The February 2021 Texas Power Outage

Millions of Texans lost power and more than 100 people died after a winter storm in February 2021, raising questions about the state’s energy infrastructure and its lax regulation of the oil and gas industry. American Oversight is seeking records that could shed light on the government’s response to the blackout.

A February 2021 winter storm brought ice and extreme low temperatures across the central United States, leading to power outages that affected more than 5 million people.  

The arctic blast hit Texas especially hard, triggering system-wide failures across the state’s energy infrastructure that left roughly 4.4 million without power on the night of Feb. 15, with more than 500,000 Texans still lacking power days later. More than 100 people died, and disruptions to water services continued for days. Some of those spared power losses later found themselves facing exorbitant energy bills.  

Texas is the only state to run an isolated electric grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). This system allows it to skirt federal regulations, but also makes it more difficult to import power from outside the system — and thus more vulnerable to the type of catastrophic failures that occurred in February. Lack of local weatherization regulation also left refineries and natural gas plants unprepared for cold temperatures, leading to disruptions along the energy supply chain.  

The effects of the power outages were felt across the state, including among its incarcerated population. In April, American Oversight obtained complaints, reported on by the Houston Chronicle, about conditions inside the Galveston County Jail during the storm. Although back-up generators kept power on at the facility, it was left without running water, leading to drinking water shortages and unsanitary conditions in which people had to use buckets as toilets.  

The Biden administration declared a major disaster to authorize federal aid for the state. But in the aftermath of the disaster, ERCOT faced lawsuits, calls for investigation from lawmakers, and the resignation of four board members. The infrastructure failure highlighted the risks of lax regulation in the energy sector as Texas and the rest of the country face the likelihood of more extreme weather events related to climate change. 

American Oversights is seeking documents that could shed light on the government’s response to the blackout. We filed record requests to learn more about how Texas officials handled the crisis, including asking the governor’s office and the Texas Public Utility Commission for assessments about the reliability of the state’s energy grid, as well as for communications related to the outage from the commission, ERCOT, and the governor’s office.  

American Oversight also requested records about how the disaster affected vulnerable populations, including requests to multiple counties and the Federal Bureau of Prisons about the storm’s impact on incarcerated people. 

 

Related Documents

March 30, 2021

Galveston County, Texas, Records Reflecting Complaints Submitted in County Jail During 2021 Winter Storm

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March 18, 2021

FOIA to BOP Seeking Assessments of 2021 Texas Winter Storm’s Impact on Prison Population

Department of Justice, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons
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FOIA to BOP Seeking Complaints Submitted in Prisons Managed by Department of Criminal Justice During February 2021

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Records Request to Bowie County, Tex., for Assessments of 2021 Winter Storm’s Impact on Imprisoned Population

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Records Request to Bowie County, Tex., for Complaints Submitted in Bowie County Correctional Center During 2021 Winter Storm

Texas - Bowie County
FOIA Request
March 18, 2021

Records Request to Galveston County, Tex., for Assessments of 2021 Winter Storm’s Impact on Imprisoned Population

Texas - Galveston County
FOIA Request
March 18, 2021

Records Request to Galveston County, Tex., for Complaints Submitted in Galveston County Jail During 2021 Winter Storm

Texas - Galveston County
FOIA Request
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Records Request to Harris County, Tex., for Assessments of 2021 Winter Storm’s Impact on Imprisoned Population

Texas - Harris County
FOIA Request
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Records Request to Harris County, Tex., for Complaints Submitted in Any Harris County Jail During 2021 Winter Storm

Texas - Harris County
FOIA Request
March 18, 2021

Records Request to Polk County, Texas, for Assessments of 2021 Winter Storm’s Impact on Imprisoned Population

Texas - Polk County
FOIA Request
March 18, 2021

Records Request to Polk County, Tex., for Complaints Submitted in Polk County Jail During 2021 Winter Storm

Texas - Polk County
FOIA Request
February 19, 2021

Records Request to Texas Governor’s Office Seeking Communications During Power Crisis

Texas Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 19, 2021

Records Request to Texas Governor’s Office Seeking Communications During Power Crisis Containing Key Terms

Texas Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 19, 2021

Records Request to Public Utility Commission of Texas Seeking Communications During Power Crisis

Public Utility Commission of Texas
FOIA Request
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Records Request to Public Utility Commission of Texas Seeking Grid Reliability Assessments

Public Utility Commission of Texas
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April 12, 2020

Records Request to Public Utility Commission of Texas Seeking Grid Reliability Assessments

Public Utility Commission of Texas
FOIA Request