President Joe Biden arrived in Houston on Friday afternoon to survey the aftermath of last week’s winter storms and the statewide grid collapse that left millions of Texans without power and heat in sub-zero weather.
Gov. Greg Abbott, playing chaperone as the new president visits the state’s largest COVID-19 vaccination “super site,” will press for him to add more counties to the major disaster declaration issued a week ago as Texas began to recover from a disaster both natural and manmade. On Friday morning, 18 more counties were added to the declaration by the Biden administration.
So far, 126 of the state’s 254 counties are on the list.
Demands are growing in Washington to end Texas’ independence from the national power grid, a decades-long tradition that has kept federal regulators at bay.
Those cries may grow louder as Texans presses for more aid, particularly if state leaders try to get federal taxpayers to subsidize retrofits of gas lines, power plants and wind turbines. Federal regulators urged such weatherization a decade ago but lacked the authority to enforce the suggestion.
Sen. John Cornyn, who will join Biden and Abbott in Houston, is proposing federal grants to help weatherize the Texas grid, a project that could cost tens of millions.
Aides to Sen. Ted Cruz said the White House did not invite him, though Cruz was already scheduled to be in Orlando to address the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday morning. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there was neither an invitation, nor a request from Cruz, to join the president.
Biden has steered well clear of the finger pointing triggered by the grid collapse, and aides were adamant that he will bring only empathy and reassurance that help is coming, while refraining from lectures about the wisdom of Texas’ ardor for deregulation.
Homeland Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, briefing reporters on Air Force One, said the administration wants to find ways to incentivize Texas to retrofit its grid but declined to elaborate. Given that Texas has made a decision over the years to maintain an “autonomous grid… the question now going forward is whether the state of Texas decides that it wants to move in the direction of bringing more resilience on its own system.”
“We look forward to meeting with Governor Abbott and other state and local leaders to learn more about the recovery situation on the ground, and what more we can do to help,” Sherwood-Randall said. “As you know, the President directed us to rapidly mobilize as many federal resources as possible to assist Texas’ recovery efforts, along with recovery efforts in the other states that were affected by the severe winter storm improperly.”
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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News, Todd J. Gilman