The Texas weather blame game has been a telling moment for Lone Star State Republicans. And it doesn't tell anything good.
Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the state's many Republican leaders, let his mouth run away with him Tuesday in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, whining about the proposed Green New Deal and blaming wind turbines that had frozen in the extreme cold for causing the massive power failures in Texas.
"This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. ... Our wind and 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 was just another big lie. A lie designed to cover up another big failure of Texas Republican leadership to not insist that the state's infrastructure receive adequate maintenance and appropriate safety designs for the world's increasingly extreme weather.
In reality, Texas' problems with the state's renewable energy sources were only a small part of the issue. The bigger trouble lurked among the other 90% of the state's power plants that primarily run on natural gas. They, too, seized up in the cold.
Pressed by journalists in a news conference the next day, Abbott acknowledged that fact.
But here's the thing. Wind turbines in Iowa and North Dakota don't freeze up. Gas plants in Michigan don't seize from the cold. But they would if their operators were unregulated and took shortcuts like not weatherizing — all in order to maximize profits.
That's what happened in Texas — with the full blessing of the state's government.
Texas has for decades evaded federal regulation of its power generation industry. The state pays only for the energy generated, and offers no incentives to power companies to build reserves for times of extreme demand or to make their plants more resilient to extreme weather.
In 2011, a similar February cold snap plunged temperatures below freezing for four consecutive days. Then, too, generators were unable to meet demand and more than 1 million South Texas customers lost power. Rolling blackouts affected another 3 million households and businesses statewide. The federal government in a report noted deficiencies across energy sources and recommended more adequate winterization procedures for the infrastructure.
Few of those recommendations were adopted. The state's public utility commission rejected that model, in part because it would increase costs for businesses and consumers attracted to Texas's "affordable power rates and low cost of living."
Texas is not alone in having made few investments in the overall infrastructure of its public utilities and state entities failing to respond to the realities of extreme weather and climate change.
Our own Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston ash spill was the result of failed infrastructure that was allowed to worsen with no attention for years, despite warning signs. Price tag? The cleanup alone tallied $1.2 billion.
And TVA had to be pushed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after a whistleblower complaint and the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, to elevate emergency pumps and generators and raise earthen dam skirts to protect against potential catastrophic flooding. Price tag? At least $25 million.
Even on a national level, it's hard to understate how bad much of America's infrastructure has gotten. The national electric grid gets a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The rest of our infrastructure also is in bad shape, from bridges and roads to water systems and pipelines to schools, ports, railways, airports and more.
In September, Katharine Hayhoe, a leading atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, spent an hour talking with Reuters about severe weather, climate change and engineering resiliency.
Hayhoe is not just another "radical" who worked on the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She is known as an upbeat evangelical Christian who studies climate change and finds no conflict between religious faith and science.
Hayhoe said scientists like her have done the world a disservice by choosing "conservative ranges" in talking about the probabilities of climate change and its impacts.
Scientists tend to err on the side of what one study calls "least drama," meaning they tend to agree on the lowest common denominator, she said. But while working recently with infrastructure engineers to design resilient bridges, roads and culverts against record weather events, she has adopted a new view.
"The biggest lesson we learned ... was that an engineer's definition of conservative is exactly the opposite of a climate scientist's. An engineer's definition of conservative is the worst-case scenario, times two or four or, if they're very conservative, 10. Because human lives are at risk. ... I think the engineers have it right. Because if it's human life that's at stake — if it's human civilization that's at stake, and that is what really is at stake — shouldn't we be erring on the side of making sure we really will be okay rather than just giving ourselves a 50/50 chance of making it?"
Texas needs to listen to their own leading climate scientist. We all do.