This editorial first appeared in the Houston Chronicle. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Maybe your busted pipe is fixed by now. Perhaps the petrified sago palm has been repurposed into mulch. Maybe the memories of those shivering nights under layers of blankets, boiling snow to flush the toilets and waiting in long grocery store lines for rationed bottled water are themselves becoming frozen in time.
A month after a winter storm brought Texas’ vulnerable power grid to its trembling knees, leaving 4 million without electricity, most of us are getting on with our lives.
But at least 57 of our fellow Texans can’t say the same.
They lost their lives as a direct result of the storm, according to preliminary data released this past week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Harris County had the greatest number of deaths by far: 25.
Most of the deaths were associated with hypothermia. In ordinary terms: They froze to death, some in their beds like an 11-year-old boy in Conroe.
Others died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they tried to keep warm in a running car in the garage or when they burned an outdoor grill indoors out of desperation.
Still others died of “medical equipment failure” when their last oxygen tank ran empty. Others of falls.
Some of fire, as in the case of three children and their grandmother in Sugar Land — all killed in a blaze that may have started near the fireplace they had used to keep warm.
Their mother, Jackie Pham Nguyen, who had to be physically restrained from going back into the house to save them, described her children to CNN as “phenomenal, amazing, little badass humans.”
We may never know how many phenomenal, amazing, badass humans Texas lost because of a government failure that was entirely foreseeable, entirely forewarned, entirely preventable.
The finger-pointing continues in Austin, at Gov. Greg Abbott, at his political appointees on the Public Utility Commission, at the power grid operator ERCOT, at the frozen wellheads and wind turbines, at lawmakers who created a system that encourages industry to bathe in windfall profits at the very moment when a life-and-death crisis is at its most desperate peak.
Some political opportunists are even attempting to use the tragedy to score partisan points by blaming renewable energy.
All the noise — the din of legislative hearings, the pandering press releases, the grandstanding on Fox News — must never drown out the loss so many Texas families have suffered.
Instead, the loss must infuse every debate with purpose, steer every lawmaker toward the right decision rather than the expedient or politically popular one.
We cannot let our elected leaders forget what is at stake in these debates. What has already been lost due to their refusal to put our safety before industry profits. What future catastrophe is possible if they fail, yet again, to fix the problems.
So, yes, the messy reckoning and hashing of technical issues we’re seeing in the Texas Legislature is needed. Yes, Abbott is right to call for weatherization of power plants. Yes, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is right to demand that astronomical power prices kept in place too long during the crisis be retroactively re-priced.
But no, there is no room for gamesmanship or egos or greed to blur the mission.
Texans must come first, finally, even for Abbott, whose tens of millions in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry have fueled his political rise.
The governor, lieutenant governor and lawmakers must never forget what happened the last time they failed.
Should they need a reminder, they have 57.