted Cruz in December.

Cruz is now facing criticism of his own for traveling to Cancún, Mexico, from Houston with his family Wednesday night as a winter storm left millions of Texans without power or water and disrupted the state's efforts to distribute the coronavirus vaccine. In a statement to CNN, Cruz said, "With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon." "My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas. We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm. My team and I will continue using all our resources to keep Texans informed and safe," he said. Cruz has attacked public officials for vacationing or golfing during times of crisis and argued that it showed those officials were not paying attention. Cruz said in 2017 then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "should go back to the beach," referencing the outrage surrounding the governor's trip to a closed state beach with his family while the state's government was shut down.

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The Hill - February 18, 2021

Dallas official says White House called but Texas governor has not

A Dallas official said Thursday that the White House has called him to offer assistance during the unprecedented winter storm hitting Texas, but he has not heard from Gov. Greg Abbott (R). “I haven’t heard from the governor. I haven’t heard from any of the state leaders throughout this. We have been doing the best we can. We have heard from the White House,” Judge Clay Jenkins, the chief executive of Dallas County, told MSNBC.

Texas is facing an unprecedented winter storm that has killed more than 30 people across the south and left millions without power or water. “We’re very thankful. The reason our water is in good shape is because the Biden administration and FEMA sent us generators,” Jenkins said. “We hook those up to our water treatment plants and we were able to save most of our water treatment plants with that help.” Abbott issued an executive order on Tuesday calling for an investigation into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and for the legislature to “review the preparations and decisions by ERCOT so we can determine what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.” Many have called for the resignation of Abbott along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) who has been under fire for flying to Cancun, Mexico, during the storm. “For those of us that are in public service, when people are hurting and you’re in a crisis, we all need to do as much as we can. We can’t do everything, but everyone in public service can do like the people of Texas are doing right now and helping one another,” Jenkins said. “We need to be in here and we need to be in the battle.” The Hill has reached out to Abbott’s office for comment.

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KSAT - February 18, 2021

ERCOT board meeting last week included joke about cowboy boots, less than 40 seconds of storm talk

Top officials of ERCOT, the Texas council that regulates the state’s electric grid, spent less than 40 seconds discussing the impending winter storm during the entity’s board meeting last week, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders. ERCOT President & CEO Bill Magness briefly addressed the winter weather at the start of his report before quickly moving on.

“One thing I want to say before I really get into the presentation is it’s actually going to be winter here pretty soon, as many of you -- those of you in Texas -- know. We do have a cold front coming this way. We’ll probably see our winter peak later this week or in the very early part of next week. And operations has issued an operating condition notice just to make sure everyone is up to speed with their winterization and we’re ready for the several days of pretty frigid temperatures to come our way. So more on that in the next few days, but it does look like we’ll have a little bit of winter weather to contend with during the course of the rest of this week,” Magness said during the virtual meeting. Those remarks constituted ERCOT’s entire discussion of the storm during the two-hour and 28 minute meeting, an examination of the proceedings by the Defenders confirmed Thursday. Magness, who has been under fire much of the week after ERCOT operators decided early Monday to shed power from the state’s grid, said his comments during the board meeting came at a time when ERCOT officials were telling operators across the state that they could face significant weather issues. ERCOT’s move to reduce supply caused millions of Texans to go without power this week, some for several days, but was necessary to avoid a possible catastrophic collapse of the electric grid, officials said Wednesday.

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New York Times - February 17, 2021

‘Now it’s coming back to bite them’: Democrats see an opening in G.O.P. oversight of Texas grid

For the Republicans who have run Texas state government for years, trying to undermine the Democrats who lead the state’s largest cities has been a blood sport for years. They have sought to overrule local officials on disputes involving everything from pandemic restrictions and plastic bag bans to protections for immigrants. But this week, the collapse of the state’s power grid gave Democrats a chance to turn the tables. With the state reeling from a rare winter storm that caused widespread power outages, Democrats have mobilized public anger over the Republicans’ oversight of the energy industry, opening a new front in their battle to erode the party’s dominance of every statewide office and both chambers of the legislature. While Democrats have made important inroads in recent election cycles, Texas Republicans have staved off the kind of game-changing gains that flipped states like Arizona and Georgia.

“Those in the Legislature and those in the executive branch of government have been spending too much time trying to run cities and counties and not enough tending to state issues,” said Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston, the largest city in Texas and the fourth-largest in the country. “And now it’s coming back to bite them. Before you can try to run my house, you’ve got to make sure you’re running your own.” Such appraisals come at a time when Greg Abbott, the Republican governor, was already under fire for his handling of the pandemic. Even before thawing freezers forced health officials in Houston to scramble this week to administer thousands of vaccine doses, Latino leaders in hard-hit South Texas were pleading with Mr. Abbott to allow city officials along the border to put into place stricter mitigation measures. At the same time, a steady drip of other scandals has focused scrutiny on the Republicans wielding power at the state level in Texas. Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, remains under a cloud of legal trouble as he responds to abuse of power claims including a lawsuit by former aides who say he took bribes from a real estate developer.

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KXAN - February 19, 2021

‘Frustration, disappointment’: Texas lawmakers to grill ERCOT on statewide power problems

As Texans face widespread power outages following deadly winter storms which swept across the Texas, state lawmakers are preparing to grill the managers of the power grid over what led to power problems. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas coordinates the flow of energy to approximately 26 million Texans — more than 85% of the population. The council, a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation, is governed by a 15-member board of directors. The board members answer to the Public Utility Commission (the three members of the PUC are appointed by the governor) and the Texas Legislature. House and Senate leaders announced upcoming hearings to address ERCOT’s storm response and what transpired in the time leading up to the winter weather. Gov. Greg Abbott named reforming the council as an emergency item for the legislative session and called for resignations.

“Whatever the future holds, the priority for us now is to get the power back on,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said when asked about Abbott’s resignation remarks. “Obviously, this has been a tremendously difficult situation,” he added, stating any assessment should be done “after we get power back on.” At a press conference Wednesday, Abbott said the council “is kind of opaque.” “The way that it runs is not transparent,” Abbott said. Anna Reyes-Clute, who lives in Abilene, lost power as power was cut to her neighborhood. “What’re they doing about it?” she asked. “I don’t care weather you are very rich or very poor we need heat, and we need our electricity back.” State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, used the words frustration and disappointment to describe how he felt about the widespread outages. “We’re the legislature, we make the laws, we’re gonna take responsibility and get this fixed,” Hughes said. “We don’t know exactly what happened.” State Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, said lawmakers would take a serious look at possible changes to ERCOT while the legislative session is underway this year. “Let’s take care of people right now, take care of our neighbors or friends, get the power back online,” Frank said. “And then, and I’m not saying there doesn’t need to be a day of reckoning, but that reckoning needs to start probably next week, in terms of trying to figure out what happened and how we make sure this doesn’t happen ever again, in the future.”

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Vox - February 18, 2021

How mutual aid groups are helping Texas

Extreme cold weather conditions in Texas have left millions without consistent access to electricity and water for days. Residents are struggling with burst pipes and rolling power outages, amid heavy snowfall and near-freezing temperatures. People are reportedly boiling snow for water and burning clothes and furniture for warmth as resources remain scarce. Over the past week, mutual aid groups across Texas have mobilized to feed, clothe, and house vulnerable residents, attracting the attention of in- and out-of-state donors on social media. In Austin, local volunteers worked to relocate the city’s homeless population inside hotel rooms, while collecting food and clothing donations. Organizers in Dallas have similarly coordinated a rehousing campaign during the storm, and crowdsourced transportation help to get people to “warming centers.” Mutual Aid Houston has closed its GoFundMe campaign, which received over $130,000, and organizers plan to distribute the funds for community aid in the coming days.

The profusion of these virtual resources is similar to the rush of assistance in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Mutual aid is predicated on the idea that residents should help each other reciprocally; some grassroots groups operate under the left-wing slogan of “solidarity, not charity,” as a catch-all for their ideological mission. Generally, these groups aim to directly help underserved communities, rather than rely on top-down government assistance that might come too slowly or not arrive at all. Samantha Montano, a disaster researcher and assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, wrote on Twitter that it’s surprising to witness how “mainstream messaging has shifted” from soliciting Red Cross donations “to local [organizations] and especially mutual aid funds in just a few years.” Online, people have applauded these organizing efforts in the face of inadequate government response. The Daily Beast reported that Dallas, a city of 1.3 million, has only opened one major warming center with a capacity of 500 without cots or any guarantee of food. The city said it could open up to 10 such centers in libraries and recreation centers, but are worried that those buildings could lose electricity.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

Three die of hypothermia in their homes in Harris County

Two people in Houston and another in Crosby died of hypothermia in their homes, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences revealed Thursday. Carrol Anderson died in a Crosby residence. Jimmie Gloud and Mary Gee died in Houston residences, the institute’s records show. Hypothermia was ruled the primary cause of death in each of the cases, which were all found to be accidents, records show. It was immediately unclear when the individuals perished.

The deaths — as well as nine reported Thursday in Galveston and Brazoria counties — bring the number of people who’ve died in weather-related incidents in the Houston region this week to 25 people. The number includes a man was found dead early Thursday in a north Harris County parking lot. The Harris County Sheriff's Office said there were no signs of trauma and they believe the death was related to the cold weather. The wind chill in Houston dipped to 21 degrees at 6 a.m. Thursday. The man was wearing a jacket with no shirt, no shoes and no socks, officials said. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the agency's homeless outreach team is assisting people experiencing homelessness with getting into shelter. "This weather is not just cold, it’s deadly," he said.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 18, 2021

2 people found dead in Old East Dallas home after 2 responding officers wounded, police say

Two people were found dead inside an Old East Dallas home Thursday after two police officers who had been called to the scene were shot, police say. The officers were immediately fired upon when they arrived about 11 a.m. at the home in the 5300 block of Bonita Avenue, near North Henderson Avenue and Central Expressway, police said. They were in stable condition after being taken to a hospital. SWAT officers entered the home about 1:30 p.m. and found a male and a female dead inside the home. Police did not say how old they were or release their names. The names of the wounded officers also were not released. Police haven’t provided details about what led to the shootings, and they have not said whether the officers returned fire.

Dallas Police Association president Mike Mata said the two officers were shot in their lower legs. But he could not provide more details about what happened. Police Chief Eddie Garcia praised Dallas Fire-Rescue personnel for their efforts to help the officers. “I would be remiss if I did not point out the amazing work of our fire department who actually provided cover for our police officers to extract our wounded officers out of the scene,” he said at a news conference outside Baylor University Medical Center. “I can’t thank them enough for that.” Video from a Ring doorbell that was posted publicly on NextDoor showed a wounded Dallas officer standing, with the help of two fellow officers, on the front porch of a home. The two assisting officers looked for a way to get to safety while the injured officer, whose left pant leg had been slit to above his knee, stood groaning between them. Another officer provided cover for them as they left the porch.

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KXAN - February 18, 2021

Austin Water: Be prepared to be without water for days, not hours

Rachel Finken sat in her south Austin home Thursday, going on her second day without water. She and her family are down to their final supply; just a half a case of bottled water. Heeding a warning from KXAN’s Jim Spencer last week, Finken said they thought they’d done everything they could to prepare. Stockpiled enough water to last a few days and filled one of the bathtubs in their home. She’s afraid that still might not be enough. “If we knew this was going to be one day or two days, that would be one thing, but not knowing and the possibility of extending longer–makes it pretty hard to deal with because we don’t know what to plan for,” Finken told KXAN.

The city still doesn’t know exactly how many Austin Water customers don’t have service. The closest estimate is tens of thousands. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros explained during a virtual news conference Thursday that bringing water service back will be a slow, methodical process. Meszaros said conditions will improve every day, but it will be a ‘multi-day process.’ Electrical interruptions at the city’s largest water treatment plant caused water pressure to drop Wednesday. Soon after, a citywide boil water notice was issued. That plant is back online now, Austin Water said, but the water issues affected some of Austin’s largest hospital networks, including St. David’s South Austin Medical Center. He said restoring water to those health facilities is one of their top priorities. Meszaros said they do have a plan, but it will be a slow, methodical process and take a lot of work. Here are some steps they will have to take to restore it. Restore water pressure to the system: Demand for water increased the past few days due to water main breaks and busted pipes at residences. Meszaros said stable pressure is largely influenced by reservoirs, which were drained out and depleted of their supply over the last day or so.

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Odessa American - February 17, 2021

Teachers, CIS working to help students

As people around the Permian Basin struggle to stay warm and do without basics like heat, water and electricity, Ector County ISD teachers have reached out to the community and their students to lend a hand. Communities in Schools, the dropout prevention organization in the Basin, also is offering a hand up. Permian High School AVID Coordinator Robyn Hernandez-Flores and Elizabeth Gray, AVID coordinator for postsecondary education, have posted on Twitter that they have 4x4 trucks, blankets, heaters and food for people who need them.

Eliseo Elizondo, executive director of Communities in Schools, has said his organization has been trying to find people in need and help them out, even with information like where a warming center is. Hernandez-Flores said she began offering soup, blankets and heaters to people starting last Thursday and many have taken her up on her kindness. “… For me as a teacher, my students are never far from my mind and I do worry about them and I do hope that they’re OK. In a situation like this, it goes beyond helping your neighbor,” she said. You start to think of the basic needs that people have at this time such has electricity, not being able to cook or stay warm, Hernandez-Flores added. “I think I just did what any teacher would do, and since I had the blessing of having those things in my home I wanted to make sure to extend that offer to my students, but really to anybody who would need that kind of assistance. I think it’s important for us to help our neighbors and I think it’s important for us to show our students and our children the importance of having empathy and helping when we can. It was kind of a no-brainer to me. If I have it and I can give it, then I’m going to …” Hernandez-Flores said she immediately thought of former students now in college away from their parents and away from home. She noted that they are adults, but even experienced adults are having a hard time getting through this “catastrophe.” So if older adults are having difficulty, Hernandez-Flores said, imagine what those students are feeling. Her high school students also are working in grocery stores, helping to meet the needs of the community when they may be going without electricity, heat, water and other basics. Making a large pot of soup for her family last week, she realized she had plenty of extra so she offered it to her students. They contacted her and she delivered it to them.

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National Stories

CNN - February 19, 2021

6 Capitol Police officers suspended, 29 others being investigated for alleged roles in riot

Six US Capitol Police officers have been suspended with pay, and 29 others have been placed under investigation, for their actions in the January 6 riot, a department spokesman said Thursday. "Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman has directed that any member of her department whose behavior is not in keeping with the Department's Rules of Conduct will face appropriate discipline," department spokesman John Stolnis told CNN. CNN reported in January that the USCP had placed at least 10 officers under investigation, and two others had been suspended.

One of the suspended officers took a selfie with someone who was part of the mob that overtook the Capitol, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio. Another wore a "Make America Great Again" hat and started directing people around the building, Ryan said. Last month, Pittman said the department "has been actively reviewing video and other open source materials of some USCP officers and officials that appear to be in violation of Department regulations and policies." The suspensions and investigations come at a time of internal turmoil at the department as officers continue to grapple with the insurrection that led to the death of Officer Brian Sicknick. Members of the Capitol Police issued a vote of no confidence in the force's top leaders earlier this month. At least seven officers in five other departments across the country have come under internal investigations as their presence in Washington during the assault comes to light through social media or other means. One officer in New York, one in Philadelphia, two in Seattle, two in Virginia and one in Texas are under investigation by their departments for potential rules violations. Additionally, some departments have been contacted by the FBI as part of their criminal investigation into the overrunning of the Capitol. The number may grow as investigators and the public sift through social media and lodge allegations that officers may have been involved in the siege.

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CNN - February 19, 2021

One dose of Pfizer vaccine reduces symptomatic Covid-19 by 85% after a month, study shows

A new study provides more evidence that a single dose of coronavirus vaccine might be enough to significantly reduce disease. People who got a single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were increasingly less likely to develop Covid-19 symptoms as time passed -- and they were 85% less likely to get sick two to four weeks after getting their first shot, Israeli researchers report. The findings, released as a letter to the Lancet medical journal, are likely to bolster calls for governments to move to a single-dose regimen to stretch out vaccine supply until manufacturers can make more.

How the study was conducted? The team at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center looked at the medical records of roughly 9,000 health care workers, more than 7,000 of whom were vaccinated starting in December. “By Jan 24, 2021, of the 9,109 eligible staff, 7,214 (79%) had received a first dose and 6,037 (66%) had received the second dose,” they wrote. More than 90% got their second dose on time, by 21 or 22 days after the first dose. The team looked at the rate of infections during those crucial three weeks. They found a 47% reduction in symptomatic coronavirus infections among the health care workers during the first two weeks after the first shot and an 85% reduction over the following two weeks. “Of the 170 healthcare workers who became infected, 89 (52%) were unvaccinated, 78 (46%) tested positive after the first dose, and three (2%) tested positive after the second dose,” they wrote. It’s possible that asymptomatic cases were missed. The team only counted people who had symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.

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NBC News - February 18, 2021

California investor who donated nearly $1M to Trump inauguration sentenced to 12 years in prison

A Federal Judge in California on Thursday sentenced a venture capitalist who donated nearly $1 million to former President Donald Trump's inaugural committee to 12 years in prison for falsifying records to hide his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. officials. Imaad Zuberi was also fined $1.75 million and ordered to pay $15.7 million in restitution. Zuberi, 50, agreed to plead guilty in 2019 to tax evasion, filing false foreign agent registration records and providing almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to various presidential election campaigns and other candidates for elected office, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

He previously donated to a host of Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton in 2015, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2014, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2015, and former President Barack Obama's presidential re-election campaign in 2011. "The violations were part of a larger surreptitious effort to route foreign money into U.S. elections and to use it to corrupt U.S.policy-making processes," Federal prosecutors said in a court filing. They added "the court should reject Zuberi's characterization that illegal foreign interference and by funneling money to influence US policymaking and elections was the 'way America works." ?Prosecutors say Zuberi solicited foreign nationals and representatives of foreign governments, claiming he could use his influence in Washington to alter U.S. foreign policy and open up business opportunities for his clients. Zuberi went to great lengths to pull off his scheme — hiring lobbyists, retaining public relations professionals and making campaign contributions — and in the process gained access to high-level U.S. officials, according to federal prosecutors.

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Reuters - February 19, 2021

With U.S. return to Paris Agreement, stars align for accelerated climate action

The formal return of the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change on Friday brings it in line with accelerating action nationally and internationally to ward off climate threats - and could spur more global ambition, analysts said. That may include India setting a net-zero emissions goal, to match similar mid-century targets now declared by many countries from the United States to China, Japan and South Korea, Rachel Kyte, a leading climate and energy expert, told media this week. With Alok Sharma, Britain's top official for the upcoming COP26 U.N. climate summit, meeting India's prime minister this week in Delhi, "now all eyes are on India", said Kyte, who is dean of the Tufts University international affairs school.

The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement on Friday, under its new President Joe Biden after just three months out of the accord. Former President Donald Trump declared in 2017 the country would leave the agreement because he believed it would bring economic disadvantage - but the formal process meant the exit took effect only last November, one day after Biden's win. Re-entering the pact - something Biden put in motion on his first day in office on Jan. 20 - is a far swifter process. The move lays the groundwork for a more unified approach to climate action in the United States - where it had been led chiefly by states, cities and companies - and internationally, where the absence of the world's second-biggest emitter slowed progress. "The last four years have been strange ones, with many U.S. states and businesses pressing ahead with decarbonisation and its citizens feeling climate change impacts even as Donald Trump continued to deny the problem and undermine the solutions," said Richard Black of the UK's Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. "But they are most definitely over, and at home and internationally we can expect a real acceleration now," the senior fellow with the advisory group predicted in a statement.

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The Hill - February 19, 2021

Ivanka Trump won't challenge Rubio for Senate seat in 2022

Ivanka Trump will not challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his Senate seat in 2022, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill. The New York Times first reported the development on Thursday, citing an unidentified source who told the newspaper that Trump was not considering a Senate bid, despite rumors that she would primary Rubio in the next election. “Marco did speak with Ivanka a few weeks ago,” Nick Iacovella, a spokesman for Rubio, told the Times. “Ivanka offered her support for Marco’s reelection. They had a great talk.”

Rubio, who was first elected by the state back in 2010, will be running for his third term in the Senate next year. The Times's source also said that Rubio’s office asked for Trump not to address rumors about a Senate campaign until she and the senator could do a joint event in April. According to the newspaper, Iacovella said there were discussions about an event, but would not say if Trump was asked not to discuss the Senate rumors. Rubio and Trump's father, former President Trump, had their differences during the 2016 Republican presidential primary campaign, but they were friendly after he was elected to the White House and during his four-year term. Former President Trump and his family have moved to Florida after he lost the November election and are living in Palm Beach at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Although there have been rumors about former President Trump and his children’s future in politics, no family member has announced any plans to run for office.

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City Monitor - February 16, 2021

The downsides of being a tech hub: Housing disruption and inequality

With the technology sector’s astronomical growth over the past two decades, there has been no shortage of cities vying to be the next Silicon Valley. But while there are many benefits to being a tech hub – from increased wealth to inflows of talent – there are downsides, too, including polarised inequality and increased pressure on housing and workspace. While many of these are general “global city” problems, the effect is often more pronounced in tech hubs, which are forced to grapple with a lot of changes in a short period of time. “Tech start-ups by nature grow very quickly,” says Molly Turner of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “Because of venture funding, which most of them rely on, a successful start-up is going to grow exponentially over the course of, on average, seven years. And that can be really challenging for cities. It takes much longer to build a building than it does to build an app.” Dublin, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area are three well-established tech hubs. Although their tech sectors are not the same, they have encountered common problems that have coincided with and been exacerbated by technology’s rapid growth.

Home to Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area is often held up as the poster child for everything that can go wrong when a region embraces tech without adopting necessary policies to accommodate growth and change. The most obvious example of this is in housing. Driven in part by the tech boom, the number of people employed in the Bay Area soared by 20% over the past decade, from 3.4 million in 2010 to 4.1 million in 2019. Population growth in that time averaged almost 100,000 people a year. But growth in new homes failed to keep pace – just 200,000 units were added across the decade. By the end of 2019, rents in San Francisco and San Jose averaged more than $3,000 a month, while the Bay Area is the US’s most expensive place to buy a home. Between 2008 and 2011, San Francisco stepped up its efforts to attract tech companies from nearby cities to the south. But it did little to prepare for the influx, says Tom Radulovich, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit board member and director of local non-profit Livable City. “There was a monomaniacal focus on attracting tech jobs,” he says. “There were tax credits and ‘build, baby, build’ in terms of approving downtown office buildings and so on. But we didn’t build housing, we didn’t invest in a transport system. It was a very unbalanced growth.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 18, 2021

NASA's Perseverance rover lands safely on Mars

NASA’s legion of Mars explorers received its newest recruit on Thursday when NASA’s Perseverance rover entered the atmosphere traveling some 12,500 mph. The 1-ton rover maneuvered to a safe spot in Jezero Crater, slowed to 1.7 mph and then was lowered to the planet’s surface by cables that dangled beneath a jetpack-powered sky crane.

The rover’s older siblings, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN orbiter, collected data from above while NASA’s Insight Lander and Curiosity Rover continued their work probing the planet’s surface. It’s a heritage that Perseverance will simultaneously build upon and advance as the largest, most sophisticated rover to land on the Red Planet. Perseverance is collecting rock and soil samples that a future mission could return to Earth — a long-held goal for scientists wishing to scrutinize pieces of the Martian surface in high-powered labs on Earth. So when NASA confirmed the vehicle’s landing Thursday around 2:55 p.m. CST, socially distanced teams erupted into applause and fist pumps at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The mission control room was half as full as it would normally be when landing a rover, but the enthusiasm and excitement could be seen in a live video feed provided by NASA.

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