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Texas power crisis spurs flurry of investigations that could reshape state's independent grid

Investigations of the Texas electricity crisis — a disaster with fatal consequences — are proliferating in the state and the Beltway.

Why it matters: The inquiries could bring regulatory changes to Texas' independent grid aimed at better preparation for extreme weather.


They could also bring new protections against massive power costs in Texas' freewheeling market that expose people to bills that reach thousands of dollars.

Driving the news: The various plans or calls for inquiries include...

  • Texas' public utility commission on Friday launched a probe of the "factors that combined with the devastating winter weather to disrupt the flow of power to millions of Texas homes."
  • Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a key member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, tweeted he's launching an investigation that will include "why so many fossil fuel sources failed, why ERCOT wasn’t better prepared, & who participated in the conspiracy to falsely blame renewables."
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday formally demanded copies of communications and other documents from ERCOT and Texas power companies related to the event.
  • Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), in a letter Saturday, urged federal energy and commodity regulators to explore the huge spikes in natural gas prices in multiple central U.S. states during the cold snap.

Catch up fast: The flurry of activity follows previously announced efforts and inquiries.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the House Energy and Commerce Committee is planning an inquiry, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has demanded a state legislative investigation.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's sway over Texas' independent grid is limited. But it has begun looking more broadly at several states' power system performance in winter conditions and Chairman Richard Glick last week said he's open to new mandatory requirements that would cover Texas.

What's next: Via KXAN, an Austin NBC affiliate, officials from ERCOT and the public utility commission will appear before state lawmakers this week.

"The Texas House State Affairs Committee and Energy Resources Committee will hold a joint hearing on Feb. 25, as will the Senate Business and Commerce Committee," it reports.

Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton, alleging he launched probe in retaliation for Trump ban

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President" days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

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Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton, alleging he launched probe in retaliation for Trump ban

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President" days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

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Retiring Republicans could clear the path for GOP troublemakers to join the Senate ranks

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.

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Diversity in Congress is growing steadily, but lags behind the U.S. population

Data: Brookings Institution and Pew Research Center; Note: No data on Native Americans in Congress before the 107th Congress; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The number of non-white senators and House members in the 535-seat Congress has been growing steadily in the past several decades — but representation largely lags behind the overall U.S. population.

Why it matters: Non-whites find it harder to break into the power system because of structural barriers such as the need to quit a job to campaign full time for office, as Axios reported in its latest Hard Truths Deep Dive.

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As Senate Republicans retire, lobbyists eye staff as top-notch talent

The retirements of high-profile Senate Republicans mean a lot of experienced staffers will soon be seeking new jobs, and Washington lobbying and public affairs firms are eyeing a potential glut of top-notch talent.

Why it matters: Roy Blunt is the fifth Republican dealmaker in the Senate to announce his retirement next year. Staffers left behind who can navigate the upper chamber of Congress will be gold for the city’s influence industry.

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U.S. grants temporary protected status to thousands of Venezuelans

Venezuelans living in the United States will be eligible to receive temporary protected status for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to the U.S. amid economic, political and social turmoil back home. Former President Trump, on his last full day in office, granted some protections to Venezuelans through the U.S. Deferred Enforced Departure program, but advocates and lawmakers said the move didn't go far enough.

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Zuckerberg floated possibility of remote work in January 2020. Sandberg thought he was "nuts"

Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg thought Mark Zuckerberg was "nuts" when he raised the possibility in January 2020 that 50,000 Facebook employees might have to work from home. By March 6, they were.

Why it matters: In an interview Monday with Axios Re:Cap, Sandberg explained how Facebook moved quickly to respond to the pandemic with grants for small businesses and work-from-home stipends for its employees, and how the company has been watching the unfolding crisis for women in the workforce.

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Supreme Court declines to hear case on qualified immunity for police officers

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal for a lawsuit brought against Cleveland police officers that challenges the scope of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine which has been used to shield officers from lawsuits alleging excessive force, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The doctrine has been the subject of scrutiny from civil rights advocates. Eliminating qualified immunity was one of the key demands of demonstrators during nationwide protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.

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