Rebecca Kling, email@example.com
AUSTIN, TEXAS -- This past Saturday, November 20, a coalition of organizations--including the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Texas Rising, MOVE Texas, Moms Clean Air Force, Environment Texas, the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resistance (CEER), Dallas Action, and Public Citizen--held a virtual People’s Hearing to call on the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Governor Abbott to fix the Texas electric grid. Close to one hundred people attended the event, and dozens of Texans from across the state shared stories of hardship and called for public officials to do better.
The number of attendees and speakers at the People’s Hearing stood in stark contrast to the PUC’s general meeting on Thursday, 11/18, where the agency required members of the public to complete a multi-step registration process and physically attend the in-person event. These barriers to participation meant that only four members of the public were able to speak on 11/18, all of whom urged the PUC to create a more open and accessible process for public engagement.
At the People’s Hearing, however, four key themes emerged:
- The fossil fuel industry left Texans to die during the freeze;
- Poor planning by state leaders and policymakers allowed the blackouts to happen;
- People-first grid improvements like energy efficiency, demand-response programs, and renewable energy are key to strengthen the electric grid against future outages; and
- The Public Utilities Commission must create a process for members of the public to share their input and engage.
Both community members and elected officials attended the People's Hearing event. Quotes from both are below. The one universal idea, shared across all speakers, was a commitment to continuing the fight for clean, reliable energy by calling for an open regulatory process that is built on public input.
NOTE: A video recording of the hearing is available for members of the press, and all of the individuals quoted below are available to speak to the media. Contact Rebecca Kling at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“While people were still freezing in their homes, while people were still risking carbon monoxide poisoning by putting camp stoves on in their houses, while that was still going on there was already an organized attempt to brand this [blackout] as the fault of renewable energy, and for oil and gas to take credit for any power that was on, to try and strategically use that to rig the game at places like Public Utility Commission against renewables and towards fossil fuels,” said State Rep. Erin Zwiener, representing District 45 in the Texas House of Representatives, and chair of the Texas Caucus on Climate, Environment, and the Energy Industry.
“It's going to take a lot of loud voices like yours, to make sure that we don't believe what Governor Abbott said, ‘everything's been taken care of,’ when it has not been. Yes, we made some progress, but nowhere near what needs to be in place to ensure that we don't have a problem this coming winter, which is just right around the corner. It is absolutely obscene to just be listening to those that are in the industry, and not paying attention to Texans whose lives are impacted by the decisions and the policies that are made,” said State Rep. Donna Howard, representing District 48 in the Texas House of Representatives.
“We had been told to expect three-hour rolling blackouts; we woke up Monday morning with no power, it didn’t come back until Friday afternoon. Our water was out as well. Our house was forty degrees, and we have breathing issues. Fortunately, my sister and brother and law have a car with enough traction to get to us. We might have been able to get ourselves out, but because the power was out we couldn’t get the garage door open. I’m furious--these are tears of anger--because our old neighborhood, where a lot of politicians live, only had rolling blackouts. Jeeze, what a coincidence that they didn’t lose their water, they didn’t lose their utilities. [The fact] that gas companies can skip weatherization is completely unacceptable,” said Sandy and Scott Phillips from Round Rock, Texas.
“I want the PUC to have an oversight committee of community members, because we don’t want to ask anymore, we want to demand. This is our given right to be safe in our homes, and therefore we should not have to beg or crawl on our knees to get what is truly deserved. It’s time for us to stand up, to be seen, not just heard, but we want to be involved. Whatever we decide should be of the people and by the people” said Delores McGruder, a Houston-area resident.
“We lost power for about five days. At least we had water, but we did have pipes burst above the garage, getting into some of my grandparents’ things. We spent the majority of our time huddled around the fireplace, often in the dark, with a battery radio. It felt like a different time and a different country. I would like to see sustainable solutions to ensure nothing like this ever happens again,” said Pearl Basinski, a resident of Valley Ranch, Texas
“I sat on the Austin’s Winter Storm Task Force for the College Student Commission and heard too many stories on that task force of how people suffered. The whole State of Texas failed. I wish there had been a door to door effort every day after the storm happened, asking people whether or not they were okay, whether or not they had the resources they needed, what they experienced during the storm. I think we would have encountered a lot of angry people, a lot of people who would have wanted to see something change. In terms of government accountability, I want to see something done for all the apartment complexes, for people who are renters. I had peers one building over who said they woke up in the dark and in the cold, and that has to do with a long history of not holding property managers accountable for maintaining good infrastructure,” said Jeffrey Clemens, an Austin-area resident and student at Huston-Tillotson.
“I want the Public Utility Commission to adopt solutions to the electric grid that benefit the everyday Texans who suffered during the freeze. I want the Public Utility Commission to encourage the state of Texas to set better goals on energy efficiency, to encourage utilities to create better programs that help consumers do things like insulate their homes better so heat is trapped in and doesn’t escape as quickly,” said Emma Pabst, a Round Rock resident and Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club.
“It's really, really important that we continue to focus on things like the energy grid, and what we went through last winter, especially as we are approaching winter now. Too often, our focus gets pulled in so many different directions, but this is what I would assume something like 99% of Texans are thinking about as winter approaches. Because of climate change, we’re going to continue to have droughts and floods, more severe winter storms, and hotter summers,“ said State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, representing District 47 in the Texas House of Representatives.
The People’s Hearing is part of a larger effort led by the Sierra Club and partners to urge Gov. Abbott and state officials to fix the electric grid. The group is also working to collect one million petition signatures in favor of people-first grid solutions, and has posted billboards about the issue in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.