Not Real News

Bill Magness, president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), testifies as the Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources hold a joint public hearing to consider the factors that led to statewide electrical blackouts in Austin, Texas. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that an order from the U.S. Department of Energy under President Joe Biden blocked Texas from generating adequate power during the recent statewide emergency because it would exceed pollution limits.

THE FACTS: The order did the opposite of what social media users are claiming. It gave the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates Texas’ power grid, emergency permission to produce enough energy to restore power to Texas homes, even if it temporarily exceeded pollution limits.

On Feb. 14, as a severe winter storm wiped out heat and electricity for millions of Texans, ERCOT asked the Energy Department for emergency permission to generate electricity at maximum capacity to get the power grid up and running. Later the same day, the Energy Department granted ERCOT’s request, allowing the agency to dispatch enough additional units to “maintain the reliability of the power grid” through Feb. 19, even if it exceeded “emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon monoxide emissions, as well as wastewater release limits.”

The order gave ERCOT these waivers to avoid blackouts, while asking that the agency exhaust all “reasonably and practically available resources” prior to increasing energy generation in order to decrease environmental impact.

A week later, with Texas still reeling from the damage of the storm, social media users were misrepresenting the agency’s order, falsely claiming it throttled the state’s ability to get power back up and running.

“Please read Biden’s Department of Energy Order No. 202-21-1,” a Twitter user wrote. “Had Biden’s Department of Energy not blocked Texas from increasing power, the people of Texas would’ve had power!”

However, both the DOE and ERCOT confirmed to The Associated Press that these claims were false and that DOE’s order amounted to an approval of what ERCOT requested.

“We worked with the DOE to put the order in place,” Sopko said.

While some social media posts expressed outrage that the order only allowed ERCOT to exceed emissions limits under certain circumstances, the order granted ERCOT’s request and did not block the state from increasing power generation.