Texas Republicans Ran a 20-Year Experiment. The Results Are In.

The state’s energy crisis didn’t come out of nowhere: It took decades of deregulation to make it happen.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


In the early 2000s, after gaining control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time in modern history, Republicans undertook a gerrymandering scheme that solidified their control of the state even further. What followed was a multidecade experiment in deregulation that has now left millions of Texas residents freezing and without power. Ryan Grim talks to former congressional candidate Mike Siegel and University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Varun Rai about how it happened — and how it could have been prevented.

[Musical introduction.]

Ryan Grim: They were called the Texas Eleven, and they are, in many ways, the beginning of the story that ended this week with the deadly collapse of the state’s electrical grid.

In the 2002 midterm elections, Texas Republicans finally gained full control of the state’s government. The party immediately moved to redraw congressional and state legislative lines to gerrymander Democrats into oblivion.

But to approve the redistricting, the state Senate needed a quorum — a quorum that 11 Democrats could deny by simply not showing up. And so the Texas 11 were born. Also known, a bit ridiculously, as the Killer Ds, these 11 state senators fled to New Mexico and Oklahoma, out of the reach of the Texas Rangers.

The story became grist for late-night comedians. Here’s Stephen Colbert, then on The Daily Show.

Stephen Colbert: Runaways… they’re a problem all across the nation. And New Mexico is no exception. One such runaway, who we’ll call Rodney, came here from Texas. His story will break your heart.

Rodney, why did you run away?

Rodney: I’m here as part of an effort to break a legislative quorum in the Texas legislature.

SC: Yes, like so many runaways, Rodney is here as part of an effort to break a legislative quorum in the TX legislature.

RG: Over that summer, they successfully killed a special legislative session aimed at redistricting. But in the fall, one of the Democrats eventually caved and returned to Austin.

In 2002, Democrats had controlled 17 of 30 congressional districts. Two years later, with the state’s population growing, Texas had 32 members of congress, but Democrats controlling just 11 seats. They had gone from a majority to deep in the minority overnight, and that’s where they would remain over the next 20 years as Republicans used their unchecked authority over the state to launch an experiment in radical deregulation. They stripped the government down to the boards, and then ripped out the boards and sold them for scrap.

Here’s how Beto O’Rourke described today’s Republican Party to me over the phone this week:

Beto O’Rourke: You have people running the government in Texas, who are in the highest positions of public trust, who just fundamentally do not believe in government.

Republicans, though, have found the culprit. It’s the Green New Deal.

News Anchor: Is green energy to blame for the power outages in Texas?

Jesse Watters: Joe Biden and Democrats better think twice about unleashing the Green New Deal on the whole country. Just take a look at what’s happening in Texas!

Tucker Carlson: Unbeknownst to most people, the Green New Deal came to Texas, the power grid in the state became totally reliant on windmills. Then it got cold, and the windmills broke.

Rick Perry: We got a massive amount of wind farms out in West Texas that are frozen up. All of that wind energy was lost.

Jesse Watters: Wind turbines are frozen.

Stuart Varney: Wind turbines froze.

News Anchor:Wind turbines are frozen solid.

TC:Because that’s what happens in the Green New Deal.

SV: This is a clash between Green Dreams, and deep freeze reality.

TC: The same energy policies that have wrecked Texas this week are going nationwide, they’re coming to your state.

News Anchor: Is this what American would look like under the Green New Deal?

SV: This is where the weather meets the Green New Deal. This is where you pay the price for the climate dreams of the coastal elites?

RG: OK, but back to reality. It wasn’t as if Texas didn’t know cold winters are possible. In 1989, a cold snap crashed below zero and caused major power outages. In 2011, it happened again.

News Anchor: The freeze caused rolling power blackouts throughout Texas, including Dallas.

News Anchor: There were rolling blackouts forced upon that city because the power plants just stopped working.

News Anchor: You knew trouble was around the corner, especially at intersections with blacked out traffic lights.

Jimmy Kimmel: The Super Bowl is in Dallas on Sunday, but it’s very cold. It’s so cold there are power outages, and rolling blackouts all over Texas. In fact, they’re having to import power from Mexico. When Mexico has to give us electricity, that’s when we know we’re in trouble.

RG: Experts warned that the state’s energy system needed major upgrades. Instead, as we’ll talk about later in the show with Varun Rai, director of the University of Texas’ energy institute, deregulation set up incentives for many firms to ignore infrastructure investments. They gambled it wouldn’t be their problem.

And so millions remain out of power, and access to water is touch and go. It might seem crass to talk about the political repercussions of this crisis while it’s still unfolding, but politics got us into this mess, and only politics is going to get us out.

We’ll talk with former congressional candidate Mike Siegel, who last appeared on the show in November, to talk about how this is playing politically. But first, I reached out to Beto O’Rourke, who has been hammering Governor Greg Abbott, and he’s been running a massive phone banking operation to reach out to stranded, freezing, and starving seniors across the state to see how they can be helped.

O’Rourke’s response to the crisis has fueled speculation that he’s running for governor in 2022 against Abbott. He was asked about it at the end of January by a local radio station, KLAQ in El Paso:

Buzz Adams: So, according to the Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gil Hinojosa, he says, Beto, you are thinking about a challenge to Governor Greg Abbott in 2022. I don’t expect you to make any kind of announcement on a regional radio show, but the story here says “O’Rourke could not be reached for comment.” And I was thinking, “Oh, well, I’ve reached him, maybe he’ll comment to us.” [Laughs.]

BO: You’ve got my Skype number now, so.

BA: That’s right.

BO: Yeah, you know what? It’s something I’m going to think about.

RG: Abbott responded by saying Beto’s promise as a presidential candidate to take assault weapons away from their owners wouldn’t “sell well” in Texas.

If O’Rourke does run, he’ll make the election a referendum on Republican rule. Here’s how he put it to me on Thursday:

BO: It’s not just the current disaster with the severe cold snap in Texas, and the power blackouts that affected millions, and the boiled water notice that seven million Texans are living under right now because of the radical deregulation, the failure to require power generators to weatherize the facilities or to connect to the national grids, we could draw down power when we need it. It’s not just that!

It’s also the response to Covid that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 of my fellow Texans, this bungled Covid vaccine rollout in Texas, where they literally asked each of the 254 counties in Texas to figure it out on their own.

The absolute rejection of science, and facts, and truth when it comes to climate and other extraordinarily important emergencies that we face. And we’re also the state that is obviously on the front lines of this. You look at Hurricane Harvey in 2017, you look at the severe droughts that we face, the severe winter weather storms that are absolutely unprecedented — this is not just our future. This is happening right now. This is the cost of 20 years of absolute Republican control, unbroken in Texas, at literally every significant level of government. And it’s the consequence of having people who don’t believe in government running the government. That’s what we’re up against.

RG: To dig deeper into the state’s politics, we’re joined by civil rights attorney Mike Siegel, who ran for Congress in Texas in 2020. He last appeared on the November episode of Deconstructed titled “What Happened?”

Mike Siegel, thank you so much for joining us again on Deconstructed.

Mike Siegel: Thank you Ryan. So glad to be with you.

RG: Now, I wish it were under better circumstances. But we got actually a ton of positive feedback from your last interview. People really found the story of your congressional race to be quite elucidating in the wake of November’s election. What have you been up to since?

MS: Well, recovering, frankly. I spent three years of my life running for Congress here in Texas — in 2018 and again in 2020 — and I have a lot of things to attend to after all that was done: my family, my house, my health, my mental and physical health.

But truthfully, in the last month or so I’ve been really picking up and getting back on my feet and focusing on what needs to be done here in Texas: What kind of infrastructure do we need to put in place to enable Texas, for example, in 2028 to deliver our Electoral College votes for Democratic nominee for president Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? To me, that’s the long game, right? And we definitely want to follow in the footsteps of what folks have done in places like Arizona and Georgia, and not just blow all of our money on campaigns where you spend that money on TV and ads and mail pieces and don’t actually build the base.

I’ve been involved in conversations with people like Julie Oliver, a fellow Texas progressive, and we’ve got some things in the works where we basically want to raise money to knock doors year-round. From the looks of things, we’re going to be knocking doors and talking to people about electric deregulation in Texas and how Texas Republicans have sold us out by letting big oil and big gas control our electric grid to the detriment of so many Texans.

RG: So how are you personally? How long have you had power restored?

MS: Well, thank you for asking, Ryan. And definitely my love and solidarity is with all the people right now who don’t have electricity, who don’t have housing, who are vulnerable in all of these different ways.

I got my power back about 3 a.m. today. So we were out of power in our home for about 48 hours. By the end it was less than 40 degrees inside the house and it was pretty rough. I have two kids — 5 and 8 years old — and kind of a small older house that doesn’t have good insulation, but we did, on the bright side, because a lot of folks have it worse, it’s like we had gas, so we had a stovetop. We had running water — people are having all sorts of broken water lines. And my wife has a business where we were able to charge up our phones. So, you know, we had some good things going on, for as rough as it has been.

RG: What are people doing who’ve been without water for so long?

MS: Some folks are filling their bathtubs. I mean, if they got word soon enough. My friends are taking snow from outside and using it to flush their toilet.

RG: Oh, wow.

MS: Some people are fleeing their homes. You know, for example, in Austin, it’s been about 200,000 households without electricity. So it’s about half the city. So a lot of people have gone to their friends’ or neighbors’ or loved ones’ who have electricity to stay there — which, of course, is not ideal during a COVID pandemic, but there’s all sorts of survival strategies going on right now.

RG: I’ve heard that there are things called warming centers where entire communities are gathering which, like you said, it might be the best of all the possible options, but it’s certainly not ideal in a pandemic. Is that a real thing? Is that something that’s happening?

MS: Yes, for example, in Austin, some of the school campuses have been opened as warming centers, different public facilities, and I’ve seen different things — some of these things are open overnight, some of them close at, for example, 9 p.m., which is not ideal. But basically a place where you can get warm, you can charge up your electronics. And then I guess even if it closes at nine o’clock, you can just go home and get under the covers and wait it out till the morning.

RG: Have they suggested that you’re in the clear, or are you worried that you could lose power again at any moment?

MS: No, we could certainly lose power at any moment. It just seems some sort of freak of happenstance that we got power back; basically overnight, maybe 10,000 households were added back to power. And unfortunately, we have an ice rain storm going on right now. They’re predicting that some people are gonna lose power again. Apparently we’re not out of the woods. There’s at least another day or two of this crisis.

RG: How’s this humanitarian crisis unfolding, politically, down there? On the national level, on Fox News and elsewhere, you see all these Republicans just preposterously and so confidently blaming the Green New Deal for the failure of Texas’ grid? Is that a theme that’s being taken seriously in Texas?

MS: Not among the media or local leaders. But certainly Abbott knows what he’s doing. This is a catastrophic failure of Republican governance, going back 20 years and more when they supported deregulation, allowing for an electrical system where it’s basically on demand spot bidding, you know? These energy providers are constantly buying electricity on the market, and so the price goes up 10,000 percent. And that’s just business as usual in Texas.

Ten years ago, we had a major freeze, where the recommendation that came out of that was we need to weatherize our grid, our facilities, and they never followed through on that. And so it’s a catastrophic failure of governance. I mean, these natural gas facilities in particular, you have frozen wells, frozen lines, that’s a big part of our electrical generation capacity in Texas. And that’s failed. Most of our reserve energy that’s supposed to get us through moments like this didn’t come online. And that’s frozen coal piles, non-working gas facilities and the rest.

And so they would never look at themselves in the mirror. You know, Greg Abbott would never admit failure. And he knows that a huge political repercussion is coming his way very shortly. And so they tried to get ahead of it by going on Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting and telling this lie that the Green New Deal is the problem. that wind energy is the problem, even though wind energy actually met its expected demand for this week, and it is gas and coal that have really failed.

RG: Does it have any chance of succeeding? You see a lot of cynicism among a national audience that says, “Look, these rubes in Texas, they’ll fall for this. They’ll be happy to blame AOC for their lights going out.” But I just can’t see people being quite that dumb. They know who runs Texas. And they know it’s not AOC.

MS: I agree that the conditions are there for a dramatic political shift in Texas. I mean, as someone who considers myself a political actor, this is our moment, right? We need to take what’s happened — how big oil and big gas have been enormously profiting from an electrical grid that’s not resilient, that’s not built to sustain crises like this, where they basically gambled with our lives, to increase their profits — we need to take this moment and use it for political change. But it’s not going to happen just by proving that they’re lying. We can’t just get on Twitter, issue press releases and say, “Abbott’s lying. What a liar. He should lose.” That’s not how it’s gonna happen, right? So it’s gonna be on us after we thaw out — as Democrats, as progressives — to really organize with this moment.

Similar to the January 6 insurrection — we need to organize based on what happened there and how Texas Republicans are complicit — this is a perfect moment for populism, right? That it’s not about left versus right. It’s about bottom versus top. And while Governor Abbott has had perfect electricity in his mansion throughout this crisis, the rest of us have been freezing, crashing on roadways, having our medical equipment fail for lack of electricity, go on down the line — all of these crises, the most disadvantaged are the ones who are hurt first. But we need to go out and organize based on what’s happening right now to change the politics of Texas.

RG: So, Mike, there’s a really interesting kind of historical rhyme almost to this when you talk about Texas populism. I mean, the rural electrification was sort of the kind of route of the original Texas populism. Is that going to resonate with people? Because now you have the party that’s in leadership saying: You’re kind of on your own! And: Sorry, this thing that was delivered 100 years ago, it isn’t actually going to work anymore.

MS: No, I agree. I mean, certainly the Republicans have always preached “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” And that meant, you know, don’t expect support getting a job or going to college. But at a certain fundamental level, people do expect something from the government, you know? Maybe they expect police, they expect roads, and I think expect electricity, you know? Maybe not high-speed internet, although I think that should be a fundamental right as well, but electricity is so fundamental, kinda like sewage, that you expect that from the government.

And I agree that this is certainly a moment to awaken people, and I think that if the right candidates run in ’22 statewide — our governor race is coming up, our lieutenant governor, our attorney general races are coming up, Beto O’Rourke has said he’s running, maybe some others will jump in — I think this is the perfect thing to organize on. It’s the complete bankruptcy of a conservative ideology. You know, the whole starve-the-beast thought process, we’re gonna shrink the government down to the size of a thimble and drown it in a bathtub, people realize, well, if it’s that small, then I’m gonna die, too. Right?

RG: How does deregulation play into the catastrophic failure? Is there a link between deregulation and the lack of investment into the infrastructure?

MS: Yes. And to be clear, I’m no expert in ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission. I was a city attorney in Austin and did a couple cases on behalf of our municipal energy company, Austin energy. But I’ll admit my eyes glazed over whenever the word ERCOT came up.

But big picture, I think a great example is in 2011 we had a big freeze, and some people died. And there were a lot of recriminations and promises to weatherize these facilities that weren’t able to come online. And that’s the key, you know? Texas with this deregulation, basically all the energy providers, it’s up to them on how to do business, and they sell their energy to the grid and then other people buy it from the grid. And unfortunately, the system that operates on the idea that basically the lower the supply, the higher the profit. So there’s very little margin for error. And so what that means is these energy providers, they make tons of money in the peak demand periods of the summer, after our 80th day in a row of 100 degrees in Central Texas, they’re selling their energy at spot prices of, I don’t know, $9,000 per watt or measurement, where it’s normally it’s $40. And so they build it around, like maximizing these moments of peak demand and low supply. And so unfortunately, there’s just these perverse incentives throughout the system.

But then they also know that there are structural problems. So, for example, they know that weatherization — that’s going to be a keyword in Texas in the months ahead — these natural gas energy facilities, these coal facilities are not properly weatherized, so these different intake valves freeze, the wells themselves do not operate just all the nuts and bolts of how, you know these raw materials get converted into electricity. They can’t survive this temperature. And there were all these recommendations that that they need to weatherize facilities, it would require an investment that would decrease their marginal profit, but that’s what is necessary to save lives. And unfortunately, because we’re not treating electricity as a public good, they were able to make these decisions to not weatherize and there was very little oversight by Texas regulatory commissions that are captured by Big Oil. And so therefore, 10 years later, we’re in an even worse predicament where who knows how many people have died and there’s all these other casualties.

RG: Right. And instead, they act like there’s something inherent to a windmill, that it will freeze, when, of course, everybody knows there’s windmills in Alaska, there’s windmills in Canada, there’s windmills in Northern Europe. It gets cold there, too. But they’ve invested and planned ahead for that and so the windmills continue to function. Mike, good luck, the rest of this week and next and thanks for joining us.

MS: Well, thanks for having me, Ryan. I appreciate everything you do.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was Mike Siegel.

Now, to talk in more detail about what exactly is going on in Texas right now and why its power grid collapsed so spectacularly, I’m joined by Varun Rai. Rai is a professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He also directs the Energy Systems Transformation Research Group. From 2013 to 2015, he served as a commissioner for the electric utility Austin Energy, so he knows a little bit about the Texas Energy Grid.

Professor Rai, welcome to Deconstructed.

Varun Rai: Thank you so much for having me.

RG: Yeah, so what has the last week been like, for you?

VR: Oh — it’s been incredible, to say the least. I live in Austin, and even before the major weather conditions hit broadly in Texas, in Austin we had icing weather on Thursday and we already had power losses in many parts of Austin starting Thursday.

And so, in the neighborhood we live in, we have been out of power since Thursday. So that’s almost a week now. As of this morning, we have gotten power back, but now water is out. And this is widespread. This is not just you know, me or just even for Austin, right? It’s much more widespread.

RG: Were you able to cook? Do you have an electric stove? And what was the temperature like in your house after a few days of this?

VR: Yeah, it went down to the 30s inside the house.

RG: Geez.

VR: Outside, without the wind chill, the temperatures were about 10 Fahrenheit, and then with wind chill, it went to -10 Fahrenheit. Inside it went into the 30s.

We have an electric cookstove, but we do have a gas fireplace and gas heating. Of course, the gas heating doesn’t work because you need electricity for the controllers and for the fan. So we were burning wood. I was fortunate to have gotten a bunch of food just a few days ago, in preparation partly. And so that came in very handy. So in the gas fireplace, we were burning wood to stay warm, as well as we actually literally cooked food in the fireplace for the last six days, literally. There is no delivery. Nobody’s delivering, obviously.

RG: Right. Right.

Can you talk a little bit about, you know, how we got here?

I mean, what’s fascinating is that rural electrification was one of Texas’s kind of great populist achievements. And it was more recent than people remember — we’re talking 1930s, 40s, 50s, that the state was getting wired up. How did the state go from, you know, populist control of, and pride in its electrical system, to where we are today? What was the kind of hinge point when that pivoted?

VR: Great question. I think the pride in the Texas energy and electricity system still exists — well, you know, right before a week or so.

RG: Right.

VR: Now it’s going to get very hard. And it’s a system where certainly transparency and openness in terms of opportunities for market participants to come in and play — and also in one of the big changes that happened in this market was roughly two decades ago when the market was deregulated, and a few years later, things moved to what is known as an energy-only market where power plant generators get payback only for what the price of electricity is on the market and not necessarily for capacity. You’re standing by the side waiting to be called, right? So there is a separation between how the market is designed.

And it all had been working fine. But in events like this, it just becomes very difficult.

RG: Right. A lot of people have been talking about 2011, the cold snap that came and the recommendations that followed that said: Look, this system needs upgrades to its infrastructure, or the next time there’s a cold snap like this, you’re gonna have a catastrophe. Is there something about the deregulated system that just disincentivizes investing in the infrastructure? Was it a political choice made by Republicans, and it’s not totally to blame on the deregulated system? As somebody who’s participated in this, but also studied it so extensively, what is it about this system that led us to a place where it was under-invested in?

VR: Great question. It’s a very complex question, Ryan. I’ll try to break it up.

As I mentioned earlier, as a generator, you will make your revenues by selling electricity on to the market. And so, part of the idea of this market design is because you’re going to make money that way, and because, typically, you would expect market prices to go up higher in conditions like this, you’d have that incentive to keep running anyway. Because if you are not maintaining, then you will not be able to serve the market and hence, you will not be able to make money just when it is most profitable, potentially, to make the money. So there are actually incentives built into this type of design.

Things are very competitive, right? And that was one of the primary ideas that, you know, doing that will bring prices down, right. And so there’s a lot of competition. And, you know, that’s one of the things that, you know, Texas thrives on, and there are all sorts of great things that come out of competition, not just in energy. And so to the extent you are investing in your own infrastructure, that costs you money, and then you know, that’s a trade-off for you as an individual generator, your own bet as to how likely it might be for the system price to go up, that your investment will actually pay out.

If not, then your cost of production will be higher, but you will not be making up the money because the system price is not expected to go up much higher. And so it’s understandable why, for an individual generator, the call might be, “Hey, it’s not worth going all the way.”

RG: Right. So it seems like on the question of incentives for spending on infrastructure upgrades, you have the collective action problem that you talked about, because it might be smarter for each individual business, and there’s so many of them, to say: You know what? Let’s roll the dice, and not invest, and hope that it doesn’t hit a peak, and we can keep our prices the lowest.

I wonder if you have the same collective action problem when it comes to transparency around how robustly you are actually following the guidelines that the state is putting out, that ERCOT is putting out because you might have an incentive to just, what they call in the army, just pencil with it. Say: Hey, did you check all of these boxes? Did you do all of this work? And you take your pencil out, and you check the box. And you say: Yes, sure, we did that. Because you’re already gambling, that there aren’t going to be severe events. You gambled with your investment that there won’t be severe events. So if there are severe events, you’re screwed, already on the front end, so you might as well just kind of fudge your records a little bit, since you’re an LLC that’s probably going to go under in the event of some major event. Do you think that that kind of dynamic could be playing in here?

VR: It is totally and certainly possible. Is it real? That is what will need to be investigated, and I believe will be investigated.

One thing to keep in mind, there are all ranges of players, right? Everybody has to go through financial requirements, they are regulatory requirements; it’s not easy to set up to be a generator or a supplier. Right? So there are all sorts of other things that do happen.

So, you know, it’s not that simple. And also, there are other safety aspects that come into play. So it’s hard for me to imagine that there is wide scale, complete neglect, I don’t think that that happens. We function pretty well in tough conditions, you know? Even our winters sometimes get tough and we do well. Summers are very tough in taxes. We have done very well, even if nervously, every year. But we have continued to do so.

But going back to your question on collective action on transparency, I think that is also a possibility.

RG: So, you know, early on, you started seeing Fox News and other right-wing outlets start putting up pictures of frozen windmills and saying: See, we told you, you go into renewables and this is what’s going to happen. What’s your reaction to that argument?

VR: Some of those pictures are probably true. Windmills can freeze, and some of them can stop operating, and some of that actually happened in this market as well. That’s one question.

If the question is, how much of what we’re seeing right now is because of renewable energy generation, I mean, that already has got an answer. In our peak, as I mentioned, there were about 35 to 45 gigawatts of outages and a few gigawatts of that were wind, because that is that is the capacity that was going to be available, and the majority of that, up to about 30 gigawatts, that was outages in natural gas-based generation, both because of power plant generation and some because of gas supply limitations.

RG: Right. So it’s just not true to say that it had any demonstrable kind of large-scale effect?

VR: Not in the full-scale problem that we are seeing.

RG: Right. Lastly, what do you think needs to be done to make sure that not necessarily this doesn’t happen again, but when you get a crisis like this again, that it’s mitigated to a degree where you might have a few thousand people who lose power for a few hours, but you don’t have millions of people freezing and starving?

VR: Great question, Ryan. There are a couple things that are really basic and essential.

One we talked a lot about is winterization of our infrastructure. This has been known. How well are we doing that? That is the lowest-hanging fruit here. Let’s push the pedal as far as we can there. That’s number one; that’s absolutely true.

Number two is there is a flip side to this. We talk mostly about supply, we didn’t talk much about demand. Demand soared! And it soared past what was expected in ERCOT, even in extreme conditions, and not these extreme conditions, but whatever those horizons are planning were, it exceeded by a few gigawatts of what was planned. So, you know, people don’t pay as much attention to the demand side, and that includes efficiency and weatherization of your homes and so on. It turns out that in events like this, actually, it’s extremely important, how do we increase the efficiency of our appliances so that we are not consuming more — that helps not just in these conditions, it helps in a whole lot of other conditions and with whole lots of other problems, including with bills, and with, different types of pollutions.

But then also, especially in events like this, it becomes an extremely critical tool, while the supply side is getting its act together, at least people can stay inside for a little bit longer and not die of hypothermia.

RG: Right.

VR: So that’s a very important piece. And the third piece to keep in mind, though, Ryan, is there are limits to how much we can prove any of this. Right? Going beyond a couple of the things that we talked about, that’s the social choice that we all make, these are policy choices, right? We can create all sorts of policies and say: Hey, even if you’re in a month-long, winter snow spell in Texas, we should be able to supply reliably to all our customers — yes, that’s a policy choice we can make, but it comes at extremely huge costs, right? So where are those boundaries? That’s a big discussion we need to have.

I mean, what is shocking about this whole thing is how different entities, and policymakers, and local utilities, and lawmakers — everybody’s really in a hard, tough situation, but pointing fingers at each other. And that just tells you that, in the big scheme of things, yeah, this is an extreme event for Texas, but things like this happen elsewhere in the world and in elsewhere in the U.S. and the type of response we are seeing is very shocking — the level of incoordination, unpreparedness, the sheer lack of coordinated response, that’s been very challenging.

So, coming back to my point that it can get very costly. So, as a society, there needs to be a very clear discussion as to what we are looking for and that gets encoded through policy. But obviously, no matter what it is, I can tell you one thing, Ryan. The social choice will not be: Yeah, we can accept what we are seeing here for the last week. Absolutely not.

RG: Right. Varun Rai, thank you so much for joining me today.

VR: Ryan, thank you so much. This was a great discussion.

[Credits music.]

RG: That was Dr. Varun Rai, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept. If you’d like to support our work, go to theintercept.com/give — your donation, no matter what the amount, makes a real difference.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Podcasts@theintercept.com. Thanks so much!

See you soon.

Join The Conversation