By the Editorial Board
Ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures froze Texas and other states with poor critical infrastructure Sunday, leaving more than four million without utilities in Texas alone. The ruling class and its media are fast to place blame on a ‘natural disaster,’ but really there is nothing natural about it. Many in Texas’ capital city of Austin shivered in disbelief, and the administrative ability of the city froze over like the thousands of unmaintained generators, as they would spend more than 72 hours without lights or heat witnessing the glowing lights of downtown’s vacant but warmed and well-lit office buildings.
The statewide death toll has climbed to 47, and almost every case was preventable, with carbon monoxide poisoning being a major reported cause. The system which failed in every way to provide resources left people desperate to seek heat and shelter in running vehicles where they did not find reprieve, only toxic, deadly fumes.
In the beginning, the ruling class-owned media announced “rolling black outs” in which power would allegedly turn on and off in intervals. People on social media were quick to point out that the media was not telling the truth, but instead simply repeating lies from the electric companies. The power went out, and in many residences it never came back on.
The ruling class wasted no time pressuring the half of the population who still had functional electricity to heating to no higher than 68 degrees in the freezing weather, all the while large corporate buildings that have been closed for months due to the pandemic remained lit and heated. In an online press conference, Austin mayor Steve Adler suggested that people “keep warm,” while, with rolled-up shirt sleeves, he insulted the freezing population. Austin Energy added insult to injury by advising their customers to call 311, a service which was down during the worst moments of the crisis.
Unlike parts of the Midwest and Northeast, the Texas roads and power grid were not prepared for such a storm, and neither are the people who have seldom experienced a hard winter. Houses are not insulated for the low temperatures, and the storm has wreaked havoc on plants and wildlife.
To make matters infinitely worse, Texas is one of the few states with deregulated energy—the anarchy of production reigns over basic social necessities. The deregulated energy market is meant, according to the bourgeoisie, to ‘stimulate competition’; however it is really to stimulate profit for private ownership. The competition may temporarily lower costs, but it also lowers the reliability and preparedness in case of emergencies. The ‘oversight’ provided by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is like all other false ‘oversight’ committees for police, the environment, etc.—ultimately powerless and at the mercy of big money.
The players in the Texas energy game are a complicated web of interests—there is ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), which doesn’t own any power plants or transmission lines but just manages the flow of electricity. Numerous companies oversee the actual generation of energy including from oil, natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear power. Big utility providers like Oncor and CenterPoint, which control the transmission lines and substations for huge areas, especially around the biggest cities in Texas, are owned by private investors—for these the customer side is run through what they call ‘Retail Energy Providers’ that buy from the big utility companies and sell to regular people to give the illusion of ‘choice.’ Other companies like CPS Energy in San Antonio and Austin Energy are considered ‘municipal utilities,’ owned and managed by those appointed by the city government, and there are also Energy Cooperatives—both of these can control the generation, transmission, and retail sale of energy, and in these places the people generally don’t have a choice of who they buy it from.
ERCOT for its part has proven itself to be totally incompetent—they underestimated the demand for energy and failed to bring additional generators to the table when they were most needed—they even assured that power plants could handle the storm which proved to be woefully incorrect.
This is not the first time widespread power outages have resulted from winter storms in Texas. This same situation happened in 1989 and again in 2011, and both times comprehensive reviews were completed and found that the power generation companies needed to winterize their equipment to prevent these storms from disrupting production. However, since these findings were just recommendations and not mandates, power generation companies like Luminant found it easier to simply pay the $750,000 fine for failing to provide needed energy than actually prepare for the next severe winter storm.
The callousness of the electric companies is perhaps the only thing colder than the millions of Texas households without power or heat, but such malicious, calculated indifference to human life and well-being is not simply or only evil—it is highly profitable. Premiums for electricity are already rising with the increased demand: the wholesale price of electricity in Houston has already skyrocketed from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000. Customers across Texas will now pay for the pleasure of the faulty services provided by capitalists with money on top of loss of life and living standards.
While the poor and working people of Texas suffer the worst from the capitalist-created disaster, the top brass in the companies and non-governmental organizations responsible for the electrical system are very well-paid. E. Allen Nye Jr., the CEO of Oncor, the company controlling the electrical transmission and distribution for most of Dallas-Ft. Worth, south to Waco and Williamson County as well as parts of West Texas, made $5,214,493 in total compensation in 2019. Of this total, $930,833 was received as a salary, and $4,116,972 was received as a bonus.
Houston’s CenterPoint has CEO David Lesar on an annual salary of nearly $1.4 million, with $1 million in shares as a signing bonus in 2020—previously he was the CEO of the imperialist corporation Halliburton, one of the bloodiest hands in the oil racket.
CPS Energy in San Antonio is the nation’s largest municipal utility, and its CEO Paula Gold-Williams has a total compensation of $930,669, split about evenly between base and bonus pay.
Additionally, the power generators that are still functional like Comstock Resources Inc., owned by Dallas billionaire Jerry Jones, have seen their profits soar as energy prices continue to increase. These parasites rake in money hand over fist while millions of desperate people continue to heat their homes in fear of the next power outage.
While the liberal bourgeois media tends to justify the decision of these corporate giants to cut costs to equipment as ‘saving consumer’s money’ by providing a ‘lower’ energy cost, the ruling class cannot examine the issue of profit—the fact that the above individuals as well as major shareholders make an extreme profit off of the people’s back from a necessary commodity. The capitalist system forbids providing free or at-cost electricity to the consumer, in the name of these profits.
Aside from and connected to the issue of electricity, many parts of Texas including Austin and San Antonio have been put on a boil-water notice due to issues at water treatment plants as a result of power being cut. With countless people with frozen pipes unable to access water, major water mains around the state have also frozen and burst, leaving even more without one of the most basic necessities of life—and now, even those who do have access to water can only consume it if they also have the electricity needed to boil it.
The right to warm houses, electricity, food, clean water, and employment are rights guaranteed by socialist society but currently only available for sale at cutthroat prices by the capitalists. Only the victory of socialist revolution can prevent such atrocious mismanagement. The workers and the people must fight not only cold weather but the forces of the ruling class, who have proven to care nothing about the well-being of those they drain profits from. The struggle for basic rights can only go so far under the existing system, and this fight must be combined with the struggle for political power, which, when established by workers, can and will guarantee these rights under the New State. Such a revolution is impossible working within the system of exploitation and profit, and must be forced by violently overthrowing and suppressing the rotten capitalist system.
There is no such thing as a natural disaster
The contradiction between human beings and nature can and will be decisively overcome with the establishment of the socialist mode of production. At the dawn of human history, people struggled for basic survival—lifespans were short and all energy was directed toward daily reproduction. As time went on, both the mode of production and the productive capacity of humans advanced, civilizations came into existence, and solutions were found for numerous natural problems in areas from agriculture to sanitation to sickness and disease.
In our current era, we have the technology and the resources to avoid these ‘natural disasters’; however, due to the capitalist mode of production, there is no motive to care for the overall well-being of humanity as a whole. The only motivation in our society for those who control all these resources needed for life is profit—the almighty dollar. In the pursuit of profit, the capitalists are in a race to the bottom while the people are left out in the cold and the dark.
Socialist society, on the other hand, involves a centrally planned economy, where all resources are directed toward meeting the people’s needs rather than the needs of shareholders and private interests. While severe weather will always be a reality, the terrible consequences that the people have faced from this most recent winter storm and countless others, these so-called ‘natural disasters,’ are the direct result of private ownership, profit motive, and anarchic markets. Only a society structured to serve the people is actually equipped to prevent these disasters and unnecessary human suffering and death.
Tribune encourages our readers to support revolutionary activists working to serve the people in this capitalist-caused disaster. Groups such as United Neighborhood Defense Movement have been organizing to meet the needs of people on the ground. Donate here: https://fundrazr.com/f1mA77
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