from the frozen-to-death-surcharge dept
If you hadn’t noticed, the United States isn’t really prepared for climate change. In part because corporations and disinformation mills have convinced countless Americans a destabilizing climate isn’t actually happening. But also because we were already perpetually underinvesting in our core infrastructure before the symptoms of an unstable climate began to manifest. It’s a massive problem that, as John Oliver highlighted six years ago, doesn’t get the same attention as other pressing issues of the day. You know, like the latest influencer drama or the mortal threat posed by TikTok.
Infrastructure policy is treated as annoying and boring… until a crisis hits and suddenly everybody cares. As millions of Texans found out earlier this year when the state’s energy infrastructure crumbled like a rotten old house under the weight of heating energy demands, leaving millions without power during a major cold snap. While the state engaged in a lot of performative nonsense in the wake of the breakdown, nothing much changed. Most of the state laws passed to “fix” the problem just punted any meaningful action down the road, while carving out big exemptions for natural gas companies that helped write the laws.
Fast forward nine months and the natural gas companies that refused to upgrade and weather proof their infrastructure, still largely haven’t done so. What have they done? Well, recently they decided to hit Texas natural gas customers with a major and obnoxious new $3.4 billion surcharge with the blessing of state regulators:
“Texans will be paying for the effects of last February?s cold snap for decades to come, as the state?s oil and gas regulator approved a plan for natural gas utilities to recover $3.4 billion in debt they incurred during the storm. The regulator, the Railroad Commission, is allowing utilities to issue bonds to cover the debt. As a result, ratepayers could see an increase in their bills for the next 30 years.
So not only did Texas regulators not hold local energy utilities and frackers accountable for not weather proofing their infrastructure after decades of warnings, they’re happily signing off on a plan to let them punish consumers for their own incompetence. The dysfunction runs parallel with similar dysfunction in the telecom sector, where companies routinely fail to adequately invest in their networks, yet still somehow punish their captive customers and taxpayers with the blessing of local regulators who rarely hold them accountable for anything. The big difference of course: a broadband outage (usually) won’t kill you.
Granted the dysfunction in Texas doesn’t just impact Texans. The regulatory corruption and incompetence has a ripple effect on things like natural gas prices, which impacts users in other states as well, as Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, told The Washington Post back in April:
“The ineptness and disregard for common-sense utility regulation in Texas makes my blood boil and keeps me up at night,? Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, said in an interview. ?It is maddening and outrageous and completely inexcusable that Texas?s lack of sound utility regulation is having this impact on the rest of the country.”
This kind of infrastructure corruption and dysfunction is nothing new (again, just look at US telecom, rail travel, or countless other sectors). But climate change is one arena where state/federal corruption and our propaganda problem has congealed into something particularly nasty. It’s not clear how many mass-fatality events we have to live through before we embrace meaningful corruption, lobbying, and regulatory reform, but it’s apparently going to be a significant number, as America remains utterly allergic to learning anything from history or experience.