TX AG Abandons Victims of Winter Storm
TX AG Ken Paxton sided with ERCOT, shielding them from public scrutiny in the aftermath of the massive power outage in the wake of a February storm that resulted in an estimated 700 deaths
Dallas Morning News: “In March, ERCOT claimed it was a public agency, and therefore immune from lawsuits. It also claimed the Public Information Act does not apply because it was not a public entity, which, under Texas law, is required to release records”
Washington, D.C. — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled in favor of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) by denying open record requests and the release of key communications that took place during the February storm that resulted in an estimated 700 deaths, Dallas Morning News reports. Government watchdog Accountable.US called the move an insult to all Texas families that suffered during the storm and power outages.
“Instead of accountability and transparency, Ken Paxton continues to do the bidding of corporations while his constituents are left in the dark. With speculation of another potential power grid crisis — this time in the deadly heat of summer — Texans need access to more information, not less. Try as he might to sweep this under the rug, Paxton and ERCOT must answer to the 700 families who lost a loved one from the winter storm, starting with complying with open records requests,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US.
Read more on the ruling below:
Dallas Morning News: Attorney General Ken Paxton rules ERCOT not subject to Texas Public Information Act
Attorney General Ken Paxton finds in a ruling that the Public Information Act would not apply to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, meaning documents, text messages, e-mails, and recorded phone calls about February’s deadly storm will not be released.
Following an onslaught of records requests related to the winter storm and the ensuing power grid crisis, ERCOT attempted to limit the amount of information it would have to release. In March, ERCOT claimed it was a public agency, and therefore immune from lawsuits. It also claimed the Public Information Act does not apply because it was not a public entity, which, under Texas law, is required to release records.
Open government advocates have criticized the refusal to release records, saying ERCOT information is a matter of public interest. The state health department has identified more than 150 deaths directly related to the winter storm, and a Buzzfeed investigative report estimates the death toll to be closer to 700.
Joe Larsen, a Houston-based attorney who sits on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the Texas Observer in March that challenges to a ruling such as the one issued Tuesday by Paxton could spur lawsuits and possibly head to the state Supreme Court.
Texas’ grid operator is defined as an “independent organization,” certified by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
In a March letter requesting an AG ruling, Jay Stewart, an attorney representing ERCOT, wrote that the Legislature did not explicitly subject ERCOT to the state’s public information act, but, because it performs a public function, “the PUC has established a public-information regime that accounts for the unique nature of the information ERCOT holds.”
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