In the wake of a historic storm that left millions of Texans languishing without power and resources, the chief civil lawyer for third largest county in the United States is launching an investigation into the circumstances leading up to the disaster.
In his probe, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee will examine decisions made by the Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, as well as any affiliated parties.
Menefee, 32, is the youngest, and first Black chief civil lawyer in Harris County. His jurisdiction spans the largest county in the state.
“Members of our community died in this disaster, and millions of Texans languished without power and water while suffering billions in property damage,” Menefee said in a statement sent to NewsOne. “Harris County has a similar population to a mid-size state—what happened here is akin to Louisiana or Kentucky losing power for days. Residents in our county deserve to know what happened, who made which decisions, and whether this could have been avoided or mitigated.”
The matter is another marker in the fight against environmental racism, which became more of a mainstream topic as the Flint water disaster emerged. The winter storm left millions of Texans in the literal dark and exasperated the inequities which already exist in low income communities, and those with large Black and minority populations.
Texans continue to report the aftershock of the storm which left with community members with sky-high electricity bills, passed over from electricity suppliers who left customers with the burden of payment.
Menefee’s lawsuit follows a slew of other investigations conducted by the Attorney General of Texas, the Travis County District Attorney José Garza, and the Texas Legislature. Menefee believes the past should have provided prologue regarding the stability of the power grids.
“I am aware state agencies are conducting their own investigation and I am willing to work with them in that process. But it’s clear Harris County cannot leave its fate to state government. We knew in 2011, after the last hard freeze, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) put state government and leaders on notice the grid was underprepared for hard freeze events. FERC made specific recommendations, and the state and the power grid manager failed to heed those warnings. Harris County government must protect its residents. My office will conduct a comprehensive investigation into these events and take legal action where appropriate.”
Menefee also stated he would testify before the Texas House’s Business and Industry Committee about adjustments to the current laws which would enable attorneys to fight for better consumer protections, according to KHOU.
Last week five of ERCOT’s board members stepped down due to the collective fallout of the disaster. Gov. Greg Abbott blasted ERCOT for its handling of the emergency. Later Abbott added reforming the organization as an item during an emergency 2021 legislative session.