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Cornyn pushes to help states weatherize power grids after being stuck in D.C. during Texas winter storm

Texas’ senior senator agreed that Cruz’s Cancun trip was ‘a mistake.’

Texas Sen. John Cornyn was snowed out of the Lone Star State as deadly winter storms ravaged the state earlier this month.

He was unable to return home to Austin after attending former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in Washington, D.C., he told reporters Thursday. The trial ended on Feb. 13, and by then Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had already issued a disaster declaration in all of Texas’ 254 counties. The freeze did not start to cause massive outages across the state until Feb. 15.

After he was unable to return to Austin, Cornyn decided to go back to Washington to work remotely, he said. He announced Thursday that he will be introducing legislation to allocate grant funding to help Texas and other states prepare their energy grids for future adverse weather events.

Cornyn tried to return home to Austin, where his wife, Sandy, had traveled days ahead of him in order to receive her COVID-19 vaccination, but all his attempts were in vain — he even spent the night in Atlanta after his connecting flight to Austin was canceled.

“The roads were treacherous, so we looked at perhaps going to some other locations where the airports were still open and driving,” Cornyn said, “but of course the advice we had from public safety officials was: Don’t do that, that’s dangerous. Stay off the roads if you can.”

Cornyn did not receive the same heat as Cruz, who was lambasted last week after he and his family flew to Cancun as thousands of Texans remained out of power, water and food. Cruz returned a day after pictures of him on the flight circulated throughout the internet. He later admitted the short trip was “obviously a mistake” but said he was just trying to be a “good dad” to his daughters, who asked for the vacation.

Cruz was roasted by late-night show hosts and former Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke, who said Cruz was “”vacationing in Cancun ... when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he’s elected to represent and to serve.”

When asked about Cruz’s trip, Cornyn agreed with his fellow senator.

“He said it was a mistake. And I think — I think he called that one correctly,” Cornyn said.

While he was stuck in Washington, Cornyn launched a page on his website with resources for Texans in crisis and worked with Cruz to petition President Joe Biden to declare a federal disaster in Texas.

He also worked with his staff to develop a proposed program “designed specifically so states like Texas won’t be caught flat-footed by another storm. … We’ve seen other parts of the country experience prolonged subzero weather and one reason why they haven’t experienced rolling blackouts is because they are prepared for those, and clearly we need to get prepared.”

Cornyn’s program is modeled after the Weatherization Assistance Program, which was designed in 1976 to help low-income families reduce their energy bills by increasing energy efficiency in their homes. Power companies and grid operators are not eligible for the funds, which flow from the Department of Energy to the states, then to local governments that provide subsidies for things like insulation and energy-efficient windows, water heaters and air conditioners.

Cornyn did not give any estimates on how much his program would cost. Congress set aside $305 million for WAP in 2020. The Trump administration tried to scrap it.

Instead of individuals’ homes, Cornyn’s legislation would help states weatherize their power grids, he said. As low temperatures and snow spread across the Lone Star State, power generators and natural gas lines froze, as well as wind turbines — which only make up a small portion of the state’s energy production.

Unlike other states, Texas has its own energy grid independent from federal regulation. The rest of the country is covered by one of two grids controlled by the federal government. But federal upgrade funding does not necessitate federal regulation, Cornyn said.

“I realize that’s a controversial topic and Texas does have a unique arrangement with a separate grid. But I don’t think we’re talking so much about the regulation of the utilities, which is primarily a state matter,” he said. “We’re just talking about providing assistance to weatherize them to extreme temperatures ... I don’t think it’s particularly controversial.”

In other states ratepayers — electricity customers — have borne the cost of weatherization over the years, so the idea could spark pushback from lawmakers outside Texas at the idea of shifting using their tax dollars for a uniquely Texas problem. Cornyn’s response: Regardless of whether the Texas grid is integrated, it’s still part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure,” making its resilience a national problem.

Cornyn said he could introduce the legislation as soon as next week.

In This Story

Elizabeth Thompson, Washington Correspondent. Elizabeth Thompson covers politics for The Dallas Morning News. Elizabeth is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with double majors in journalism and vocal performance. She has also worked for PolitiFact NC and the Raleigh News & Observer.

elizabeth.thompson@dallasnews.com by_ethompson
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