Coronavirus

'Bad Public Policy Decisions' Haunt Texas with Slowed Vaccine Distribution and Power Outages

Texas has been buckling under the weight of snowstorms.
Texas has been buckling under the weight of snowstorms. Photo by Jeffrey Blum on Unsplash
Looks like the pandemic has officially descended into the ninth circle of hell.

This week, record-low temperatures have decimated the state’s energy grid, resulting in extended rolling power outages and jam-packed shelters across North Texas. The winter storm has also complicated coronavirus vaccine distribution, a process already laden with confusion.

As a result, North Texas will be around 200,000 doses behind schedule in the region’s vaccine distribution plan, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. Around 22,000 of that total comes from Dallas’ Fair Park site alone.

Both the current and previous governors had the option to winterize the state’s electric generating plant equipment but opted against it, Jenkins said. Leadership should have done more to protect Texans in these predictable events.

“Bad public policy decisions eventually lead to very bad outcomes, and you’re seeing that now,” Jenkins said. “And you may see it again if there’s not a large enough public outcry to actually do something about this.”

The coronavirus laid bare inequities in the social system with poor people and people of color being disproportionately hit. Now, the 2021 winter storm has compounded the underlying crisis.

Because of the power outages and unsafe roads, those who were next in line to receive a vaccine now must wait a little longer, Jenkins said. Each day that passes, thousands more must postpone getting their second shot.

The county likely won’t be able to resume vaccinating until Thursday or Friday, Jenkins said, but workers will scramble to catch up. Luckily, the winter storm hasn’t affected storage for the coronavirus vaccine, which must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures.

Although the weather is out of officials’ control, their preparedness to handle the crisis isn’t, Jenkins said. Around 90% of the problem is a result of poor public policy decisions that can’t be amended amid the ongoing snowstorm.

Jenkins said elected officials previously decided to allow companies to bury gas lines at a shallow depth, making them more prone to freezing. They also opted to use less freeze-resistant materials.

"Bad public policy decisions eventually lead to very bad outcomes, and you’re seeing that now." – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins

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It may have saved money for large commercial customers in the short-term, but Texans are now facing the consequences, he said.

“I think we all can agree that low price is good,” Jenkins said. “But … they needed to spend a little bit on quality in the system to protect residences in these predictable events.”

Many residents have demanded answers from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages Texas’ energy grid. Some were quick to point out the state is the only one to have its own grid, largely because officials wanted to avoid federal regulation.

The Democratic Socialists of America, for instance, raked ERCOT over the coals for leaving 4 million without power in a “completely avoidable energy crisis.” Meanwhile, “empty offices burn energy in the big city downtowns,” DSA wrote in a Facebook post.

The deregulated #Texas energy grid and Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a 501(c)4 entity with board members from...

Posted by Democratic Socialists of America on Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Some North Texans also suggested that the outages seem to disproportionately hit certain neighborhoods. Tuesday afternoon, “Highland Park" was trending on Twitter, in reference to the wealthy Dallas suburb.

Early Tuesday morning, Dallas Observer contributor Steven Monacelli said in a tweet that there should be an investigation into why Highland Park and Preston Hollow haven’t been hit by rolling outages. Commercial downtown buildings remained ablaze while certain city pockets dragged on without power the entire day, he added.

Twitter user @OfficialCGRiley also posted a video showing the well-lit homes on a Highland Park block. But some challenged the idea that richer neighborhoods were receiving preferential treatment, with one Highland Park resident claiming she hadn’t had power for 24 hours. (Officials have said that neighborhoods near hospitals and other emergency services are less likely to face outages.)
The state’s leadership is fielding flak from critics, with Gov. Greg Abbott taking the brunt of the blame. As the state entered the energy crisis on Sunday, Abbott tweeted about stopping cities from defunding the police — a move that many condemned as being tone-deaf during a time when constituents were suffering.

Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also critiqued for not acknowledging the crisis sooner. Some chastised the senator for an August tweet in which he slammed California for promoting energy conservation during a heatwave.

Cruz ended his tweet with a snarky jab: “Hope you don’t like air conditioning!”

Tuesday, user @johnculotta responded in kind.

“Hope you don’t like heaters…” he wrote.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter