If it were possible for a human being to physically climb into bed with an industry, Texas attorney general hopeful Barry Smitherman would be under the covers with oil and gas interests in a nanosecond. He has more than proved his ardor during nearly a decade as an energy regulator, first as chairman of the Public Utility Commission, then in his current role as chairman of the Railroad Commission.
In case there were any doubt, Smitherman put them to rest during an hour-long interview this week with Arlington's Lone Star Tea Party. His praise for the industry, mostly unsolicited, was effusive. Even when the interviewer queried him about Common Core, the federally backed education curriculum currently the subject of innumerable Tea Party conspiracy theories, he steered the discussion back to his favorite topic.
"I was not following this issue previously until a mom down in Corpus Christi showed me a a lesson plan that said 'Fossil fuels are bad because ...' and then you filled in the blank," he said. "And the child filled in 'because they pollute and are not renewable' and that was the right answer! And as I delved into this more and more, I began to see a curriculum on energy that was completely biased against fossil fuels -- this is in Texas! In Texas public schools, talking about the fact that oil and coal and gas pollute!"
Clearly outrageous, just like the notion of global warming. "Now they call it 'climate change,' because the earth is not warming," he quipped. "In fact, up here in North Texas, we know the earth is not warming: it's been bitterly cold the past four or five days."
Speaking of the recent cold spell, remember how Texas avoided the rolling blackouts everyone was afraid of? You apparently have Barry Smitherman to thank for that.
"I was really pleased that we were able to keep the plants operating through this cold spell because we required a couple of years ago our power plants to do more to prepare for cold weather, to insulate the pipes, and insulate the sensitive wiring areas so that if we got another cold front like we had [in 2011] we would not lose power," he said. "It turned out that we kept the lights on and it's worked very well."
What Smitherman is referring to is a set of winter-preparedness guidelines developed by power generators in the wake of the rolling blackouts of February 2011. Those guidelines were developed at the behest of the PUC, which Smitherman chaired at the time.
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Smitherman's claim that the new standards ensured generating capacity stayed online is plausible, even if the circumstances in the recent cold spell were too complex to give them full credit for averting rolling blackouts.
The other question, then, is how significant Smitherman's role was in developing those standards. He certainly played a role, but given the massive amounts of cash power generators lost from being caught with their pants down in 2011, they had every incentive to improve winter-weather preparedness. Logic suggests they would have upgraded their procedures regardless of whether the PUC involved itself.
We'll rate Smitherman's claim as half-true.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.