AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Travis County District Attorney has opened a criminal investigation to determine whether any state leader, regulator or entity should face charges following statewide power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark and cold for days.
“We will not forget the horror our community experienced,” District Attorney José Garza said. “We will do everything we can to hold powerful actors, whose action or inaction may have led to this suffering, accountable.”
Garza told KXAN his office’s Public Integrity and Complex Crimes Unit would be reviewing the details of the actions leading up to and during last week’s storms, but he wouldn’t give any further details about which entities or individuals were included in the investigation.
San Antonio Representative Trey Martinez Fischer said he wrote a letter to Garza this week, calling on him to investigate any crimes of negligence or intent that may have taken place during the storm — and in the days, months or even years leading up to the power and infrastructure failures.
“Nobody deserves to die inside of their home because they froze to death,” he said.
He’s also asking the D.A. to look for any market manipulation or financial crimes, as the energy market spiraled into crisis. He asked, “Did somebody prey upon vulnerable Texans in an effort to make a profit?”
“It’s not enough to say, ‘we will do better next time.’ The legislature is in the business of preventing ‘next time’ from occurring,” he said. “We need to go back and find justice for the wrong that was committed last week. That is just something we are not equipped to do, but the DA is.”
The lawmaker indicated it would not be totally appropriate for the legislature to conduct the only investigation into what happened.
“You cannot be the arsonist and the fire marshal at the same time. We need to make sure we have a very thorough, outside investigation,” he said.
The announcement of the criminal investigation comes just hours after several board members of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas revealed they planned to resign after a meeting on Wednesday, according to a filing with the Public Utility Commission.
“We have noted recent concerns about out-of-state board leadership at ERCOT,” the resigning members wrote in a letter, attached to the filing. They added, “we want what is best for ERCOT and Texas.”
Governor Greg Abbott said he welcomed the resignations and vowed to continue to investigate “what went wrong.” State lawmakers, who have oversight of ERCOT, will question the council’s leaders in a series of hearings starting Thursday.
Gov. Abbott said, in part, “we will ensure that the disastrous events of last week are never repeated.”
U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said he still wants to see “in-state accountability.”
“I have no love lost for these folks. They clearly didn’t give us adequate notice, but the bigger problem is the failure to prepare and respond to recommendations that go back a decade,” he said.
Doggett blames Gov. Abbott, the previous governor Rick Perry, and both of their appointees on the regulatory authority, the Public Utility Commission.
He noted two congressional committees have indicated they will hold hearings at the federal level concerning the events in Texas — the House Energy and Commerce committee and House Oversight committee.