Texas governor’s biggest donors: Energy industry that failed

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Carlos Mandez waits in line to fill his propane tanks Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Customers had to wait over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

AUSTIN, Texas – As frozen Texas reels under one of the worst electricity outages in U.S. history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has blamed grid operators and iced-over wind turbines but gone easier on another culprit: an oil and gas industry that is the state's dominant business and his biggest political contributor.

And as the toll deepened Friday from a week of historic winter storms, which have killed more than 20 people in Texas, the dogpiling on a power grid that is proudly isolated from the rest of the country ignores warnings known by the state's GOP leaders for years.

“It's almost like a murder suspect blaming their right hand for committing the crime," said Democratic state Rep. James Talarico. His suburban Austin home lost power for 40 hours and had no working faucets Thursday, when roughly one in four people in Texas woke up under instructions to boil water.

Like most of the state's 30 million residents, Talarico's power is controlled by grid managers at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which Abbott again laid into Thursday after more than 4 million people at one point were enduring outages in subfreezing temperatures.

But that is not where the responsibility ends, as power plants that feed the grid were knocked offline by the extreme cold, and natural gas producers didn't protect wellheads or lines from freezing. “ERCOT is a convenient whipping boy," Talarico said.

The crisis has put the fossil fuel industry that lavishes the Texas Capitol with money in the crosshairs in ways that Abbott has not had to navigate when steering America's second-largest state through other disasters, including hurricanes and the ongoing pandemic. For the first time Thursday, Abbott called on Texas to mandate that power plants be winterized.

Oil and gas built and enriched Texas, and with that its politicians, including those who became president. But none has reaped campaign contributions on the scale of Abbott, who in six years in office has raised more than $150 million from donors, more than any governor in U.S. history.

Texas' energy interests are the biggest backers of his political rise, and he has not ruled out a White House run in 2024. More than $26 million of his contributions have come from the oil and gas industry, more than any other economic sector, according to an analysis by the National Institute on Money in Politics.