Texas Power Crisis
Millions of Texas residents lost power last week for multiple days when a severe winter storm wiped out energy production facilities across the state. The outage resulted in dozens of deaths, left many facing extremely cold temperatures without heat, caused regional drinking water shortages, and prompted the Biden administration to declare a major disaster to provide federal aid.
Power has since returned, but questions remain about Texas’s energy infrastructure and its operations. Lax state regulations on the oil and gas industry in particular have come under fresh scrutiny. Meanwhile, lawmakers are calling for investigations into the outage and into Texas’ electric grid operator ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas). On Tuesday, the Public Utility Commission of Texas announced that four of ERCOT’s board members would be resigning. We want to learn more about how Texas officials handled the crisis, so we sent records requests to the governor’s office and the Public Utility Commission for assessments about the reliability of the state’s energy grid, as well as for related communications sent during the outage.
Poultry Production Waivers Increased Covid-19 Risk
In April 2020, representatives of the National Chicken Council lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lift limits on how fast poultry plants could run production lines. That same month, the Food and Drug Administration granted a waiver to 15 plants to allow an increase in line speed, despite serious concerns about health and safety risks to workers who are crowded together. (Several of these plants have reported coronavirus outbreaks). USDA later attempted to make the speed increase permanent, but the proposal was withdrawn by the Biden administration. We sent FOIA requests to USDA for assessments and communications concerning the waivers and the proposal to implement a permanent rule change.
Unanswered Questions About Operation Warp Speed
Earlier this month, Vanity Fair reported that Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine development and distribution initiative, had been consumed by internal conflict as it navigated the rollout of vaccines. As part of our ongoing investigation into the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19, we filed FOIA requests to the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services for OWS organizational charts and for the emails and communications of high-ranking officials and their staffs.
Missouri Anti-Protest Legislation
In January, Missouri State Rep. Adam Schnelting and State Sen. Rick Brattin introduced legislation that would, under certain circumstances, effectively protect from legal liability drivers who hit demonstrators with their cars. The legislation specifically prohibits lawsuits against drivers if the injured party was “participating in a protest or demonstration” while blocking a driver’s right of way. Missouri is one of five states where conservative lawmakers have recently passed or introduced such legislation. We filed records requests to the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate for Schnelting’s and Brattin’s related communications.
Missouri Redistricting and Absentee Voting Measures
Earlier this month, Missouri Sen. Dan Hegeman introduced a bill that would make the pandemic no longer a valid reason to be granted an absentee ballot. Hegeman’s bill is only the most recent election-related legislation put forth by conservative Missouri lawmakers, who in November added Amendment 3 to the ballot. That ballot measure, which narrowly passed, eliminated a nonpartisan redistricting plan known as Clean Missouri, setting the stage for new legislative maps to be drawn by bipartisan commissions or, in the event of deadlock, appellate judges. We want to know more about the creation of Amendment 3 and Hegeman’s recent bill, so we sent records requests to the Missouri Senate for communications concerning redistricting and absentee voting.
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