Millions of Texans were still without safe water on Sunday when officials filed angry complaints over shockingly large power bills caused by a cold weather crisis that Houston’s mayor said could ultimately be prevented.
The chilly air mass that paralyzed parts of the southern and central United States early in the week claimed more than 70 lives, leaving millions temporarily without power and frozen water lines.
“Everything that happened this week was predictable and preventable,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told CBS “Face the Nation,” saying it had long been clear that the independent Texas power grid was vulnerable to extreme weather.
Turner said Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, still needed both plumbing supplies and plumbers, but made progress in restoring the service.
Both Houston and nearby Galveston on Sunday took orders for residents to boil drinking water.
But about 28,000 households were left without electricity on Sunday, the website poweroutage.us said, and many Texans suffered an additional insult: electricity bills for homes sometimes run into the thousands of dollars, with as high as $ 16,000.
While most of the state’s utility customers have fixed interest rate plans, some had signed up for floating rate plans that can save money in good weather but produce explosive increases in cold temperatures.
Gov. Greg Abbott met with lawmakers from both parties on Saturday to discuss the billing issue, saying, “We have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills.”
Turner, for his part, said “the unreasonable costs (should) be borne by the state of Texas and not the individual consumers who did not cause this disaster.”
On Saturday, President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for much of the state, providing much-needed financial and administrative assistance.
His spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Sunday that Biden hoped to visit Texas “already this week” if he could do so without disrupting recovery efforts.
Michael McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas, said the economic impact of the weather crisis could be equivalent to Hurricane Harvey, a devastating 2017 storm that caused an estimated $ 125 billion in damage.
He said Biden’s emergency declaration could provide money to help users pay their unreasonable electricity bills.
Government and local officials have demanded investigations into how the power crisis developed so catastrophically.
A U.S. senator, Tina Smith, a Democrat in Minnesota, has called for a federal investigation. She said that spot prices for natural gas had increased by up to 100 times normal prices, and tools passed on the higher prices to customers.