Saylor to DEP: What assurance do you have Pa. citizens ‘aren’t going to die like they did in Texas?’

By: - February 22, 2021 4:47 pm

House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, speaks at a budget hearing on Feb. 22, 2021. (Pa. House screenshot)

A top Pennsylvania Republican repeated a narrative without expert backing about Texas’ power failures during a budget hearing with state environmental regulators on Monday.

While asking questions of Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, pressed on Pennsylvania’s preparedness for extreme winter weather, such as the record lows that engulfed the Lone Star State last week.

“Texas just went green and look what we’ve got,” Saylor said about the Republican-controlled state that leads the U.S. in natural gas production and carbon dioxide emissions. “They have 25 percent of their power coming from green energy, and they don’t have water, they don’t have electricity.”

He linked Texas’s struggles to Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has moved forward with a plan to create a cap-and-trade program for power plants that could shutter some coal-fired facilities.

‘What assurance do you have that people aren’t going to die like they did in Texas?” Saylor said.

Wolf begins process to bring Pennsylvania into regional cap-and-trade program

McDonnell replied by pointing out that gas- and coal-fired generation also experienced outages due to the cold weather.

Saylor cut McDonnell off, responding that “the news media, which is usually biased, reported that the wind mills froze up.”

McDonnell replied by pointing to Pennsylvania’s own experiences with cold weather events. While the Keystone State hasn’t faced systemic failures, individual plants have had similar issues to Texas.

For example, during the 2014 polar vortex, “what we saw was a number of plants that hadn’t really exercised their plans in those kinds of weather conditions [and] valves froze up,” McDonnell replied.

Saylor cut him off, saying “let’s move on,” before diving into another critique of the department.

According to the federal Energy Information Agency, renewable energy is one-fourth of Texas’ electricity production.

Wind in particular has grown fast in Texas, which has a virtually unregulated electricity market.

That lack of regulation has more to do with Texas’ winter energy failures than renewable energy, said John Quigley, a former DEP secretary from 2015 until 2016 under Wolf.

Quigley, now a director of Harrisburg University’s Center for Environment, Energy and Economy, didn’t blame any one energy source in particular.

While windmills did freeze, so did the natural gas supply chain, Quigley said. 

Natural gas provides 45 percent of Texas’ electricity, Quigley said, meaning that Texans’ ability to flip a switch was just as hurt when such facilities as gas wells and power plants froze in the cold.

“The issue still fundamentally comes down to a lack of preparedness in Texas,” Quigley said. He added that “no state is completely immune to outlier weather conditions, but states like Pennsylvania prepare for this.”

Texas’s own utility system, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, acknowledged that the power issues weren’t just from one source.

“Nuclear units, gas units, wind turbines, even solar, in different ways — the very cold weather and snow has impacted every type of generator,” Dan Woodfin, a senior director at ERCOT, said last week according to the Texas Tribune.

But GOP Gov. Greg Abbott attacked the Green New Deal, a far-reaching proposal by progressives to eliminate fossil fuels, as a “deadly deal” while shifting blame to solar and window for the problem in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last week.

As for Saylor, a spokesperson did not reply to a request for clarification.

The state DEP is seeking $164.8 million this year as part of Wolf’s 2021-22 budget.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.