The recent catastrophic winter-weather event in Texas has highlighted the degree to which our national infrastructure (among other things) has fallen victim to the penny-wise and pound-foolish thinking that has dominated our national politics for the past 40 years.
The winter hurricane, as some have labeled it, reportedly will prove to be the most-costly natural disaster in the history of the United States. Both the public utilities and the private companies in Texas did not invest in the types of infrastructure improvements to their plants and facilities that would have allowed them to withstand a weather event that really should not have been all that catastrophic.
Much was made of the wind farms that were knocked out of service, but wind turbines all across the globe exist in far harsher conditions than what occurred in Texas and they do not experience the catastrophic failure that was seen in Texas. Texas simply had not spent the money necessary for the winterization of those turbines .
The damage to the state’s infrastructure left millions of Texans and residents of other states without power and clean water, causing billions in damage to individual homes (when their pipes froze), as well as the tragic loss of life that now numbers 111 persons.
In addition, the shutdown of oil refineries and petrochemical plants that were damaged by the storm has created shortages across the country that will drive prices needlessly higher for everybody.
And here’s the thing: The winter storm would not have been a big deal in most of the rest of the U.S., where governments and business are prepared for such weather events.
But in Texas, keeping energy costs as low as possible was a priority for state regulators. The end result of not spending a few billion dollars upfront to weatherize the state’s power grid resulted in tens of billions of dollars in post-catastrophe costs.
This sort of shortsighted thinking is not confined to Texas, however. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of our nation to public health emergencies because we have become entirely dependent on foreign manufacturers for all sorts of critical medical supplies, from drugs to masks to mechanical equipment — all in the name of “efficiency” and “cost-cutting.”
Similarly, we have under-invested to such an extent in our roads, bridges, airports, dams, water supplies, and power grids — everything — that we have plummeted to the level of a Third World country. We no longer are a world leader –we’re a world loser.
Our refusal to acknowledge and address the impending impacts of climate change have set us up for even more catastrophic weather-related events in the near-future. The proverbial “100-year” flood, wildfire, or storm has become commonplace.
The Build Green Act sponsored by our U.S. Senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seeks to remedy the twin problems of our crumbling infrastructure and the looming climate crisis. The time to take action is running short. Hopefully, elements of the Build Green Act will be included in President Biden’s forthcoming national infrastructure plan, which needs to get going as soon as possible.