In a Rush To Ban Vaccine Passports, Texas Is Violating Private Property Rights

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has positioned himself as more than a Republican, but as a true conservative. It was with that framing that the leader of the Lone Star State signed a law to ban private businesses from setting their own terms of service when it comes to helping customers.

“Texas is open 100 percent,” Abbott said in a clip posted to Twitter. “And we want to make sure that you have the freedom to go where you want without limits.”

He will not extend that same freedom of association to individual actors who have their own enterprises. “The Texas legislature passed a law that I am about to sign that prohibits vaccine passports in Texas,” he added. “No business or government entity can require a person to provide a vaccine passport, or any other vaccine information, as a condition of receiving any service, or entering any place.””

“The Texas bill “violates private property rights,” says Timothy Sandefur, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute. “The longstanding legal tradition has always been that businesses owe an obligation to protect their customers’ safety, at least to some basic extent, and this law comes along and says, not only are they not free to make that choice, but they’re prohibited from doing so.”

The legislation uses several different state levers to strong-arm businesses into compliance. It weaponizes governmental occupational licensing requirements—something Abbott has rightly railed against in other contexts—and threatens to withhold “a license, permit, or other state authorization necessary for conducting business in this state” should a company run afoul of the law.

Perhaps more notably, it also precludes any entity that disobeys from “receiv[ing] a grant or enter[ing] into a contract payable with state funds.”

Yet it was Abbott who applied the exact opposite justification when he (again, rightly) signed a law that allowed taxpayer-funded faith-based adoption agencies to operate within their belief systems when pairing children with prospective parents. The difference here: One comports with his personal values, and the other—vaccine verification—does not.”

“”It cannot be rationally justified,” adds Sandefur. “It’s simply a matter of people saying that the government shouldn’t force people to do things they don’t like and should force people to do things they do like. It’s totally inconsistent, and a violation of basic property rights and constitutional law.””

The 185-year-old Battle That Still Dominates Texas Politics

“After pledging to become loyal Mexicans and devout Catholics, the American immigrants to Texas realized it was a hardscrabble place where the only cash crops were sugarcane and cotton; they wanted slaves for those fields. “Texas,” wrote Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas, “shall be a slave nation!”

Yet slavery was illegal in Mexico. The American immigrants rebelled, driving the Mexican Army out of San Antonio in the fall of 1835. Mexico City faced multiple revolts and couldn’t afford for the nation to simply break apart so soon after independence. Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, nicknamed the “Napoleon of the West” in the English-speaking world and “the Eagle” in Mexico, marched north to put down the rebellion.

Even at the time, the Alamo’s military importance was dubious. Sam Houston, the other father of Texas, wanted it destroyed and the position abandoned altogether. But in a foolhardy bit of gallantry, he was ignored, and the siege began. A young commander inside the Alamo tried to surrender, but with conditions; Santa Anna rejected the offer. Thirteen days of siege and bombardment later, and after a relatively brief three hours of hand-to-hand combat, the 1,500-man Mexican force had wiped out the remnant of about 200 Texas rebels. The seven survivors were executed on Santa Anna’s orders.”

“Chris Tomlinson, co-author of a forthcoming book on the subject. Entitled Forget the Alamo, it will be the 600th book on the subject, according to the Library of Congress. He is withering in his recasting of the narrative. “Everything about the Alamo is a lie.”

Among Tomlinson’s rebuttals: Slavery fueled not a revolution but a land grab. The Alamo was a blunder; it was supposed to be destroyed and abandoned. Travis was an amateur. Davy Crockett’s legendary toughness crumbled like a facade; he begged for his life when he was captured. The battle didn’t slow the Mexican march east. And ultimately, it was U.S. Army artillery, secretly deployed from Louisiana, that finally won Texas its independence at the battle of San Jacinto.”

Texas Republicans want Biden to play the villain. They just need to make it stick.

“The state, which has no income tax, pulls about a third of its budget from the federal government, a higher share than many other states, he said. That’s partly due to agricultural assistance and federal aid disbursed after natural disasters, but also because Texas has a large share of enrollees in entitlement programs like Medicaid.”

The Texas Bill That Prohibits Social Media Censorship Is a Mess

“Many Republican legislators at both the state and national level are profoundly misguided about Section 230. They seem to think it’s getting in the way of conservatives’ free speech rights when in reality it gives Big Tech additional legal cover for continuing to platform right-wing speech. Legislation aimed at hurting social media companies will ultimately end up hurting the kinds of speech that have flourished on Facebook and Twitter but would not have been published in mainstream media outlets.

If anything, that’s disproportionately likely to be right-wing speech.”

Why every state is vulnerable to a Texas-style power crisis

“It’s not yet clear how many Texans died amid the cold, but several people died after they lost power, including an 11-year-old boy. Others died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they burned fuel indoors or ran their cars in desperate attempts to stay warm. Millions lost drinking water for days.

The blackouts cost the state economy upward of $130 billion in damages and losses, and some people who did have power saw their bills spike by thousands of dollars. Grid operators say that the situation could actually have been a lot worse, with the system minutes away from a monthslong blackout.

Texas politicians have not earned much sympathy from the ordeal. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz derided California’s “failed energy policies” when the Golden State suffered blackouts last year. Gov. Greg Abbott went on television to erroneously link the power outages to the Green New Deal. Other Texas politicos blamed iced-up wind turbines for the electricity shortfall when the majority of the power losses were from natural gas.

But this was a disaster that Texas should have seen coming. The state’s power grid has been creaking for years with underinvestment, despite previous winter outages, including one in 1989 and one in 2011 under very similar circumstances. And since 2011, the Texas population has grown by more than 4 million people to nearly 30 million residents, further increasing energy demand.”

“By now, the factors behind the Texas winter blackout are well-established: The coldest temperatures in 30 years triggered a sudden spike in wintertime energy demand, while the chilly weather led to coal piles freezing, a nuclear reactor tripping offline, and wind turbines icing up. Most importantly, the state’s largest source of electricity, natural gas, suffered shortfalls as wellheads froze, icy condensation blocked pipelines, and compressor stations shut down.

Much of the remaining gas was prioritized for heating rather than electricity. In total, about 34,000 megawatts of power generation shut down, more than 40 percent of peak winter demand.

Faced with such huge a mismatch between supply and demand, grid operators initiated blackouts to relieve the grid in the hope of staving off even more outages.”

“The Texas Public Utility Commission did issue guidance for making the state’s power grid more resilient to extreme weather, including severe cold, but the guidelines were voluntary and largely ignored.

Another issue for Texas is that the state’s electricity system is deregulated and almost entirely market-driven, unlike other states that have more specific rules about how the system should be run. In Texas, retail utilities buy electricity from power providers — companies that operate power plants — at fluctuating prices based on supply and demand and then sell them to customers.

The idea was that this would allow the power system to self-regulate and self-optimize while providing lower energy prices than a more regulated market. Periods of high electricity prices would spur generators to put more electrons on the grid and vice versa.

In practice, what this system meant was that when wind and solar power were abundant, they could undercut other power generators in price since wind and solar have no fuel cost and very low operating costs. Coal, nuclear, and gas power plants were then pushed to recoup their operating costs during periods of higher energy demand while also competing with each other, narrowing the windows where they could operate profitably. That left little incentive to build up extra electricity production capacity to deal with unexpected demand spikes or supply shortfalls.

“In fact, the incentives direct you to remove capacity from the market,” Hirs said. “If I add capacity to the market, I’m ensuring lower prices.”

The system worked when energy supply and demand followed predictable patterns. But when it deviated, like it did during Winter Storm Uri, it led to outages. As for customers, they ended up paying more. According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, Texas residential electricity customers under deregulated utilities paid $28 billion more than they would have under electricity rates charged by conventional regulated utilities in the state.

So the promise of greater reliability and lower costs did not materialize for millions of Texans under the state’s free-for-all, go-it-alone energy system. “This is a collision of naïve idealism and the real world,” Hirs said. ”

“While the Texas grid is unique in many respects, the problem of underinvestment in energy infrastructure is all too common throughout the US. Much of the power grid was built decades ago. In addition to the wear and tear that comes with age, the power grid is stressed by a growing population and its rising energy demands.”

“The broader problem is that every power system struggles to make the case to spend money on things that may never be used. The costs are upfront but the benefits are far away and theoretical. And that case doesn’t just have to be made to regulators, but to consumers.”

“Just like a blackout isn’t the result of any single point of failure, protecting the grid against them demands more than any single solution.

Faced with the prospect of more outages, there are a number of technical fixes: More energy storage, distributed power generation, interconnections across the major power grids, greater redundancy, microgrids, demand response, increasing energy efficiency, and hardening infrastructure.

But these things all cost money or eat into the margins of existing utilities. Trying to completely avoid all types of blackouts and grid disruptions stands to be prohibitively expensive, so part of the solution will also be managing failures and learning to bounce back after an outage.”

“It’s after the storm that’s the hardest part”: 390,000 Texans still don’t have clean water

“At the height of the water crisis on February 19, nearly 15 million people across Texas lost access to clean water, according to Gary Rasp, a spokesperson for TCEQ. This number reflects the problems that occurred in the water system itself, rather than in people’s homes.”

“As the storm hit, the rapidly escalating blackout on February 15 forced water treatment plants offline. At the same time, the freezing temperatures broke water mains and people started to turn on their faucets to prevent their pipes from freezing.

Due to the combination of a drop in supply from treatment plants failing and the increase in water demand from dripping faucets and leaks, the pressure dropped in the system.

A loss in pressure can lead to dangerous bacteria in the water supply, so millions of people were told to boil their water before drinking or cooking with it. Of course, this was an impossibility for those who were also hit by the power outage and lacked electricity to power their stove.

The winter storm didn’t just cause water issues in Texas. From Oklahoma City to Jackson, Mississippi, hundreds of thousands of people also faced water shortages due to dropping water pressure.”

“in some cases, residents have been without water for weeks because of a confluence of failures.”

“Rebecca Sanchez told Vox that many of the residents in her apartment complex, the Hillside Villas, have been left without any running water for two weeks after pipes burst. Repairs have been slow, and Sanchez said the property managers have failed to provide adequate emergency water supplies in the interim.”

““We underinvest in maintenance to such a degree that these disasters tend to be pretty catastrophic,” she said. The failure of infrastructure is still being felt by the 390,000 people boiling their water in Texas today, and the nearly 2,000 people whose utilities were still not delivering water at all as of Friday, according to TCEQ.
“Adapting to extreme events and adapting to climate change is going to make all of this harder, but that’s not the only thing that is a problem,” Grubert said. “What we are really starting to have to face is this kind of combined issue where we have failed to invest in these systems for a very long time, and now we are also playing on hard mode.””

The Texas Blackout Is the Story of a Disaster Foretold

“it wasn’t as if those running the Texas energy system’s various fiefdoms—the grid, the power plants, the natural gas–production facilities—hadn’t been warned about the dangers of severe weather. Hell may not freeze over, but history suggests that Texas’s energy system does—and with some frequency. In 1989, in 2003, and in 2011, the state experienced, to varying degrees, simultaneous shutdowns of power plants and parts of its natural gas–producing infrastructure, as significant swaths of both of those critical systems were incapacitated by arctic temperatures, triggering blackouts.

The frigid weather during the first four days of February 2011 knocked off enough power generation throughout ERCOT—about 29,000 megawatts of capacity—that ERCOT initiated blackouts affecting about 3.2 million customers, according to a voluminous postmortem of the failure produced in August 2011 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. That report suggested the state add teeth to its effort to gird its energy infrastructure for wintry weather. Among its policy recommendations was that in states in the Southwest, including Texas, legislatures require power companies to submit winterization plans and give their public-utility commissions the authority to require senior executives of power companies to sign off on those plans and the authority “to impose penalties for non-compliance.” Magness, the ERCOT chief, said that in the wake of the 2011 report he and others met with Texas power generators to suggest that they better winterize their facilities. He was asking, not telling. “It wasn’t a conversation like, `I’m your regulator and you have to do this,’” he recalled. “It was sharing those best practices.””

“Under the deregulation scheme passed by the Legislature more than two decades ago, Texas has a market design that allows generators to make money only by selling juice—not for investing in equipment that could help produce extra power in the event of an emergency. Critics contend that this approach, part and parcel of Texas’s aversion to regulation, makes the state’s energy system less reliable, even as it boosts profits for some market participants. Based on their biographies on the ERCOT website, at least eleven of the fifteen ERCOT board members have current or prior ties to the energy industry.”

“Texas lawmakers, as they investigate what went wrong this past week, ought to explore weatherization mandates.”

“better weatherizing power infrastructure, like inducing electricity producers to invest in extra generating capacity, likely would raise Texans’s electricity rates. “Is it worth the cost to consumers?” he asked. I asked him if ERCOT had any answer to that question. “I am not aware,” he said, “that we have ever conducted a real cost-benefit analysis on that topic.””

“the electricity blackout and frozen pipes in Texas had significantly curtailed the state’s production of oil and natural gas. IHS estimated that nearly 20 percent of natural-gas production, and perhaps an equal or greater percentage of oil production, in the continental U.S. in the first half of February had been shut in—and that the Permian Basin, the big oil-producing region that sits largely in West Texas, accounted for the biggest share of that production drop.
A couple of hours later, the governor, who earlier in the week had called for top ERCOT leaders to resign, issued an announcement. Years after Texas officials had been advised to do so, Abbott said he would ask the Legislature to mandate the winterization of power plants across the state—and to “ensure the necessary funding” for it.”

Why the Texas power grid is struggling to cope with the extreme cold

“For residents of the Lone Star State, the problem stems from both a record spike in electricity demand in a place that rarely gets this cold, as well as an unexpected drop in the supply of energy from natural gas, coal, wind, nuclear, and solar sources besieged by cold and ice.

This combination of shortfalls has forced power grid operators to conduct rolling blackouts, where power is shut off to different areas for a limited period of time. Local utilities are asking customers to conserve power and set their thermostats lower. For some customers, these blackouts aren’t rolling, instead stretching on for an unknown duration. On Tuesday afternoon, grid operators told Texas legislators that outages could last for days and that they weren’t sure when the power outages would end.”

“Ordinarily, ERCOT plans for winter to be much warmer and anticipates a lower energy demand. Power providers often schedule downtime and maintenance during the winter months to prepare for the massive annual surge in electricity demand in the hot Texas summer. The state’s ample wind and solar energy resources are also diminished in the winter, so ERCOT doesn’t depend on them to meet much of the demand they anticipate.

However, the cold itself posed a direct challenge to the power sources that the state was counting on. Wind turbines iced up. Coal piles froze.

The biggest shortfall in energy production stemmed from natural gas. Gas pipelines were blocked with ice or their compressors lost power. Much of the gas that was available was prioritized for heating homes and businesses rather than generating electricity. That’s helpful for people who use gas for heating but less so for those who use electric furnaces.”

“The Texas blackouts may also be a symptom of a lack of proper upkeep. “The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the department of economics at the University of Houston, told the Houston Chronicle. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.””