Feb 18, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript February 18: Winter Storm, Power Outage Updates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript: Storm, Power Outage Updates
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsTexas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript February 18: Winter Storm, Power Outage Updates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference on February 18, 2021 to provide updates on the winter storm, power outages, and water challenges across the state. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.

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Gov. Greg Abbott: (00:24)
Thank you all for being with us here today. I want to start out by letting everybody in Texas know that we know how much you have suffered over the past few days and we know the enormous challenges that you’ve been dealing with because of lack of access to power for the past couple of days. And it’s exactly because of that that we’ve had everybody in every agency in the State of Texas who focuses on power working around the clock to make sure that they were going to provide to you the power that you need and the power that you deserve. And I want to thank everyone who has been working around the clock across the State of Texas for the past 24 hours. And because of their work I’m able to tell you this. Since our press conference yesterday power has been restored to nearly 2 million homes across Texas. There continue to be approximately 325,000 Texans without power. However, those without power are not without power because of the lack of ability to generate power, instead those without power are being impacted either by power lines that are down or the need to manually reconnect the premises to power. So as of this press conference right now, there are no outages of power across the State of Texas because of lack of generation or lack of the ability to generate power.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (02:06)
That said, I also want to be clear with Texans because you need to know, there will be more cold temperatures in various regions across the State of Texas tonight. ERCOT will continue to work to manage the power to ensure that power will not go down in residential areas across the state but we still have to deal with the uncertainty of what is going on at the power generation facilities. We hope and anticipate no location will be without power tonight. The good news is we are starting the evening with every residence in the state of Texas not lacking the generation of power.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (02:49)
Also, I am told as it concerns the power companies that do the repair of the power lines and as well as the connection to houses, that every available repair truck has been dispatched to repair those downed power lines. Know that the repair of the downed power lines and the reconnected that is not a task that is delegated to the State of Texas, that is a task that is conducted by the power companies that operate in your particular area. That said, Texas agencies will continue to work around the clock with our local partners, with residential areas, with industrial and commercial users until power is restored to every single location across the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (03:41)
Now, right now we’re focused on five tasks. First is to continue to use every single tool available to get all power restored to all Texas. I have already issued waivers and taken executive actions to expedite that process. Earlier today I had a call with energy providers to work on additional ways to ensure that we get more power to people in the state of Texas, and they have shared with us already ideas and action plans that we will be able to take to ensure that oncoming power. Second, we need to ensure that we use every tool possible to get water restored to our fellow Texans. I also had a call earlier today with water providers to work on additional ways to expedite getting clean water to Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (04:41)
We are in the process as we speak of evaluating waivers as well as executive orders that can be used to speed up that process. In the aftermath of the phone call we had earlier, we did receive an abundance of ideas from those local water providers. They’ve been provided to Toby Baker, who is the Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He and his team as well as a team of lawyers are working on strategies to make sure that we will be able to swiftly address water challenges.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (05:15)
Third, we are organizing efforts to help Texans who are challenged by broken water pipes. Along those lines today, I am making a formal request of the president for a major disaster declaration. If granted this will give Texans the ability to apply for individual assistance from FEMA. That individual assistance will assist them with funding to restore damage to their homes to the extent that is not covered by private insurance. In addition to that, we continue to work with VOADs as well as faith-based organizations to assist families who live in residences who may be impacted by broken pipes because we know the magnitude of that challenge and we want to provide people and resources to help you be able to respond to that challenge.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (06:11)
Fourth, we are organizing the process of getting aid to Texans in need. Part of that is the efforts already undertaken and continuing by the Texas National Guard to assist those in need and either getting them to warming centers or helping to set up warming centers or providing them whatever else they may need. We also continue to increase the number of warming centers across the state. To find out where a warming center is located, go to www.T-D-E-M.T-E-X-A-S.G-O-V/W-A-R-M. I’ll do that again. To find out a warming center near you go to www.T-D-E-M.T-E-X-A-S.G-O-V/W-A-R-M.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (07:18)
We’ve also had many generous Texans as we always do who inquire about how they can help, and I want to give them some specific ideas. One is to help in providing food to those who need the food. And where you can do this is to go to this website location, www.feedingtexas.org. And I will spell that out. Is www.F-E-E-D-I-N-G-T-E-X-A-S.org. Additionally, for other suppliers other than food, we always encourage people to work with the Red Cross.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (08:03)
We always encourage people to work with the Red Cross and you can locate them also on the internet at www.redcross.org. Spelled out as W-W-W.R-E-D-C-R-O-S-S.O-R-G. Fifth, we have already begun the process to make sure that events like this never again happen in Texas and that starts with reforming the agency in charge of electric reliability in Texas which is ERCOT. What happened this week to our fellow Texans is absolutely unacceptable and can never be replicated again. It’s especially unacceptable when you realize what ERCOT told the state of Texas. They said five days before the winter storm hit, the ERCOT CEO assured ERCOT and I quote, “We’re ready for the cold temperatures coming our way.” He said that ERCOT had issued a notice to power plants to ensure that they were winterized properly and ERCOT’s annual winter assessment, which is designed to ensure that the state is prepared, assured the public that there would be enough power to meet peak demand this winter.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (09:41)
ERCOT failed on each of these measures that they said they had undertaken. Texans deserve answers about why these shortfalls occurred and how they’re going to be corrected and Texans will get those answers. That’s exactly why I have issued an executive order that added emergency items to the legislative session asking the legislature to investigate what happened at ERCOT that led up to and during the course of the response to this winter storm, but there is more than that that must be done to prevent Texas from going without power again. So today, I am adding more emergency items to the legislative session. First, I am asking the legislature to mandate the winterization of generators and the power system. Second, I am calling for the funding needed to ensure that this winterization and modernization occurs. Now I’ve already been in multiple discussions with both Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick as well as Speaker Dave Phelan and with the chairs of the relevant committees that will be in charge of these efforts. That includes Senator Hancock and Representatives Goldman and Paddie.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (11:14)
The last thing I’ll say is this. Everyone knows how challenging the past few days have been for our fellow Texans. I want everyone to know that all of us in the state of Texas believe it is completely unacceptable that you had to endure one minute of the challenge that you faced. All of us agree on the necessity of action, not just the action taken to restore your power but the action to ensure that you never have to endure anything like this ever again. That’s why for one with each passing hour we will continue to ensure that your power will be restored and that your water challenges will be resolved. Now we know because of the storm that will continue to sweep across parts of Texas tonight that we are not yet out of this, but we’re closer to this challenge being behind us. We will not stop until normalcy is restored to your lives. Until that moment comes though, I ask all Texans to continue your efforts to take the proper precautions that are needed to stay safe and to stay warm. At this time, I will pass it to Chief Nim Kidd, the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Chief Nim Kidd: (12:46)
Thank you Governor. Yesterday we went through a long list of resources that are available and I’m here to tell you that the road conditions are improving and will continue to improve as we watch this weather go out of the state. Additional personnel are on the streets from all of the agencies that have been represented yesterday. I want to talk quickly about water. If you’ve heard the power has come back up we want to keep pushing power but water we classify in three different groupings. We have emergency drinking water, we have industrial or institutional water and agriculture water. Emergency drinking water, we’re working with our local partners, our private sector partners in FEMA to push additional water to every county in the state of Texas right now. A big challenge will be the industrial water. Most of the time when we have a hurricane or a tornado that goes through and takes out water to a hospital or water to a city or community, there are other hospitals or cities or communities that can bring us additional resources.

Chief Nim Kidd: (13:40)
The place we are right now with almost every single water institution impacted, not only from the frozen lines in our homes but the frozen lines in the streets that are running institutional water, water will continue to be a challenge. To meet that challenge, we’re working with our federal partners and our partners from other states. I’ve talked to people from California and Florida today and a lot of the states between to offering assistance that will be coming this way. We need to continue to conserve water, we need to be careful with the use of water, and together, we’ll get through the water challenges.

Chief Nim Kidd: (14:12)
We are asking for additional generators. We have generators from our state agencies that are going out in the field and we have generators from the federal generator package. We will continue to work that but I need to tell you, putting a generator on a church or a nursing home or a hospital that doesn’t already have one and is not built for one is not as simple as going to Lowe’s or Home Depot and plugging in an extension cord and getting power. So we will continue to work with those facilities that did not prepare ahead of this storm to have the transfer switches installed, to have the right connections and the right cables in place. We will continue to work with them to bring those online.

Chief Nim Kidd: (14:47)
We’re also bringing in meals ready to eat, so we will be distributing meals ready to eat with water in cooperation with our cities and counties across the state. We’re up to over 331 warming centers, the map is behind me here on the screen, I’m sorry behind y’all on the screen. Again the governor mentioned the website, tdem.texas.gov/warm. We will continue to bring on additional warming centers, working very closely with our federal partners here at both of the tables to make sure that the major disaster declaration will be met. Remember, that is by law fiscal thresholds that have to be met. There’s a number of homes that have to demonstrate damage. It’s been hard to demonstrate that damage. We can presume it at this point. We will continue to push that. We’re in constant communication with our federal partners for the major disaster declaration and I want to thank all of our VOADs, our volunteer organizations that are active in disaster, whose homes and businesses have also been impacted by this but are still out serving fellow Texans. If you get a chance and have the ability to volunteer, please work with one of our existing structures to volunteer. Thank you.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (15:50)
Thank you Chief, and now the state official who is in charge of response to water-based issues, Toby Becker, the executive director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Toby Becker: (16:01)
Thank you Governor. A quick update.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (16:03)
… the environmental quality.

Toby Becker: (16:03)
Thank you, Governor. A quick update. So out of approximately 7,000 public drinking water systems across the state of Texas, due to lack of power, frozen or broken pipes or high demand, 797 of those water systems are reporting some sort of issue. Currently, about 725 are under a boil water notice, and that affects about 13 million Texans. Water systems are operated and maintained by local entities, so we are systematically reaching out across the state to identify systems that are experiencing problems. Many have already reported to us, but we are working hand in hand with local water systems to find ways to bring them back online as quickly as possible. This includes engineering solutions and regulatory solutions like the governor alluded to earlier, so that includes local governments, private entities, and utility districts.

Toby Becker: (16:59)
If you have a question or a problem with your water, you need to contact your local water provider, because they are the ones working on that system. That would be found on your utility bill, or you can find it online. It’s very important. So for example, if you live in the city of Austin, you need to be contacting the city of Austin to work on your water issues. We are currently reaching out to a number of laboratories across the state to make sure that they are ready for the sampling that will be needed to lift those boil water notices. We are also partnering with the EPA and bringing in mobile labs from out of state to assist. Thank you, Governor.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (17:37)
Thank you. We’ll take a few questions.

Speaker 1: (17:39)
Hey, Governor. You’ve raised $153 million in the last set of races that you’ve run, from which $30 million came from oil and gas. How can we trust you, therefore, as you seem to be beholden to oil and gas? [inaudible 00:17:53]? How can we trust you, therefore, to say that in the future we’ll allow for more energy coming to the state? Green energy, which your spokesman said was responsible for this outage? How can we trust you to actually deliver future energy and not have this happen again?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (18:11)
I received even more from residential property owners and people who live in the residences that I’ve been working around the clock to help.

Speaker 1: (18:19)
That’s your answer? That’s it?

Speaker 2: (18:20)
Next question? Sorry. Next question was?

Wes: (18:24)
Governor, with the supply chain of getting food and other items to places, some of the big stores, there have been lines out the door, and now the people are getting some of their power back will be looking to restock those refrigerators that have undoubtedly gone bad. What is the process look like to ensure that that supply chain gets reestablished?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (18:47)
So I’ll answer this in part, and then I’ll have Chief Kidd answer in part. So the question is about all the people who are either in line to get food or need to access food, and there are multiple answers to this. We know from our conversations with private food providers such as grocery stores, for example, that their stocks were running down, and we know about what they’re working on as we speak to replenish those stocks. One thing that will aid in replenishing those stocks is the fact that the roads are more passable, and we know that over the next 24 hours, that grocery stores as well as restaurants. We saw a lot of people lined up for fast food restaurants, for example. They will have more food available to them.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (19:34)
Second, there are others who need access to food, and we are working with local as well as some state-based agencies to make sure that we will be providing that food. That goes also hand in hand with my reference to that organization that some Texans want to help out with, and that is people can support this effort by going to www.feedingtexas.org. Let me have Chief Kidd add additional information.

Chief Nim Kidd: (20:06)
Yeah, and Wes, thank you for that question. I think it is important that we share the information. Myself, my team, the governor’s office, and his team have been on the phone most of the morning with grocery providers across the state talking to them. Let’s talk about things we can’t control: the weather. Talk about things we can control: our communication and how we communicate with our partners. That’s why it’s important that we know their distribution points. We’re working with Texstop behind us in order to get those roads cleared. We’re working with the utility providers in order to get their stores back up.

Chief Nim Kidd: (20:37)
We want residences first and then quickly come into the industrial so that we can provide those services. We’ve also talked to FEMA about additional meals ready to eat, that temporary gap if we have to, and had conversations with many of our major food banks across the state today, either by text or cell phone about the resources that they need, and we will continue to provide additional updates on information. But more importantly, we’re going to keep pushing food into this state. I ask though that we not hoard food. This is going to get to the point where you take what we need, and we will work through this together.

Speaker 3: (21:07)
Yesterday, you’d mentioned that there are so many … There are millions of Texans that are under a boil water advisory. If these Texans were to drink that water, what are the repercussions of that? And then you mentioned that there was only 24 hours yesterday that you had to, due to bacterial infection. Could that mean … ( silence).

Toby Becker: (22:21)
… as soon as the integrity of the systems is restored.

Speaker 4: (22:28)
Is the EPA helping as well? Have they been able to step up?

Toby Becker: (22:28)
Yes. We’ve reached out to the EPA. We have two mobile ads that are currently out of state that we’ve asked for them to move to the state so we can move those around the state as needed to help with the sampling.

Speaker 5: (22:39)
Governor, with respect to the plumbing waiver that you were talking about yesterday, what is that process like for people who would like to find help? Is there a certain site that they should go to to fill out that application? What does that process look like, so that we can help people get back to [inaudible 00:22:59]?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (23:00)
The process is two steps. One is for the plumbers, and that is for the plumbers who want to participate in this program, for them to contact the Plumber Board or Plumbing Board in the state of Texas. But the second part of the process would be for the residential owners and people who live in homes. They just need to contact a plumber, and our goal is to make sure that when they contact plumbers, there will be a greater supply of them so that they will not have a shortage of plumbers.

Speaker 5: (23:29)
So the Plumbing Board is prepared to handle an influx of help [crosstalk 00:23:33]?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (23:33)
Yes.

Speaker 6: (23:36)
Governor, the [inaudible 00:23:37] held a press conference this morning, and the question was asked of how early were they in contact with you and your office? They mentioned that they are in regular contact with the PUC, and that the PUC apparently acts as the liaison between you and them. The PUC is a government entity. Do you hold any responsibility for what’s going on right now?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (24:02)
Let me tell you …

Speaker 7: (24:03)
[inaudible 00:24:00] what’s going on right now?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (24:03)
Let me tell you what I will do and what I am doing. I’m taking responsibility for the current status of ERCOT. Again, I find what has happened unacceptable. Let me tell you what I learned today. Just a couple of weeks before this winter storm occurred, they elected some new members, I think there’s a new chair and vice chair of the board, people from outside the State of Texas. And so, part of my charge to the legislature is to restructure the way the board of ERCOT works and to restructure the membership of the board to ensure that the membership is going to be more responsive to the people of Texas.

Speaker 7: (24:53)
Governor, one other question. Senator Cruz, apparently going on vacation. Any comment on that?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (24:59)
Well, candidly, I haven’t been following people’s vacation plans. We’ve been working literally all night since we talked to you guys yesterday, and now today, I don’t know about people’s travel plan.

Speaker 8: (25:14)
How do you respond to the CEO of ERCOT today saying we were at most seconds, possibly a minute away from a catastrophe. And the spin on it, many people say, was that they did what they had to do. So [inaudible 00:25:29] because there was no catastrophic issue.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (25:35)
And that’s exactly what I had been told for the past number of days. And that is one of the things I want the legislature to investigate, to find out the exact details about whether or not that is true. So we’ve got two things to look at. Is it true that ERCOT was on the verge of losing access to power in the grid, which could have caused a long-term blackout in the State of Texas? If it’s not true, then there are serious consequences because of that. If it is true, there is serious action that needs to be taken by the State of Texas. And that goes back to the executive order I’m talking about issuing today, adding to the emergency items for the state legislature to make sure the state legislature addresses the winterization of our generation capacity to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Gov. Greg Abbott: (26:28)
But I’m going to add this also, because this is something that needs to be dug into. We need to find out if the leaders of ERCOT sent the correct information to the generators of power in the State, so that all generators of power in the State were up and running to provide the power that was needed to feed into the grid so they wouldn’t get compromised. These are all important issues and questions that the legislature must ask of these leaders and to drill down into exactly what happened so that this never happens again.

Speaker 9: (27:00)
Last question [inaudible 00:27:00]. Last question.

Speaker 8: (27:02)
So what do you say to the person who is at home right now and may not have power, who may not have water who say, “Oh, this is great. The governor has all these plans and he’s doing this and doing that. But I’m sitting here in my house in 41 degrees, and they’re telling me to boil my water. I’ve got no electricity to do that.” What do you say to them as the governor, as the elected governor of this State right now?

Gov. Greg Abbott: (27:25)
What I say to them first as a human being, that the challenges they’re dealing with are true human struggles that they should never have to face. And as a human being, we want to alleviate the struggles that they are going through most immediately. But from a longer-term perspective, as governor of Texas, I want to ensure this never happens again. What we’ve outlined today are the initial steps to both alleviate the current challenges that Texans are facing, such as having power generated sufficiently so that no one in the State of Texas should be without power right now, unless their power lines are down, but also working to make sure that no Texan will ever go through this again.

Speaker 9: (28:17)
All right. Thank you, guys, so much. Thank you.