Will national politics obscure what is really happening in Texas? | FiveThirtyEight

The crew discusses why the blackouts in Texas occurred, who bears responsibility and how politics are shaped by these kinds of crises.
39:32 | 02/19/21

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Transcript for Will national politics obscure what is really happening in Texas? | FiveThirtyEight
Hello and welcome to the 530 politics podcast ideal injury. Texas is in a dire situation. Millions of people have been without power heat and in some cases water in freezing cold temperatures for duties because of severe. It is. At the time of recording half a million Texans still don't have power. According to reporting from the New York Times at least thirty people have died this week in the United States as a result of storm related incidents. And it's likely that number will continue to rise officials in Galveston Texas requested a refrigerated crop to collect bodies as they checked in on members of the community. People are angry and politicians are pointing fingers. So we're gonna spend today's podcast getting a sense of what is happening in Texas and where responsibility lies. We are also gas going to talk about politics. It seems like the country has faced crisis after crisis remember we're still in the middle of a pandemic that has taken new half a million wise. So how does our political system react to crises that needy natural disasters but also involve human decision. -- meet to discuss it is our politics editor Sarah brown Simpson who is in Houston and faced power outages this week hello Sarah. Yeah glad to be able to hide he read us. Also here at us is Maggie Kurt senior science writer here at 538. She's also written a lot of toughness her book is called before the lights go out it's on the energy infrastructure in America hello Maggie. Hi. And also here at us is Daniel Collins and a professor at rice university in Houston who studies climate and energy welcome Daniel. And scandal when she was in better circumstances. Likewise so first I want to start room. Use Sarah and Daniel pupils in Houston first well are you okay and can you tell me a little bit about this situation that you in your communities. Are facing. Yeah and I mean we. Fortunately now have power at its stores early and staying we are out power from Monday and Tuesday you know try to find town Atlanta and realize it's going to second 98. Sleeping in the old. Luckily it. One of my coworkers and the need two Katie took a scent they had a power. One reason we think that is because that grid system here taxes statement fairly close to a hospital hospitals naturally there prioritized here in terms of the house. Janet just I think you know what was so frustrating and at times frightening our office it is TE. Timeline has been selling a clear. And the messaging and black assistant. And lack of assistance from government officials just a small because it was never a matter of hours and power that days and then she sat at the top. A lot of Texans still have power. Yeah for us it is survivor guilt that we've we've kept to out of the three we've kept him out power and heat. Through this really don't understand how these rolling blackouts are working. Its summer are without power for days and and some are keeping it op. And some as just matters very low water pressure that that we have to boil we wanted for an absence since the water systems are are really struggling. Can you give us a sense of you know Harlem community is doing and can you tell from dark outsider talking to neighbors. The kinds of situations that people are facing because I think it's been heart there's not a lot of travel. Doctors you know haven't seen a climate of your news cameras at Sutter on the ground airports are local reporters who were giving us a sense of everything but people are in our homes so. It's hard to get a sense of the full scale up of what's happening. I think we're in a crisis now that I can't think of anything outside of Harvey that is hit so many people at once because it's hitting. Our power heat and our water for you know different people experiencing once you were all three of those. Hits that time and it it's it's terrible health crisis to use. On gotten a bit at an insight into that because my wife is in the emergency room pediatrician. She's never seen anything like it with just so many com carbon monoxide poisoning. Cases coming in some cases where it. With both children and parents. Needing to be treated because somebody people are just. Desperately trying to find a way to stay warm this is you know both. The coldest. The weekend for procession extended stretch. Off for decades and and for that to combat the same time the people don't have heat in his speech is so devastating. Great it doesn't help or in the middle can't either which I think it's one reason why not seen. More on the ground reporting about she and yesterday. We definitely are driving heat at one point. As many Texans even though we're really supposed to immigrants tear gas shortages gas stations putting caps. The pumps state from now. Hotels you know how power and aunts act. It's just been a lot of chaos on the ground and do you think at least for Houston most that the powers back at this point as stance it's you know a huge water problem at this point. But it does seem as if don't worst at least with a sinister she just. Yesterday it was a big day for a lot of power yeah minds since they were slowly. To reconnect neighborhood by neighborhood back into the. Seen coming back online now or is it is a pistol in his state where it's coming back I'm going. At this point we've had power for more than 24 hours we march initially it was partly the outages I don't think it is at this point. Centerpoint. Church street near east and estimates that 40000 current powers. And that's obviously so high it happened over two million. So. I do think they meet significant progress getting people. So. Daniel. Just today it dive right in to what is going on your what is responsible I know what's a little complicated by. From where you sit at your expertise why have these blackouts. Sure so what we really is energy systems crisis that goes beyond. And electric power crisis lows and I think it's it's really hard for people. To recognize that as we're living through the crisis because. Those of us you heat our homes with natural gas still see gas coming to our poems just fine. And yet this is primarily a crisis at the interface a bar. Apart gas and electricity systems politics. Are so mutually vulnerable to each other tips on we have a lot of gas power plants that are that are ready to run and they can't get the consistent got supplied. That they need and so really to peak unexpected feature of the storm was just. How badly. Catholic seized others because rightfully. On gas it's prioritized to heat homes and hospitals and in churches and you know that direct he took power plants go back further in alliance who in the whole system. Seizes up because. So many of the operators going all the way from the drillers to the pipelines to compressors. Aren't able to handle this is very cold weather and and the block outs knocked them out as well. We have this systemic failure that are our biggest source of what city. Goes down there are other components is well we have yet a diversified mix every single one that far. Com source of electricity. Went down with declines at the same time mr. demand. Search record peaks but but the vast majority overwhelming. Cause of this is is really. Coming from the natural gas component if that hadn't happened. We would have had tiny fraction of the blocked. Maggie. Says there's a bit predictable. You know given juror. Research on all of this like are these just. Vulnerabilities that exist in the system and that we we should have known that this could happen. Yes and no I mean this is. Asked to send your weird talking aid cold fronts that news. Will decades that situation and access so I think it's obvious comes down to buy. To what extent and for a while his order. Systems need to eat armed groups to do you know ruling it's kinda diseases or. Minnesota's electoral system is probably not heartened should storm systems. You and Texas would come through. Should it. Texas is not hard to kind of letter did so it's should be. I mean that's the third most legitimate questions. Asked. This past and construction. But army. Texas has had a warnings that whole. And it wasn't necessarily prepared for patents systems. So act and twenty and there are. Huge roar through it costs and some problems and the green controllers are all that you need to makes his need to house news. Protection. System where it's and it extends its. And needed and it did. And in that freeze we had natural gas and wins both. Both go down severely and in their output those are two biggest. Sources of electricity in the state and and and now we got hit by a much more intense are Boston's. And and neither are those providers right. When Dan be curious to your perspective I don't understand mr. consumer taxes you know I realize our grant its independent. But why there isn't cursor. That's in my mind that you. At one point chronicled mr. Courtney. That 5% of the outages. Directly to me she damaged by the storm the storm itself with severe sports and demand listen. I didn't have any energy grocers. And it just seems to be a huge fly insist. It's part it's largely the nature of electricity systems is that electricity systems have to maintain a balance. Every second of every day every year hands. The amount of storage that we have on the greens. Is growing fast but it's from them. And absolutely miniscule base is that we think if there weren't so many of us locked out. This week that demand would heat. Over Stephanie gig wants and we just. Murders are nearing one gate while battery storage. On the grid and batteries don't do well on in the cold and batteries. Are mainly aimed at getting us through a few hours they're not indicating it's through. Several they are lost those storage. Of electricity you know it's getting better but nowhere soon as it is it anywhere close to getting this news. The sort of credit crisis that we had this year. Why is at his house. Is because electricity people and asked me it's high tech. And because we use for all our things. And the reality is that he had written that. Call its design house was supposed to be. There you way. 120. Years. Some of those hearts are still there Ole Anthony you'll eat you ran on Twitter you know. People are being 78 year old arts in. And power systems in the usually people are coming out can fix outages now and that's not uncommon. And you have this situation you these old technology. It is kind of honestly sort of miraculously pulled into as well as it does. I mean net you have people working twenty hour days and isn't he 360. Days year. To make sure that balance between supply and and is almost always. Are perfect. You know how much control that demands high except to Jewish people off. And it still works as well as tons is kind of me. But being to a situation. Us and pensioners might starts going out. There's not you deal. I mean spirited sick get a little bit more to the point here in terms of how people are assigning. Blame essentially. You know. Yes this is a once in multiple decades type freezing as acts also are you have a lot of people aren't being cute the unique nature. Texas'. Energy and so you know taxes as the only state in the country that. Has essentially its own grid it's an islanders' eastern seaboard and editors there were the West Coast red. And then you have Texans reasons covered by our hot and you know it was designed specifically. On thousand island. Bye. Lawmakers in taxes so that it could be deregulated and not comply with the kind of federal regulations that would Clement to play if those lines were crossed. So you know how much of this is the weather's fault vs actual decisions with regard to energy infrastructure and Texas. Being better connected to other parts of the country and having us be less of an Iowa Clinton and building out more transmission what we call it crossed the scenes the scenes that connect. Texas to the eastern US and western US and the connecting east and west to each other. Would help us get review. The majority of our crises. Much better than we do today and it would benefit us in so many different ways. Throughout the year because that would mean that when a hurricane hit it's when a fire pits when when a heat wave hits who'd be able to bring in. Power from other parts parts of the country to keep. Are like song on in this particular crisis. Having that extra transmission. What if it helped as much. As in other crises because we're having this Arctic blast that that is hitting all the states around us is wells they don't have much. Surplus power. To send it but in general. For for summer events it would help them and for being able to. To export our power when it's really windy here and mild weather in the spring and fall we're missing out on the chance. To send clean and cheap power and other states. But what about. Pros and cons. Deregulation. Because from from what I understand part of this is you know disconnecting from the rest of the country so that Texas can he regularly and provide cheaper energy customers but that also means. That. Energy companies are not necessarily help choose the same standards winter is Asian and preparation. That they may be if they had to follow federal guidelines. You'd or how much of that is that here. Hard for me to say. You know that there are efforts that is in the state is trying to regulate had trying to ensure waitress station. You know I think. The way Texas politics work requirement. Two want to keep some of that state oversight. Of our system and I think the state could. Manage things much better than it does today without viscerally nationalized and every aspect of this while having better connectivity while while that are connecting some beacon news. Power in the statins on and I think that that's at least one pocket which are certainly having. More national involvement it is one way but I don't think that's the only way to solve this problem. It's an interesting question. You know having not live to Texas. Stay right here it's infectious. I have never instigate this Procter. It's statehood and tax that's I'm not sure how much. Applies to. Independent power. The politics simply someone former governor Rick Cary saint Texans except longer power outages. To keep the federal government out of there isn't. So sure I don't play out the last of its I think there for excellent fit. No. Now between lot of ways in which Texas. Is really in you know. For instance an Alice household we shall act wind. I don't understand that exact into concede that it doesn't mean only art and a great option. However I think we saw some hostages are free market. In workers weren't people. And then governor. Abbott's response was largely. Hey let's convinced her cart which mice and I don't think. It's are aware that he's and it doesn't work that you know. Regulatory bodies to sonics now when he. And it. I don't know it I think it's increasingly and it lies she year. But it seems a little bit a little. And a twenty. Went on the way here. Twisting track. Two people currently tires it's not. It's not our hot and witness the very weird Texas island situation. That's neither inherently bad. There are it's eerie he's definitely weird and let's some stresses on the system that art Aaron says. But. This should Texas has led an Asian and wind power installations are at last year's. And art that is. They aren't island. Lights. You know prices and pressure on and making it work we're bubbles and build. And out. Accessed. Is would be eight benefit. Chew me. It isn't connected to other places and it's going to be hot in the summer during indeed I'm here. So if there are what is that's there is there is beneficial it is it's not an additional. And it's not even released symbol. It's a symbol it bad guy good situation adds I seen people and try to me. Bets on where. I mean do better job with the system to be cops on. We need to do a better job. As Texans and and tech and Texas leaders in managing. The system ends upon we're not going to be switching to a regulated. Monopoly utility situations like some states tasks we need to be better at managing. A deregulated market or you know having. Regulations get where they're needed but realize that the taxes isn't going to look like. But George it's not to look like some other states in the way we management systems. And every state looks the same communities. And it's important to understand is. You know each state hats to our. DE. You tell us ends. You know it's not a simple thing like. Texas has won her heels. Serie humans and. Although the system is complex and the paramedic facets to this story UC dispute climbing. A national politics story. He to some extent taxes and you know just from watching the media landscape over the past week. It seems that a lot of lawmakers are trying to make it so so I want to address some. Some of the kind of political angles here and it also talk a little bit about. What disaster politics actually looks like to what extent you know people hold public officials accountable. When natural disasters hit. So you know first overall let's talk about. Basically renewable energy. And governor Rick out it went on Fox News earlier this week essentially said that your freezing wind turbines are. Responsible for the crisis that we're seeing and that this is an example of Wyatt the green new deal would eutectic policy to you an act. Pop. What is going on with that argument. On the act of so many red herrings out there so much. Misinformation. And just completely phony and deceptive. Messaging. I've been a big insulated from even keeping track because of living through the crisis that means. Keeping myself and my kids safe through this ends I'm. Dating. Being interviewed by by people like you so much that I haven't been able to to to read the most of the news and I don't have people who watch Fox News anyway so I don't know. Every false narrative without that I know her I've heard several that are. There are some real walkers and yet to the extent that it's. That we try to politicize and and focus on you know what's really the smallest. He saw it then we're not going to be able to to address what we need I think. What I've really been. Been pushing and in the opportunities that had to speak to people and and to write about this is. Is to make sure we see this as as an energy systems issue into and to look at how do we build. The resilience than the other features. That we want our energy systems. To provide for us. Well to what extent is it an issue that renewable energy. You might not be robust an extreme. Whether or circumstances or may be subject to the whims of the wind or declaratory you know whatever it may be like and you just meet. The system passes and keep functioning and editors and rather early this is something that is something that we study directly in our in our search is that we look at us. How can you upon. Build more. These variables clean. Resources. Into a mix and they can't too little and it's how do we build. Really a portfolio of sources this that meets our needs so. I think we're very well awareness. That wind is variable sign it solar is variable it's not windy it's not sunny. All the time one thing that our researchers found is that if you blend. Solar. With winds from different parts of the state and even better we had that transmission to be able to blend. Wins from different parts of the country it's. It's very rare that you're not getting a good amount of supplies from from one of those sources if we blend those as much as possible. Then it's not still going to be a 100% solution but it's. It reduces the cost of reduces the strains. On everything else on whether it's storage whether it's. Natural gas whether its nuclear all those other things that are. There costlier. The more that we can blend our our cheapest and cleanest sources together. The better our overall system. So you know the democratic response here has been something more along the lines you know. This is the inevitable consequence. You regulation you know government needs to step in to make short these kinds. Crises don't happen. In the future also you don't. Pointed to this as an this severe weather. Episode of being an example of climate change and white renewable energy is needed and and so on. Is that argument might. True to the facts of the situation where is that over politicized. I noticed an on the climate change this is this is actually something that I've seen a lot you asked. And it is me. Change we just preface any and say like changes. In climate change does cause. Whether crises. Increasing number crises in many parts of the country including Texas. But the ones that we know what our needs to climate change aren't you instant summer. And the increased. Increased down or even in situations but also attending patents are. The all know. That's. These polar vortex situations are. That is absent any hypothesis. Some scientists have. It's something net being collected some aid it is something scientists are still out and it's our. I want to. She's innocent utter disaster. It may not be something that we actually see increasing. And teacher is not necessarily yet is not in future taxes. And it just yet in Texas. Absolutely and and Maggie isn't as an atmospheric scientist I really appreciate you dispelling some of that myth and some of that alarmist. It's out there and and correcting some of that narrative in that I was actually just. Teaching one and I climate classes a week ago not actor two weeks ago ice before I realized this block is coming where we were looking at its. It climate and packs and hot and both what's happened that's what we're expecting. In the future Houston gets five times fewer. Freezing nights that it to the 1970s. Houston's coldest week of the year on average. It's over seven degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was in nineteen cents or winters in our return nights are actually warming up even faster. That our Summers are and the rest your suit the planet is warming we're warming. It's their theories that it's possible that the changes in jet stream are. Affecting things let's to consider this. This really unusual Arctic blast is being a load there's. Clear indicator of climate change or we're gonna get a lot more of these the future I think. I think is really stretching what science knows and and it more likely than not we're gonna see fewer. And fewer freezing nights overall taste as the world keeps form. I think paint and race is really acts happened in. This current storm hit. Taxes he can't understand. This is something increased. Like the political maneuvering see. All of this means the green new deal. Can't have on your energy taxes like you know when Ter banks you know they're frozen they're explain. It's weird political grandstanding to me in the sense that ants canvassing earlier this has been such a leader in each on that front. It was leading Carrie Anne it's comments as more her. We don't want more federal oversight and regulation and then Biden administration and the green new deal this is what they're going to act. At least they think that was kind of their political calculation summer that I have to saying you can't act again if someone going through this and asking. The last thing retreat one pick up under the state be addressing that point would have flown to know like you know here's an open shelters people and warm and here's what we're doing it Courtney me out. Knots you know here's why degree. And so that was a really interesting. Political maneuver that was playing Fox News and elsewhere and why that became cancer talking point it's a little unclear congress missed. Also just as easily easily disproven. And it's we use pretty normal matter crops and and were also won the toss its Indonesian and power and I assure you Laettner. Here lie. It's yet. And these nonsense snared its aren't even internally consistent minute or even stand up under their own way act try to put together the logic and an aide doesn't fit couple or become a force he you know how is it that you can say. That are created that was expecting to get on two thirds of its peak power. From natural gas. Failed. It failed because of a green new deal that they didn't get a single vote in the senate that they don't like that you deal that hasn't happened. That's. Wind is to blame for natural gas systems failing. I can't even. Make sense of the narrative I. Follow. And you see threads from. From some. The Republican congressman from taxes and you put one next the other but how can you go from from this week he wrote two minutes ago to think that has anything. Consistent with the with this other one and you know I don't know to the extent to which voters see through an unexpected Texans you know. Shivering ends and dealing with this crisis let it it might not mean is is the thing they must want to hear these these really. Bunkers and and phony narratives the problem. Yet let's get to that point specifically Sarah. What do we know about where you can tell me what you know from talking to added people in your community about how people are acting. But also in an academic sends what do we know about how voters respond to crises like this where it's. One you know we we discuss the different nuances Europe where. Or responsibility lies and theater that of course this is a natural disaster who. There's some political decision making people's in the run up and in the response. So how to voters respondents situation. That's quest act. This is gonna sound of little counter intuitive that really speaking. To situation. Actually creator public trust in government officials each. I think the key exception. Is the way in which. Texas as a state sale cheek turn the power quickly enough to distressed he saw something similar play out. Analyst Katrina not hit Louisiana. In 2005. Governor Kathleen Blanco at the time received a lot of criticism in addition to President Bush how they urged that situation. They delayed in the vacuum for its. Lincoln was slow to accept federal assistance. Crystal real question to improvements to actually blame how much that was bush and his administration. How much of that was to Louisiana. Agent on the ground. Both politicians. Bush and laying out how significant. Simple bush of course is in his second turns partly tore precautions. But for someone like blink. When she was looking at running again decided not to Kaiser poll says of course Hurricane Rita came shortly there after Katrina which doubled down and you know. 80% nor its one point potter. I shut he says and aside from. I remember Katrina so well because currently. Can she did not answer it then but Jindal who she defeated previously. You know why it went on her to turn its and a and what we see time and weekend. Is that these disasters are often in real significant Toro repercussion we're politician. And they are punished at the power box but by the same token. Okay. Governor rapid ascent let's investigate air cop pictures that happens again. Voters don't reward politicians for taking preventative straight answer there's kind of an and that crude. Cops you know benefit analysis of what they should do. They're actually better the single a lot of money into how response to crisis Ers is trying to prevent it from happening again. Which is really discouraging news rethink. How we actually long term fix these problems that seem content here. I. Ultimately this year and we're talking it a lot to disasters. Required. Long term recede in the past. Events and Beers and you're talking about. Long and investments. And out. Here. Four wildfires. More. Structured. Or. Restructured. Its. Despite offered protection. The longer stranger could return. To suggest. Tests for her pension trustees which. Yes I am by no means of political pundits that apple is that one. One data point to the conversation is this an engineer and professor I've gotten. More questions about icicles on winter played spent about all the rest of the crisis. Bob is from from people in the community may even worse and journalists speak to humans. That political narrative in the east to the extent that that we're talking about. One of the tiniest pieces of the crises that that political you know. Nissen for it is ponying aired its. Are getting through to some. Pretty educate people that there are questions. Sarah you said that essentially. If the government is seen as mishandling a response to. Crisis there can be repercussions but at the same time that you know governments can also be awarded by the mattress that they take it spending a lot of money or doing investigations. After you know crises happen. And then MacKey of course you said that there aren't you know the incentives aren't there to actually fix the problem on the front end the political actors are art effects on the packet. In this moment what we see as as. Which one of those lessons. How are those lessons apply to Vista to reach. Does it seem like there's going to be a political backlash in Texas. Well attack crews flying to Cancun situation overshadow some of this and create a backlash or hot putter we see that the different incentives and dynamics that you all described as playing out in this are. It has come to his being. Is that people will get the coming. Political kids act Texas is now. Uniquely backwards and its electricity system and the interstates passions. High. And that's not really how are under an actor and it is. You know they're our. Your massive Lee and he I praise and it's actor. EG EG electorate and getting prepared should be workers' union her parents used it more power hour. And half those things being useful to us there's tons. Parts need to be ice and new parts need to be added and that's true. And east political narrative comes down chew. It once. Let the powers that and it is acting like. You know Texas politics is bad. We didn't lose the incentive to do anything out. This bigger problem that is his problem. Enter some political questions and do you think. Cruz story that some sensational he boards a plane to fly to Cancun and arraignments. And is going to dominates the headlines Portis more than me summer. Actions. I do think it's an editor at pairing. Cruise isn't immediately for reelection. Avant is and 20/20 two you know again who knows we're better work so openly considering a governor's. But he was making circuits on keep news to say. Hey Abbott's response has been unacceptable. The way in which Republican legislatures. And Texas are handling this is not acceptable. And silly to think you know particularly if we look back Katrina again inside the response mechanisms and understanding to what happened in new. Katrina the tackle much cards close to 2000. We don't know beautiful accent in cherry axis. I'm optimistic it's much color. But you know in the immediate wake of the crisis with more than four million Texans. Without power at that isn't saying here's where it accurately here's time working with the administration. Houston is calling for an investigation. For air and I don't know how much that really was Anthony Texans particular interest here collar city whose only the strong. Which is just like. Again state credit high but I don't think that was the messaging. That people want me to each factory. And wondering how he and his instinct is there in oh. So until her carbon monoxide poisoning people taking really desperate and six masters. To the war because their march well advertised. Shelters in place people. Instead a lot of emphasis on texas'. Are well let's leave it there thank you Sarah MacKey and each day and think here. Jasper shirt stay safe. An ever on a Texas State's safe and also in the surrounding states they are still significant power outages in. We Vienna and Mississippi then and there could be more as the storm. News for east and north but that's it for today my name is dale hunter Tony chow is in the virtual control room cleared editor Curtis has our audio editing. In get a touch right emailing us at podcast at 530 dot com tunnels of course greeted us with any questions or comments. If your fan of the show leave as a rating review apple podcast or. Worked also what about us expert listening and we Wilson's. Yeah. I.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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