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Before he was Dallas mayor, Eric Johnson proposed a bill he says could've prevented the power catastrophe. It died in the '11th' hour

The bill would have required some state agencies to create a strategic plan every two years to address projected changes in climate, water availability and weather.
Credit: AP
Motorist on County Road West drive past a power station Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Odessa, Texas. Many residents and businesses were left without power following a weekend of below freezing temperatures in Midland and Odessa. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)

DALLAS — As Texas lawmakers begin to sort through the wreckage left in the wake of the state’s deadly power catastrophe, one former state representative says legislation introduced a few years ago could have prevented it all.

His was the bill that died before the power did.

“It was basically a party line vote at the 11th hour to kill that bill,” Eric Johnson said on Y’all-itics. “And it’s still one of the low moments of my legislative career watching that bill go down on third reading like that.”

These days, Eric Johnson is the mayor of Dallas.

In 2015, he was the state representative for District 100 in Dallas. That was the year he introduced HB 2571.

He sat down with Y'all-itics to talk about that bill. To listen to this and previous episodes, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher

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That legislation would have required some state agencies to come up with a strategic plan every two years to address projected changes in climate, water availability and weather.

Those plans would be based on the official report from the Texas state climatologist.

The climatologist’s report would included information ranging from projections of precipitation and temperature, to sea level changes and coastal storm intensity.

“It would have forced these agencies to take that information and account for it when they were determining what they needed in terms of resources and planning to perform these essential functions of those agencies," said Johnson. "And the Public Utility Commission, the PUC, was one of those agencies.”

The PUC, of course, regulates the state’s electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities and oversees ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Johnson said the bill’s defeat still stings to this day because it went down on third reading, which is usually just a final formality before a bill’s passage.

And the Democrat said the lesson he’s learned is that leaders should be talking about worst case scenarios.

“These responses can’t always be a reaction to disaster.  These should be part of the conversation and policy discussions on a prospective basis when we’re down in Austin every other year passing legislation.”

Can lawmakers prevent a future power catastrophe?

On Thursday, Feb. 25, lawmakers are expected to convene in Austin for an in-person hearing to begin addressing what went wrong when millions of Texans were left in the dark and without heat while surviving arctic temperatures.

Texas House Joint Committee Hearing is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

The fact-finding hearing is expected to include four panels of speakers, all invited by lawmakers.

The Anatomy of HB 2571 84 (R)

Bill Text:  84(R) HB 2571 - Introduced version

Bill History:  Texas Legislature Online - 84(R) History for HB 2571

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