Texas Governor Abbott wants a total disaster declaration as questions remain over weatherproofing state’s power grid.
President Joe Biden travelled to Texas on Friday with plans to visit emergency centres that dealt with the fallout from a severe winter storm that left millions without power or clean water for days, and killed at least two dozen.
Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, landed in Houston early on Friday afternoon, where the president met Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to discuss the recovery from last week’s storm.
They then travelled to Houston TranStar, a Department of Transportation hub where the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Communications Center is found.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) February 26, 2021
The disaster has been a test of Biden’s pledge to work for all Americans to help unify the country. Abbott initially did not recognise Democrat Biden’s November election victory over former President Donald Trump. Texas state officials lost a court bid in December to overturn the results, which Trump has falsely claimed were tainted by widespread fraud.
While there, Biden and Abbott were given a briefing by Bob Fenton, the acting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator, according to pool reports
Texas Senator John Cornyn, who was at the emergency operations centre, told reporters he was happy to see Biden. “The governor and Senator Cruz and I asked for a declaration from the federal government which provides access to public and private assistance through FEMA. That’s going to be important for our recovery.”
Last week, Abbott asked the FEMA and Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties.
Biden signed an emergency declaration on February 20, for 77 counties, adding 31 more on Monday and signalling he was open to increasing the number.
While much of the rest of the US features electricity systems that are interconnected, allowing power to cross state lines, Texas has long stood out for having its own grid, though it can transfer small amounts of power to the eastern US power grid and Mexico’s power grid.
The historic storm was a huge challenge to the state’s energy system, with millions losing power for days. The state’s Republican leaders have come under fire for not heeding warnings that the Texas power grid needed significant upgrades to defend against deep freezes.
Calls for weatherproofing are growing louder, with members of the Biden administration floating incentives for Texas to retrofit its gas lines, power plants and wind turbines.
When asked about these calls, Cornyn told reporters: “We ought to listen to anybody with a good idea and try to come up with ways to prevent this from happening again.”
Biden is set to speak at a FEMA COVID-19 vaccine administration site at 18:00 EST (23:00 GMT) before he departs Houston.