Record heat and flimsy power grid across US proves urgent need for green infrastructure

With states across the southern and western United States facing record high temperatures weeks before the hottest months of the year, scientists and progressive lawmakers on Wednesday doubled down on calls for green infrastructure to ensure the nation is prepared for increasing levels of extreme weather on a rapidly warming planet.

For the second time in four months, state regulators in Texas on Monday warned residents that the demand for energy was straining the state's power grid, asking millions to set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off lights, and avoid washing clothes and cooking.

Nevada and Arizona residents were also advised about drought conditions, wildfires, and extreme heat, and in California regulators on Tuesday warned people that they may soon be asked to conserve energy as parts of the state saw temperatures rising to 110 degrees and several wildfires burning.

Temperatures across Texas have reached the 90s this week, and the power demand on Monday came to 70 gigawatts—breaking the state's record for June and coming close to the maximum that the grid was able to offer with some power plants offline for reasons that were unclear.

The New York Times noted that in the state's deregulated energy system, power producers sometimes "simply choose not to offer electricity into the market because it might not prove economically beneficial, leaving customers short on energy and paying high prices for the power they do get."

Following the winter storm in Texas in February that left nearly five million homes and businesses without electricity for days and was linked to more than 100 deaths, state lawmakers introduced legislation to better weatherize the power grid, but critics said this week's heat wave has demonstrated how the plan is inadequate.

"If we talk about infrastructure without considering how that infrastructure needs to match the climate conditions from today on into the future, then we're building something that won't stand a chance," Julie McNamara, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Times.

According to The Guardian, solar power generation—demand for which skyrocketed after February's power failure—has kept millions of Texans' lights from going out this week.

"We have over five times as much solar as we had a few years ago and that made the difference in having these afternoons when we've had calls for conservation," Dan Cohan, a civil engineering professor at Rice University, told The Guardian. "There likely would have been rolling blackouts if we didn't have solar farms online."

Kevin Doffing, a Houston resident who bought a solar energy system after the winter storm, told the Times, "I just don't see how we keep doing what we've been doing and expect different results."

The state's power grid was "deregulated and designed 20 years ago," said Mike Collier, a former adviser to President Joe Biden who is running for lieutenant governor in the state, and is now in "desperate need of modernization and simply hasn't kept up with technology."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted that the power grid's failure to provide for the state's needs in unseasonably cold and hot weather—both of which are expected to continue amid the climate emergency—underscores the need "to invest in clean and renewable energy infrastructure."

"The need to include climate action in any infrastructure package should not be in question," said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power.

As February's storms left 69% of Texans without electricity, the state's Republican leaders were quick to blame progressives who have pushed for a Green New Deal and an infrastructure plan that includes clean energy investments—despite agreement among experts that failures of fossil fuel-powered energy sources were behind the crisis.

In fact, said Dan Lashof of the World Resources Institute, "investing in modernizing our electricity grid to make it more resilient" is one key component of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, despite Republican claims that the proposal doesn't qualify as "traditional" infrastructure.

"Which provisions of the American Jobs Plan do opponents want to cut when they say they want to limit spending to 'traditional' infrastructure?" Lashof asked on social media.

[twitter_embed https://twitter.com/Dlashof/statuses/1404858475159560194 iframe_id="twitter-embed-1404858475159560194" created_ts=1623779336 name="Dan Lashof" embed_mobile_width=375 text="6.Investing in modernizing our electricity grid to make it more resilient and to efficiently connect wind and solar farms to homes and businesses; enhancing incentives to build solar and wind farms 3x faster than we have been? [6 of 9]https://gridwise.org/" embed_desktop_height=1171 embed_desktop_width=550 embed_mobile_height=960 id="1404858475159560194" expand=1 screen_name="Dlashof"]

"If we do all of these things fast enough and at large enough scale we will create millions of good jobs, reduce death and disease, and cut our emissions of heat-trapping pollution in half within a decade," said Lashof.

#AbbottFailedTexas trends as state electric authority warns of power outages again — this time in heat wave

Over the winter at least 151 Texans died as 4.5 million homes and businesses went without power in a massive failure created by poor planning, lack of regulation, and sheer greed.

Last week Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott promised he had fixed the problem.

On Monday, less than seven days later, ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, urged customers to turn air conditioning to no cooler than 78 degrees and to conserve power, as it expects more blackouts throughout the week – this time during extreme heat.

In a statement ERCOT also asked Texans to not use ovens, washing machines, or dryers.

"If you don't need something – we are asking you to turn it off and unplug it if possible."

Many Texans, and many Americans, are furious.

Susan Collins is very concerned that people who drive electric cars don't pay gas tax

New idea for a drinking game: Every time Susan Collins says she's concerned about something, drink an 18-gallon Rubbermaid tub full of yak phlegm and battery acid.

The latest thing she's concerned about? Paying for Joe Biden's ambitious infrastructure plans. And, no, she's not thinking about a moderate rollback of Donald Trump's plutocrat-friendly tax scam, which led corporations across the country to engage in stock buybacks and other economic wheel-spinning ventures. Oh, no. She wants to … erm … tax people who are going out of their way to help save the planet.

On the June 13 installment of Face the Nation, hosted by John Dickerson, Collins regaled us all with her hoary reasonable-Republican shtick—and yet there was scant reason to be found anywhere in her comments. Discussing various ways to pay for crucial investments in a 21st century clean-energy economy, Collins waved away the obvious solution—making corporations and the already wealthy pay a little more for the infrastructure they rely on to build their silly dragon hoards—in favor of a remarkably stupid alternative. (She explains her "pay-for" scheme at 1:25.)

DICKERSON: "And what about the sticky question about how to pay for all of this? I've heard there's reports that it might include a gas tax increase?"

COLLINS: "There won't be a gas tax increase, and we won't be undoing the 2017 tax reform bill. Let me talk about three of the pay-fors. One is the implementation of an infrastructure financing authority. That's very similar to the state revolving funds that we used for sewer and water projects, and it's a bipartisan proposal that was first put forth by Sens. Mark Warner and Roy Blunt. A second would be to repurpose some of the COVID funding that has not been spent in the $1.9 trillion package that was enacted in March. There were restrictions on what the funding could be used for. It could be used for water, sewer, and broadband. We would make it more flexible so it could be used for infrastructure projects. And third, there would be a provision for electric vehicles to pay their fair share of using our roads and bridges. Right now they are literally free riders because they're not paying any gas tax."

Okay, this is a gobsmackingly stupid idea. Yes, people who drive EVs obviously don't pay gas taxes, which help pay for a lot of roads and bridges. But most people agree that electric cars are the wave of the future, and if we're going to successfully transition to a clean-energy economy, we need to encourage as many people as possible to use them. That means making electric vehicles more appealing, not less. We're in a climate emergency, and what Collins is proposing would be a little like taxing people's COVID shots and face masks while charging them a nominal fee to wash their hands.

But, hey, we need a "reasonable" way out of this impasse—which naturally can't include slightly increasing the tax rates of the ultra-wealthy, even though that's exactly what most Americans want.

Mainers, what on Gaia's verdurous spinning space globule were you thinking when you returned this glitching, bromide-besotted Furby to the Senate? One more Democratic senator sure would have been nice, huh? In fact, it would have gone a long way toward saving this planet.

But hey, you can rest assured that when Kennebunkport is under water, Collins' "concern" will be off the charts—as will a not-insignificant number of Maine's coastal communities.

Forests are crucial to combating climate change — will Biden rise to the challenge?

Covering a third of the planet's land surface, forests are massive carbon sinks, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and keeping it out of the atmosphere where it would contribute to global warming. Only the world's oceans store more carbon. Keeping forests intact has long been considered essential to maintaining a healthy planetary environment, but scientists are now beginning to understand just how critical they are in the fight against climate change.

A recent study conducted by a team of international researchers from several institutions, including NASA, the World Resources Institute, California Institute of Technology, Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, integrated ground data and satellite imagery to map the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the world's forests. They found that between 2001 and 2019, the world's forests stored about twice as much carbon dioxide as they emitted. "[F]orests provide a 'carbon sink' that absorbs a net 7.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 per year, 1.5 times more carbon than the United States emits annually," write two of the report's authors, Nancy Harris and David Gibbs of the World Resources Institute. "Overall, the data show that keeping existing forests standing remains our best hope for maintaining the vast amount of carbon forests store and continuing the carbon sequestration that, if halted, will worsen the effects of climate change."

"[T]ropical forests alone absorb up to 1.8 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere every year," according to WWF, an international nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland working to preserve the Earth's wilderness. "However, agriculture, forestry and other land uses are responsible for nearly a quarter of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions… Ending forest conversion, preserving the forest carbon sink, and restoring forests [have] the potential to avoid more than one-third of global emissions."

In March, dozens of environmental advocacy groups, including the John Muir Project, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Alaska Wilderness League, submitted a letter to John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, and Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, urging the Biden administration to protect the nation's carbon-dense forests in the United States' Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which are climate action plans created by states that have signed the Paris climate agreement. The NDC is currently being drafted by President Biden's climate team and will be presented to the United Nations later this year. The coalition specifically highlighted the need to protect the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. Spanning nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest—and the largest carbon sink—in the U.S. It is also the largest remaining temperate rainforest on the planet.

"Article 5 of the Paris Agreement encourages Parties to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs, including forests," the letter states. "The United States' NDC cannot approach the needed commitment level without strong, science-based natural climate solutions that include protecting all of our remaining old and mature forests, like those in the Tongass. Including the Tongass and other old forestlands in our NDC will send a signal to the world that the U.S. is ready to lead on protecting critical natural climate solutions."

In addition to sequestering carbon and protecting the Earth's climate, forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services, from supplying food, fuel, timber and fiber, to purifying the air, filtering water supplies, maintaining wildlife habitats, controlling floods and preventing soil erosion. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear to the public something that scientists have been warning for decades: Deforestation is linked to the spread of zoonotic diseases. But those services are threatened when forests are cleared for wood products and land-use changes, like making space for climate-destructive industries like the meat industry.

For decades, U.S. federal forest policy has served the interests of the forest products industry by permitting and even subsidizing unsustainable logging. And that, in turn, is driving massive carbon emissions. Dogwood Alliance, a nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina, that is working to protect the nation's Southern forests across 14 states, has launched a public petition urging the Biden administration to "hold the forestry industry accountable for its climate, biodiversity, and community impacts" and "establish strong, ecologically sound, and environmentally just protections" for forests.

The economic benefit of healthy forests is significant. According to Dogwood Alliance, the ecosystem services that wetland forests provide are worth more than $500 billion, which could reach nearly $550 billion if an additional 13 million acres of wetland forests were protected and logged sustainably. "The ecosystem service value of an intensively manage[d] wetland forest is just $1,200 per acre," says the group, which has been working to inform the public about the dangers of the wood pellet industry. "But wetland forests left alone are worth over $18,600 per acre. By shifting the focus of management from timber production to native ecosystem health, wetland forests increase in value over fifteen times."

"Forests have rapidly become a primary source of biomass fuel in the EU," writes Earth | Food | Life contributor Danna Smith, the founder and executive director of Dogwood Alliance, on Truthout. "Flawed carbon accounting assumes burning trees is carbon-neutral if a tree is planted to replace the one that has been chopped down, but biomass imported from the U.S. to the EU is never properly accounted for. This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. It has further encouraged countries like the U.K., Netherlands and Denmark to subsidize the destruction of forests for fuel at a time when we need to let forests grow to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, protect biodiversity and shore up natural protections against extreme flooding and droughts."

"Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours," the German-Swiss poet and novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in his 1920 collection, Wandering: Notes and Sketches. "They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them." As nearly 200 of the world's nations attempt to achieve the Paris climate agreement's goals of keeping global temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it's time to listen to the wisdom of trees.

Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, CounterPunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

'Keystone XL is dead!': Climate movement secures major victory after 10-year battle

After more than a decade of grassroots organizing, agitation, and tireless opposition by the international climate movement, the final nail was slammed into the Keystone XL's coffin Wednesday afternoon when the company behind the transnational tar sands pipeline officially pulled the plug on its plans.

Following consultation with Canadian officials and regulators—including "its partner, the Government of Alberta"—TC Energy confirmed its "termination" of the project in a statement citing the revocation of a federal U.S. permit by President Joe Biden on his first day in office on January 20 as the leading reason.

Climate campaigners, however, were immediate in claiming a final victory after years of struggle against the company and its backers both in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa.

"TC Energy just confirmed what we already knew but it's a thrilling reality all the same—the Keystone XL pipeline is no more and never will be," said David Turnbull, strategic communications director with Oil Change International (OCI).

"After more than 10 years of organizing we have finally defeated an oil giant, Keystone XL is dead!" declared the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in reaction. "We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory! From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated."

IEN said that the win over TC Energy and its supporters was "not the end—but merely the beginning of further victories," and also reminded the world that there are "still frontline Indigenous water protectors like Oscar High Elk who face charges for standing against the Keystone XL pipeline."

Calling the news "yet another huge moment in an historic effort," Turnbull at OCI said that while the Canadian company's press statement failed to admit it, "this project is finally being abandoned thanks to more than a decade of resistance from Indigenous communities, landowners, farmers, ranchers, and climate activists along its route and around the world."

Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, declared the victory in the drawn-out battle—which largely took place under the Democratic administration of former President Barack Obama—"a landmark moment in the fight against the climate crisis."

"We need to keep moving away from dirty, dangerous pipelines that lock us into an unsustainable future," added Margolis, who said he now hopes President Joe Biden will take this lesson and apply to other polluting fossil projects. "We're hopeful that the Biden administration will continue to shift this country in the right direction by opposing fossil fuel projects that threaten our climate, our waters and imperiled wildlife," he said. "Good riddance to Keystone XL!"

Jamie Henn and Bill McKibben, both co-founders of 350.org and key architects of the decision to make the Keystone XL pipeline a target and symbol of the global climate movement, also heralded the news.

"When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn't be beat." —Bill McKibben, 350.org co-founder

"When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn't be beat," said McKibben, who was among those arrested outside the White House in 2011 protesting the pipeline.

"Keystone XL is now the most famous fossil fuel project killed by the climate movement, but it won't be the last," said Henn. "The same coalition that stopped this pipeline is now battling Line 3 and dozens of other fossil fuel projects across the country. Biden did the right thing on KXL, now it's time to go a step further and say no to all new fossil fuel projects everywhere."

Clayton Thomas Muller, another longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada, said: "This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it's time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines."

McKibben also made the direct connection to KXL and the decision now looming before Biden when it comes to Line 3 in northern Minnesota. "When enough people rise up we're stronger even than the richest fossil fuel companies," he said. "And by the way, the same climate test that ruled out Keystone should do the same for Line 3."

The 'Big Con' revealed: Report details the fossil fuel industry's deceptive 'net zero' strategy

A new report published Wednesday by a trio of progressive advocacy groups lifts the veil on so-called "net zero" climate pledges, which are often touted by corporations and governments as solutions to the climate emergency, but which the paper's authors argue are merely a dangerous form of greenwashing that should be eschewed in favor of Real Zero policies based on meaningful, near-term commitments to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report—titled "The Big Con: How Big Polluters Are Advancing a "Net Zero" Climate Agenda to Delay, Deceive, and Deny" (pdf)—was published by Corporate Accountability, the Global Forest Coalition, and Friends of the Earth International, and is endorsed by over 60 environmental organizations. The paper comes ahead of this November's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland and amid proliferating pledges from polluting corporations and governments to achieve what they claim is carbon neutrality—increasingly via dubious offsets—by some distant date, often the year 2050.

However, the report asserts that "instead of offering meaningful real solutions to justly address the crisis they knowingly created and owning up to their responsibility to act beginning with drastically reducing emissions at source, polluting corporations and governments are advancing 'net zero' plans that require little or nothing in the way of real solutions or real effective emissions cuts."

"Furthermore... they see the potential for a 'net zero' global pathway to provide new business opportunities for them, rather than curtailing production and consumption of their polluting products," it says.

According to the report:

After decades of inaction, corporations are suddenly racing to pledge to achieve "net zero" emissions. These include fossil fuel giants like BP, Shell, and Total; tech giants like Microsoft and Apple; retailers like Amazon and Walmart; financers like HSBC, Bank of America, and BlackRock; airlines like United and Delta; and food, livestock, and meat-producing and agriculture corporations like JBS, Nestlé, and Cargill. Polluting corporations are in a race to be the loudest and proudest to pledge "net zero" emissions by 2050 or some other date in the distant future. Over recent years, more than 1,500 corporations have made "net zero" commitments, an accomplishment applauded by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N. Secretary-General.

"Increasingly, the concept of 'net zero' is being misconstrued in political spaces as well as by individual actors to evade action and avoid responsibility," the report states. "The idea behind big polluters' use of 'net zero' is that an entity can continue to pollute as usual—or even increase its emissions—and seek to compensate for those emissions in a number of ways. Emissions are nothing more than a math equation in these plans; they can be added one place and subtracted from another place."

"This equation is simple in theory but deeply flawed in reality," the paper asserts. "These schemes are being used to mask inaction, foist the burden of emissions cuts and pollution avoidance on historically exploited communities, and bet our collective future through ensuring long-term, destructive impact on land and forests, oceans, and through advancing geoengineering technologies. These technologies are hugely risky, do not exist at the scale supposedly needed, and are likely to cause enormous, and likely irreversible, damage."

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Big polluters, including the fossil fuel and aviation industries, lobbied heavily to ensure passage of Q45, a tax credit subsidizing carbon capture and storage. A 2020 report (pdf) from the U.S. Treasury Department's inspector general found that fossil fuel companies improperly claimed nearly $1 billion in Q45 credits.
  • The International Emissions Trading Association—described by the report's authors as "perhaps the largest global lobbyist on market and offsets, both pillars of polluters 'net zero' climate plans"—has leveraged its considerable power to push its greenwashing agenda at international climate talks.
  • Major polluters have contributed generously to universities including the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Imperial College London in an effort to influence "net zero"-related research. At Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project, ExxonMobil retained the right to formally review research before completion and was allowed to place corporate staff members on development teams.

"The best, most proven approach to justly addressing the climate crisis is to significantly reduce emissions now in an equitable manner, bringing them close to Real Zero by 2030 at the latest," the report states, referring to a situation in which no carbon emissions are produced by a good or service without the use of offsets. "The cross-sectoral solutions we need already exist, are proven, and are scalable now... All that is missing is the political will to advance them, in spite of industry obstruction and deflection."

"To avoid social and planetary collapse, [leaders] must heed the calls of millions of people around the globe and pursue policies that justly, equitably transition our economies off of fossil fuels, and advance real solutions that prioritize life—now." —Report

"People around the globe have already made their demands clear," the report says. "Meaningful solutions that can be implemented now are already detailed in platforms like the People's Demands for Climate Justice, the Liability Roadmap, the Energy Manifesto, and many other resources that encompass the wisdom of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis."

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy program co-coordinator at Friends of the Earth International and one of the paper's authors, said "this report shows that 'net zero' plans from big polluters are nothing more than a big con. The reality is that corporations like Shell have no interest in genuinely acting to solve the climate crisis by reducing their emissions from fossil fuels. They instead plan to continue business as usual while greenwashing their image with tree planting and offsetting schemes that can never ever make up for digging up and burning fossil fuels."

"We must wake up fast to the fact that we are falling for a trick," Shaw added. "'Net zero' risks obscuring a lack of action until it is too late."

Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development—which endorsed the report—warned that "proclamations of 'net zero' targets are dangerous deceptions. 'Net zero' sounds ambitious and visionary but it actually allows big polluters and rich governments to continue emitting [greenhouse gases] which they claim will be erased through unproven and dangerous technologies, carbon trading, and offsets that shift the burden of climate action to the Global South."

"Big polluters and rich governments should not only reduce emissions to Real Zero, they must pay reparations for the huge climate debt owed to the Global South," added Nacpil.

In conclusion, the reports says world leaders must "listen to the people and once and for all prioritize people's lives and the planet over engines of profit and destruction."

"To avoid social and planetary collapse," it states, "they must heed the calls of millions of people around the globe and pursue policies that justly, equitably transition our economies off of fossil fuels, and advance real solutions that prioritize life—now."

'Which side are you on?': Protesters call on Biden to stop Line 3

In what organizers are calling the largest-ever demonstration of its kind in Minnesota history, more than 2,000 Indigenous-led water protectors on Monday continued nonviolent, direct action protests against the planned replacement and expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Stop Line 3 campaigners said over 1,000 water protectors marched with Indigenous leaders to the headwaters of the Mississippi River on the third day of the Treaty People Gathering—which organizers billed as "the beginning of a summer of resistance"—to participate in a treaty ceremony at a proposed Line 3 crossing site.

The $9 billion pipeline project—which if completed will carry up to 750,000 barrels of crude tar sands oil, the world's dirtiest fuel, from Alberta to the port of Superior, Wisconsin—is slated to traverse Anishinaabe treaty land without tribal consent. The proposed pipeline route crosses more than 200 bodies of water and 800 wetlands, raising serious concerns not only about the project's impact on the climate emergency, but also about leaks and other accidents opponents say are all but inevitable.

South of the Mississippi headwaters gathering, over 500 activists in coordination and solidarity with the Indigenous women and two-spirit-led Giniw Collective shut down a Line 3 pumping station at Two Inlets, northwest of Park Rapids, with some demonstrators locking themselves to construction equipment.

A low-flying helicopter protesters said belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security kicked up a large dust cloud in an apparent effort to intimidate and disperse activists from the pump station protest site. Water protectors continued their resistance even as police clad in riot gear arrived at the station and reportedly began arresting demonstrators later in the afternoon.

Treaty People Gathering participants are calling on President Joe Biden to cancel Line 3 like he rescinded the federal permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day of office following years of grassroots organizing and pressure by opponents. However, Biden has disappointed activists by refusing to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), another highly controversial project that was the site of massive resistance and brutal repression in 2016.

The New York Times reports some tribal leaders are hoping that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a pipeline opponent and the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history, will influence Biden's Line 3 decision. Haaland, who was chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party at the time, participated in the #NoDAPL protests at Standing Rock.

However, an Interior Department spokesperson declined to comment to the Times about any role that Haaland might potentially play in Line 3 policy.

Indigenous leaders stressed their ancient connection to the land and water that they say are imperiled by the pipeline.

"Our ancestors made agreements to take care of this water and land forever together, and now is our time to do that," protester Winona LaDuke, a two-time vice presidential candidate on Ralph Nader's Green Party ticket and co-founder and executive director of the Indigenous environmental advocacy group Honor the Earth, said in a statement.

Stop the Money Pipeline communications coordinator Jackie Fielder drew attention to the financial institutions bankrolling the Line 3 project:

Giniw Collective co-founder Tara Houska said in a statement that, "Our Mother is calling out, and it's time for us to listen or do the work to remember how."

"It's also time for us to all stand with our words," added Houska. "The situation is urgent, it requires urgent response. Find your bravery, find your community, find your truth. Stand with us and Stop Line 3."

LaDuke and Houska were two of the numerous prominent activists present at Monday's protests. Others included 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; Indigenous organizers Dawn Goodwin, Taysha Martineau, Nancy Beaulieu, and Simone Senogles; and actor/activists Rosanna Arquette and Jane Fonda.

"For years we have tried to assert our sovereignty and speak out against Line 3," said Goodwin, co-founder of the RISE Coalition. "We still have time to save our sacred waters and land—our life sources."

Motioning toward the crowd of pumping station protesters, Fonda told the Associated Press that "this is important; this is what we need," as she held up a sign with Biden's image reading, "Which side are you on?"

Late last month, over 300 advocacy organizations delivered a letter to Biden imploring him to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend or revoke Canada-based Enbridge's Line 3 Clean Water Act Section 404 permit.

"Your unprecedented goals for climate action, for federal respect of tribal sovereignty, for environmental justice, and for science all demand you revoke or amend the Line 3 presidential permit," the letters' signatories asserted.

According to the Associated Press, the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to rule by June 21 whether Enbridge has proved the long-term necessity of the Line 3 project. With the climate emergency in mind, Houska told the Times that she recently told White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy that "you can't cancel Keystone XL and then build an almost identical tar sands pipeline."

Underscoring what climate campaigners and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres have called the "suicidal" nature of fossil fuel expansion, scientists working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii reported Monday that atmospheric carbon dioxide reached a monthly average level of 419 parts per million in May, which is not only the maximum reading ever recorded but also the highest concentration the planet has experienced in over four million years.

'I sense trouble': Democratic senator just issued a stern warning for a critical part of Biden's agenda

After Joe Biden was sworn in as president in January, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island expressed optimism that climate change would be a priority for Biden's administration. But in a Twitter thread posted this week, the Democratic senator doesn't sound as optimistic.

Whitehouse has a long history of sounding the alarm about the dangers of climate change, often saying, "It's time to wake up." And after Biden became president, he expressed hopes that a "new dawn" would be arriving in terms of the U.S. addressing the crisis.

But the Rhode Island Democrat, in his Twitter thread, laments, "OK, I'm now officially very anxious about climate legislation. I'll admit I'm sensitive from the Obama climate abandonment, but I sense trouble."

The 65-year-old Whitehouse goes on to lay out some reasons for his concern.

"Climate has fallen out of the infrastructure discussion, as it took its bipartisanship detour," Whitehouse writes. "It may not return. So then what? I don't see the preparatory work for a close Senate climate vote taking place in the administration. Why not marshal business support?"

Whitehouse adds, however, that "Corporate America is still completely AWOL, if not worse, on climate in Congress."

"All the major corporate trade associations suck — all of them," Whitehouse laments. "Groups and advocates are quarreling — My way! No, my way! We need everything, not 'my thing.' Oy."

Whitehouse wraps up his thread by stressing that although addressing climate change is going to be an uphill climb, giving up is not an option.

"We need planning, organizing and momentum," Whitehouse writes. "It's not going to be easy. And it has to work. We are running out of time."

Economic devastation from climate crisis will be like two COVID pandemics per year by 2050: analysis

New research by global insurance giant Swiss RE warns that the looming devastation of runaway greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis could result in economic retractions twice as potent as the global recession unleashed by Covid-19—a calamity, unlike the pandemic, which could go on for many years without end.

Analyzing the figures compiled in a research report (pdf) by Zurich-based Swiss RE, Oxfam International said while the world's poorest nations will be hardest hit, even the rich nations—like those of the G7 meeting this week in the United Kingdom—will not be spared from the economic pain that will come if world temperatures rise by 2.6ºC that some scenarios predict.

According to Oxfam, economies of the G7 nations could see an average loss of 8.5 percent annually by the middle of the century―equivalent to $4.8 trillion―if more urgent action to address global warming is not taken immediately.

The international aid and anti-poverty group said this potential drop in GDP is double that of the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in an average 4.2% reduction among G7 nations, recessions that resulted "in staggering job losses and some of the largest economic stimulus packages ever seen." But, Oxfam added, "economies are expected to bounce back from the short-term effects of the pandemic, the effects of climate change will be seen every year."

The devastation for poor nations would be enormous.

"The economic turmoil projected in wealthy G7 countries is only the tip of the iceberg: many poorer parts of the world will see increasing deaths, hunger and poverty as a result of extreme weather," said Max Lawson, head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, in a statement. "This year could be a turning point if governments grasp the challenge to create a safer more liveable planet for all."

As the group's analysis notes:

  • India could lose 27% from its economy.
  • Australia, South Africa and South Korea are projected to lose 12.5, 17.8 and 9.7% respectively.
  • The Philippines is projected to lose 35%
  • Colombia is projected to lose 16.7%

Jerome Haegeli, a chief economist at Swiss Re involved with the research, told the Guardian that: "Climate change is the long-term number one risk to the global economy, and staying where we are is not an option—we need more progress by the G7. That means not just obligations on cutting CO2 but helping developing countries too, that's super-important."

The research from Swiss RE, as Oxfam details,

modelled the economic impacts of climate change on 48 countries in four different temperature paths and used different impact scenarios to account for the large parameter uncertainty and missing climate impact channels usually present in the climate economics literature. The projections used in this press release assume high stress factors and global warming of 2.6°C by mid-century, which is a level of warming that could be reached based on current policies and climate pledges from all countries. All figures relate to real GDP. The GDP projections compare a warmer world with a world unaffected by climate change.

Ahead of the G7 summit in the U.K., global climate campaigners have continued to urge the world's richest and most powerful nations—also its largest emitters—to not only commit to stronger pledges on reducing fossil fuel pollution, but to increase their financial pledges to the developing world that have contributed far less to the climate crisis but continue to face its most devastating impacts.

The surprising environmental costs of marijuana

Your cannabis consumption has a carbon footprint, and when everybody's cannabis consumption is added up, that carbon footprint gets mighty big. The resulting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that impact climate change the most are from consuming indoor cultivated marijuana, which is grown under lights indoors with extensive heating, air conditioning and other electrical equipment. Marijuana that is grown outdoors or in greenhouses or hoop houses doesn't require this kind of setup and has a substantially lesser impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

It would appear that the ethical thing for marijuana consumers to do when it comes to addressing climate change is to consume outdoor, sun-grown marijuana. But that is just for starters. Environmentally conscious consumers can get really serious and demand marijuana that is sun-grown, organic, and produced in a sustainable and regenerative fashion.

But before getting to solutions, let us first come to grips with the scope of the problem. Given that much of the marijuana grown in the United States goes into the black market, no one is quite sure just how much weed we produce. But a 2019 study from industry analysts New Frontier Data, "The U.S. Cannabis Cultivation Report," estimated that the "[t]otal legal and illicit output is forecasted to grow to" almost 35 million pounds by 2025. California alone accounted for more than 12 million pounds of illegal exports in 2019, according to the report. A 2012 article, which appeared in the international peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy, states that "[o]fficial estimates of total U.S. Cannabis production varied between 10,000 and 24,000 metric ton[s] per year as of 2001," while a more recent (2010) "study estimated national production at far higher levels (69,000 metric ton[s])."

That is a lot of weed, and how we grow it has an impact on the environment. The article in Energy Policy also found that marijuana cultivation accounts for at least 1 percent of all the electricity consumed in the country, at a cost of $6 billion a year—it is important to note here that outdoor grows can be done with virtually no electricity. This kind of energy consumption due to indoor marijuana cultivation across the U.S. translates into GHG emissions equivalent to that by 3 million cars, the article estimated.

According to an article in Cannabis Business Times, "the 2018 Cannabis Energy Report from New Frontier Data found that indoor cultivation in the U.S. produces 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide or one pound of carbon emissions for each gram of harvested flower. The same report found that growing indoors uses 18 times more electricity and produces nearly 25 times more carbon than outdoor farms."

Meanwhile, in March, researchers at Colorado State University published an article in the journal Nature Sustainability that showed how shifting grows from indoors to greenhouse and outdoor cultivation "can drastically reduce GHG emissions" by the cannabis industry. According to the article, the move from growing cannabis indoors to "outdoor cultivation practices" would reduce the Colorado cannabis industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 96 percent (a switch to greenhouse cultivation would cut GHG emissions by 42 percent). A switch to outdoor cultivation in Colorado "would see a reduction of more than 1.3 percent in the state's [total] annual GHG emissions," stated the article.

The industry is headed in the direction of increasing outdoor cultivation of marijuana, but at an achingly slow pace.

That 2019 New Frontier Data study found that only 44 percent of marijuana cultivation operations were outdoor grows. A Cannabis Business Times 2020 State of the Industry Report had similar numbers. It found that 42 percent of survey respondents grow cannabis outdoors, 41 percent grow in greenhouses, and 60 percent grow indoors (the total exceeds 100 percent because many operators rely on two or even all three methods of cultivation).

The good news, according to Cannabis Business Times, is that the number of indoor operations has been declining steadily over the past five years, from 80 percent in 2016 to 60 percent in 2020, while greenhouse grows increased by 7 percent from 2016 to 2020 and outdoor grows increased by 5 percent during the same period.

Dale Gieringer, the longtime head of the nonprofit California NORML, has been following the evolution of marijuana growing for decades, back to the 1980s, when raids on northern California pot growers helped prompt the move toward indoor cultivation. It was just easier to hide the crop from the cops by growing it indoors, but that required artificial lights and all the other inputs to grow an indoor crop.

"Indoor [cultivation] never made any sense to us, any more than indoor wheat or any other indoor agricultural crop," Gieringer told Drug Reporter. "That's the whole beauty of marijuana: Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, you can make it with pure sunlight; it's very carbon neutral and energy efficient when you do it that way."

Nowadays, said Gieringer, it is not the need to hide from law enforcement but rather the need to comply with stringent regulatory requirements that induces growers to go under the lights.

"All those security precautions the government puts [in place] to protect us have driven a lot of people indoors," he said while speaking with Drug Reporter. "One of the weird things that happened in California was that authorities got real skittish about outdoor growing in a lot of places, and so, early on, we had these towns out in the desert that opened up huge indoor grow facilities that have to be air-conditioned. None of that makes any sense to me; it's just the way things have been regulated."

One group that encourages not just outdoor cultivation but outdoor cultivation with the best practices is Sun+Earth Certified, the leading nonprofit certification for regenerative organic cannabis.

Sun+Earth Certified was founded in 2019 on Earth Day "by cannabis industry leaders, experts and advocates with a common commitment to regenerative organic agriculture, farmer and farm-worker protections, and community engagement," according to an article in Cannabis Business Times.

To earn the Sun+Earth seal, marijuana farms must not only be organic (no chemical fertilizers or toxic pesticides), but also use sustainable methods that regenerate the soil, such as using cover crops, composting, reduced soil tillage, and planting the crop alongside food crops. All of these practices suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

"The multi-billion dollar cannabis industry has an important obligation to shift away from high levels of energy consumption and chemical-intensive farming practices, and Sun+Earth has the blueprint for how to do that," said Sun+Earth Executive Director Andrew Black during an Earth Day virtual press conference on April 23, marking the organization's two-year anniversary.

"In two years, we've grown to 33 cannabis farms and hope to finish the year with 60 total certifications," said Black. "This shows demand at both the farmer and consumer level for high-bar certifications for regenerative sustainable cannabis production."

The group is striving to set the gold standard for more-than-organic marijuana production.

"Our certification is tougher than normal USDA organic farming requirements," Black said during the virtual press conference. "Farmers must build soil fertility using natural resources from the farm itself to create living, bio-rich soil. And there are written contracts to protect farm labor and… to engage with and uplift the local community. Those aren't part of any other organic standard."

Sun+Earth certified farmers are a world away from industrial cannabis production practices indoors and under lights.

"I credit the [cannabis] plant with bringing me into the consciousness of being in a living system on a living planet," said Tina Gordon of Moon Made Farms, a Sun+Earth certified grower in Southern Humboldt County, who also participated in the press conference. "We do less than half an acre [of marijuana cultivation], in the ground, in full air [and] under the sun. The plants are exposed to the elements. You think about how the plants are grown and how they react to the natural environment, and you ask yourself: What does the land around us offer? What is the responsible way to live? You have to do this in the best possible way with the best possible practices, not just for the plant, but for the people and the community. That's why Sun+Earth resonates so deeply for me. We can care for and heal the planet and ourselves with cannabis."

As Gordon and fellow Sun+Earth certified grower Chrystal Ortiz, founder of High Water Farm, demonstrate, best practices mean adapting to the land, not trying to bend it to one's will.

"We're in an oak grove, and we chip the oak for mulching," Gordon said during the virtual press conference. "We mulch on top of where the plants grow and also beside them, and the mycelium starts eating the wood, and we flip that back into the soil, so it's soil-building. The mycelium is also breaking down a thick layer of leaves, making humus; this is how trees grow. We start with what feeds these native plants and then we start tuning in on the essentials. We use rainwater from the top of the property, and of course, we utilize the sun. When this [cannabis] plant goes indoors, the opportunity to understand how and where this plant is grown is lost."

Ortiz's High Water Farm occupies a different growing environment, and that makes for a different growing method.

"What is unique about farming here is that it is way different than Tina's [experience] of mulching and mycelium. I'm working [with] a beautiful, silty canvas in the Eel River watershed that fills with water every winter, a zen canvas that is rebuilt every year. Farming in the silt is different from forest cultivation. I'm learning new ancient traditions," Ortiz, who is a second-generation grower, said during the virtual press conference.

"We do dry farming with a cover crop, and we till the cover crop, run sheep that eat the cover, till the sheep poop and [compost the] cover crop into the ground, and then we plant our plants directly into the ground," she elaborated. "There is no water or fertilizer added whatsoever for the entire cycle. We just look at the ancient redwoods with their wide shallow root systems; they figured it out, and we follow the same process. We have wide plant spacing, the sunshine hitting this native soil and the evaporation of the water table. It's a very unique, faithful way to grow. When the plant gets the strength and resilience it needs, we're off to the races for another beautiful season."

Sun+Earth fills only a tiny niche in the massive marijuana economy, but it is a niche that is growing and one that can help begin to shift practices in the industry.

"We're trying to build a truly green cannabis economy, and that means educating at the dispensary level about why Sun+Earth cannabis is important and how consumers can support farmers by buying their products," said Black during the virtual press conference. "If we want to keep these farms on the land, they have to be supported in the marketplace.

"Right now, the expansion of Sun+Earth is happening organically," Black said. "We're creating demand in California, where we have an active campaign to promote Sun+Earth at point of sale. And we're trying to create campaigns that attract more of a national audience. For instance, last fall, we had a fundraising campaign where Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps created a cannabis-scented soap made from hemp extract from a Sun+Earth certified farm in Oregon."

Those campaigns are getting the word out beyond California, Black added, pointing to four farms in Oregon, two in Washington, a hemp farm in Wisconsin, and an urban medical marijuana grow in Detroit that have shown interest in the work being done by his organization.

"We're working on expanding to the Eastern Seaboard, too, maybe soon in Massachusetts, where local ordinances allow for outdoor grows. In some jurisdictions, they don't allow outdoor production, which is crazy."

What's really crazy, though, is contributing to the global climate crisis by smoking indoor-grown, high carbon footprint weed. As the example of Sun+Earth shows, conscious consumers can make a difference by supporting conscientious producers.

Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for more than two decades. He is the longtime writer and editor of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the nonprofit Stop the Drug War, and was the editor of AlterNet's coverage of drug policy from 2015 to 2018. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance's Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Texans lawmakers overlook everyday constituents in response to power outages during winter storm

June 3, 2021

"Everyday Texans overlooked in state lawmakers' response to power outages during winter storm" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The first day, Melissa Hutchins and her husband burned furniture to keep warm. Friends of theirs burned their children's toys. A neighbor's roof caved in.

When the Hutchins lost water because the pipes froze, they went to a hotel.

Three nights and four maxed out credit cards later, they returned to their Arlington condominium when power was restored to Texans after one of the deadliest and costliest disasters in state history.

“Texas is not prepared for weather like that," Hutchins said. “We're not equipped for that at all down here."

State lawmakers responded to February's deadly power outages during a winter storm with a few key changes to the state's power grid that experts said will begin to address some issues exposed by the storm — such as requiring power companies to upgrade plants to withstand more extreme weather and creating a statewide emergency alert system.

But they did not provide direct relief for everyday Texans, many of whom lost jobs or loved ones during the pandemic and then went through yet another emotionally and financially taxing crisis.

The storm caused the deaths of as many as 700 people, according to a Buzzfeed analysis. Insurance costs for property damage alone are about $18 billion, Reuters reported, citing Karen Clark & Co., a Boston consulting firm. The total economic damage to the state may be $86 billion to $129 billion, according to The Perryman Group, a Texas economic firm.

Lawmakers approved a bill that will likely increase most Texans' electricity bills by at least a few dollars each month for possibly the next two decades to bail out the state's utility and electricity companies. Patricia Zavala, senior policy analyst at Jolt, a Latino progressive advocacy group in Texas, said even a small increase in living costs can put Texans who are “teetering on the edge" into financial jeopardy.

And Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy and climate consultant, said that while the Legislature took positive steps in requiring power companies to prepare for future storms, nothing was done to provide direct assistance to people harmed by the power crisis or to help Texans reduce electricity use to take pressure off the grid during extreme weather.

He and others said the changes this session were not the sort of sweeping reforms necessary to completely avoid another power grid catastrophe.

“There was really no focus at all to address ... the millions of Texans struggling to pay their electric bills," Lewin said during a Friday press conference with Texas environmental advocates. “There's two sides of the equation: supply and demand. The Legislature has stayed almost entirely focused on supply, and almost completely neglected the demand side."

Lawmakers made the case in the final minutes of the legislative session that overhauling the board that oversees the power grid will provide the structural change necessary to prevent another grid-related disaster.

“I always get questions, 'What have y'all done to fix the disaster that we saw in February?'" state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said before the Senate passed Senate Bill 2, which changes the makeup of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' board of directors. “It starts with leadership, and it starts with the structure [of people who] make the hard calls."

Still, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers acknowledged that they did not do enough this session to aid the people — like the Hutchins and their neighbors — who struggled financially after the winter storm caused medical emergencies, damaged property, spoiled food and sent many Texans' utility bills soaring.

Melissa Hutchins, 37, estimates that the hotel, food, repairs to their condo and lost work cost them $5,000. Her husband, a manager at a food and beverage manufacturer, made an early withdrawal on his retirement account so they could repair broken plumbing to restore their water and fix their dishwasher. All of this, she said, after a year in which her husband was sick with COVID-19 and missed a month of work.

“It was just crazy," Hutchins said. “It's one thing after another. Like water, we can't live without water. We have to have electricity."

Lawmakers said the measure they passed to give utilities and electricity companies access to billions of dollars in bonds and loans will prevent a larger financial crisis in the state in the aftermath of the storm. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called for additional legislation that would provide direct financial relief to consumers.

“The next time, for this Lieutenant Governor, that we're going to spend billions of dollars concerning the storm, it's going to be to help the people of Texas and the ratepayers, or I won't call that bill up," Patrick said. “We have to help the people of Texas and their electric bills."

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to call lawmakers back for a special session later this year to revive certain bills that died during the regular session; in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Tuesday, Abbott said he would likely support a proposal to aid consumers, but he hasn't announced whether he would add the issue to lawmakers' plates in a special session.

“Put me on the side of consumers who suffered through this storm," Abbott said.

Little relief for everyday Texans

Senate Bills 2 and 3, the two major power grid bills that lawmakers passed on Sunday and sent to Abbott, focus on ERCOT's board and weatherizing the power plants that serve the electrical grid.

Senate Bill 2 reduces the number of ERCOT board members from 16 to 11 and requires that instead of what lawmakers called “industry insiders" appointing the board, Abbott, Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan will appoint a committee to make ERCOT board selections.

Senate Bill 3 requires power companies and some natural gas companies to make upgrades so their facilities can withstand extreme weather and requires regulators to create an emergency alert system, similar to an Amber alert, for power outages and inclement weather.

The Senate did not approve a $2 billion plan, approved by the House, to help companies pay for weatherization. So companies alone will pay the costs to retroactively equip their power plants to withstand extreme weather.

The state likely won't require companies to make weatherization upgrades until 2022 at the earliest.

Another package of bills sent to the governor would increase rates on Texans' power bills for likely the next two decades to cover at least $7 billion of gas utilities', electric cooperatives' and electric companies' debt from the storm.

Many companies, particularly rural electric cooperatives, were financially wrecked after the winter storm due to state electricity regulators' decision to set power prices at the maximum rate of $9,000 per megawatt-hour and keep them there for an additional 32 hours after power began to return. Natural gas fuel prices also spiked during the storm; some gas utility companies said their customers' bills would increase several times the normal amount if the companies had to finance their storm-related debt without state help.

If Abbott signs the bills into law, the legislation will prevent customers from having to pay huge bills from the storm by allowing companies to seek billions of dollars in state-approved bonds backed by the new charges on customers' bills. The state's plan will help the companies get cheaper, longer-term loans.

Some electric companies also owe massive debts to ERCOT; under House Bill 4492, ERCOT will receive $800 million from the state's Economic Stabilization Fund, known as the rainy day fund, to pay off those debts — an effort to prevent most retail electric providers from passing huge bills on to their customers and to also reimburse power generation companies.

Still, some are concerned that the state's solution will add yet another cost to already-struggling consumers. Aaron Gonzales, 27, a graduate student at the University of Texas and a volunteer for Jolt Action, said the rising cost of living has delayed his plans to purchase a home. Even a small increase on his utility bill chips away at that dream, he said.

“It's a straw that gets put on the camel's back, and we have to ask ourselves, how many before it breaks?" he said. “A lot of people in my family were laid off this year or on reduced wages. At a time when we don't have jobs or money, you're asking us to pay even more."

The Texas Senate added an amendment in the final week of the session to House Bill 4492 that would have allowed the state comptroller to provide one-time bill payment assistance grants of $350 to residential customers. That measure was stripped from the bill in the House, and Patrick and some senators called for the proposal to be brought back up during a special session.

“It is only fair and right," said Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio. “People froze in their homes. A $350 credit is the least we can do."

The Senate stripped away House proposals to help electric customers, too. An amendment to Senate Bill 3 by Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, would have created a grant program for projects that add backup power generation to water treatment plants, local electric utilities, hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis centers. The amendment was taken out during the two chambers' negotiations.

“I don't know if we got any good consumer wins, which is disappointing to think about," Zwiener said of the session.

What the Legislature didn't do

Although lawmakers required electricity generators to weatherize against extreme weather, they took a more limited approach to requiring gas fuel facilities to weatherize — Senate Bill 3 requires only gas facilities that are deemed "critical" by regulators to make changes.

Dozens of natural gas companies failed to do the paperwork that would keep their facilities powered during an emergency, so utilities — under orders from ERCOT to shut down parts of the grid as demand surged — cut their electricity at the very moment that power plants most needed fuel during the storm. Some power plants were unable to operate during the storm due to natural gas fuel shortages.

Lawmakers did not set deadlines for gas companies to weatherize their equipment, which critics argue will allow companies to delay the upgrades.

Lawmakers also stopped short of ordering an energy market overhaul; some proposals would have fundamentally changed the state's deregulated market structure, which relies on supply and demand to set power prices, but lawmakers didn't bite.

And they rejected a pitch by billionaire Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, to spend $8.3 billion for 10 new natural gas power plants across the state for emergency use only, paid for by electricity customers. Many Texas companies did not support the plan, and lawmakers didn't even support studying the idea.

Lawmakers also didn't pass legislation that would help Texans pay to better insulate their homes and reduce their electricity usage, which could both lower power bills and reduce demand on the grid.

“[Texas] has been kind of reluctant to do it," said Pat Wood III, former Public Utility Commission of Texas chair, of weatherizing homes. “And I don't know why."

Those ideas didn't gain traction in the Republican-dominated Legislature, but Zwiener said she's optimistic that such proposals could later be funded by a federal infrastructure package, which President Joe Biden has pushed hard during his first months in office.

“I'm hopeful that when we return in the fall we will be able to leverage some of that for homeowners to weatherize," Zwiener said. “It's energy efficiency, but it's also about survivability. If you live in a house with decent insulation, your house is going to stay warmer or cooler for a much longer period of time."

What's next for the power grid

The upgrades to the grid that lawmakers approved last month won't eliminate the chance of blackouts in Texas. If the state experiences a severe heat wave or drought combined with high demand for power, outages are a possibility, according to recent ERCOT assessments.

ERCOT included three extreme scenarios in a forecast of the state's power resources for the summer — the most extreme calculations ERCOT has ever considered for its regular seasonal assessment. Each scenario would leave the grid short a significant amount of power, which would trigger power outages.

The grid operator had previously avoided warning the public about such extreme possibilities because of their low likelihood of happening. But after February's storm, ERCOT is changing tactics.

ERCOT interim President Brad Jones will also have to build working relationships with an entirely new board of directors, picked by a committee appointed by the state's top politicians.

Meanwhile, ERCOT has to convince the public that its new regime can be trusted to keep the grid from collapsing again.

“[They are] starting over because there's all these people who got introduced to the grid in February — and not in a good way," said Caitlin Smith, an Austin energy policy adviser. “So, we're starting their relationship with ERCOT from a really traumatic event and going from there."

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/03/texas-electricity-bills-winter-storm-legislature/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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