The Texas Department of State Health Services on Thursday increased the number of storm-related deaths, nearly doubling the previous preliminary count, and officials said the numbers could still rise.
According to the state health department, the majority of deaths from the storm are associated with hypothermia but also include deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, and medical equipment failure due to power outages that affected more than four million Texans. The outages disabled water systems and pushed the state’s power grid beyond its capacity. Texas is the only state in the country to have its own grid.
Congress is investigating the widespread power outages following the storm and held a hearing on Wednesday with experts and Texas officials. During the hearing, the CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Jim Robb, said that the state may not have fully prepared its power grid for winter weather due to existing state legislation and loose regulation.
“What I understand Texas did was to put in place legislation that required weatherization, but not to a specific level, and it was not an aggressively enforced standard. I think it was spot-checked,” Robb said.
The Texas state legislature held its own hearings into the matter at the end of February. “This is the largest train wreck in the history of deregulated electricity,” said state Sen. Brandon Creighton at the hearing. But, like Robb, Texas energy officials placed the onus for reforming the system back onto lawmakers.
“Y’all made us,” Bill Magness, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas which runs the state’s power grid, told lawmakers. “You should change us.”
Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant, echoed the message that Texas’ legislature has limited the power of regulatory agencies to enforce standards. “If the legislature fails to mandate weatherization of pipelines or power plants, there are limits to how far the regulatory agencies can go to step beyond where the legislature has given them direction,” Silverstein said on a call with other energy experts, according to the Texas Tribune.