The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Insane GOP lies about Texas offer a depressing preview of coming climate debates

Pump jacks operate in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas on Feb. 13. (Matthew Busch/Bloomberg)

You might think of Texas as a conservative state, one where every statewide elected official is a Republican, the GOP controls the state legislature, and the last Democratic governor left office 26 years ago.

But if you’re a Fox News viewer, you have now learned that while no one was looking, hippies took over Texas and implemented the Green New Deal there, leading to the power outages that affected over four million people in the wake of a terrible snowstorm.

This is one of the most bonkers propaganda campaigns you’ll ever see, and though it’s centered on Fox it extends far beyond it. The purpose is to spin the tragic story unfolding in Texas into a reason to hate and fear liberal policy ideas which have absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening there.

This, as the saying goes, is why we can’t have nice things — like a well-designed and reliable power grid. It’s a disturbing preview of the miserable debates we’ll have over restoring our infrastructure and dealing with climate change, as Democrats try to confront those problems and Republicans try to stop them from doing so.

So what happened in Texas? What it comes down to is that the state’s power system is not built for cold weather, and when the snowstorm hit, not only did demand spike but large portions of the generating system went offline. Natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants were all crippled by frozen instruments and pipes, and some wind turbines froze.

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“We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multiday event,” said one official.

But, importantly, natural gas provides the largest portion of Texas’ power, and that’s where the biggest problem was. As the Texas Tribune reported:

Officials for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages most of Texas’ grid, said the primary cause of the outages Tuesday appeared to be the state’s natural gas providers.

What are the policy implications of this event? The most direct one is that we need to modernize our power grid to enable it to handle severe weather and demand spikes — something experts have been saying for years.

But that wasn’t good enough for those in the conservative propaganda machine, which swung into action to blame everything on diabolical liberals shoving wind power down everyone’s throat. Here’s a taste of the lunacy being poured into the eyeballs of Fox’s audience:

And it’s not just Fox. The far-right Wall Street Journal editorial board penned an editorial blaming the Texas outages on renewable energy. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) acknowledged that the failures ran across all the different types of energy Texas uses, then bizarrely concluded, “Bottom line: Thank God for baseload energy made up of fossil fuels.”

It’s as if you choked on a piece of steak, and I told you, “That’s why you can’t trust all those hippies who forced you to eat kale!”

And lest anyone be tempted to engage in any mindless bothsidesism, Democrats are most certainly not responding to the events in Texas by saying it shows why we need more renewable energy. Their response is focused on what’s actually happening and why. They’re arguing that we need to examine the weaknesses in our electrical grids — both the one in Texas and the national grid — and modernize them to make blackouts less likely in the future.

Which is how a sane polity reacts to crises: You examine what happened, determine the lessons that can be learned, and apply that knowledge to build policy solutions.

Unfortunately, Republicans are utterly unwilling to engage in anything resembling a reasoned policy debate, both because in most cases they know they’d lose, and because they are unencumbered by the kind of ethics that might prevent them from simply lying, extravagantly and constantly.

So when the Biden administration attempts to take steps to confront climate change, they’ll say, “Don’t you remember what happened in Texas? If we burn less fossil fuels there will be constant blackouts and we’ll all freeze to death!”

Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where pretty much every policy debate plays out that way. Democrats say, “This is a little complicated, but we think this is the most effective solution to this problem.” Then Republicans respond, “Here’s a bunch of insane lies about how Democratic proposals will kill you and your family.”

To be clear, the GOP was doing this (remember “death panels”?) long before Donald Trump came along. But the critical thing for Democrats to remember is that on policy challenges like infrastructure and energy, Republicans will claim they want to have a real debate, but they don’t. They will say just about anything to protect the status quo. They will not compromise. The only way to get to effective policy solutions is to beat them.

Read more:

David Von Drehle: This Texas weather is a chilling reminder about our battered power grid

Julie A. Cohn: Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price.