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VERIFY: Energy Department gave Texas an emergency OK to exceed pollution limits

Claims online say that the US Energy Department denied requests from Texas’ electricity distributor to operate at maximum levels. The claims are not true.
Credit: AP
Motorist on County Road West drive past a power station Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Odessa, Texas. Many residents and businesses were left without power following a weekend of below freezing temperatures in Midland and Odessa. (Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)


Did the U.S. Energy Department deny ERCOT (Texas’ electricity distributor) permission to operate at maximum levels because it would violate air pollution limits?


No, according to U.S. Energy documents. The request was granted, but included a warning that ERCOT not exceed the amount of generation absolutely needed to restore power and keep Texas homes warm.


A Facebook post contends that the acting Energy Department Secretary David Huizenga, who is a Biden appointee, did not act on ERCOT’s emergency request to exceed air pollution limits as Texas was walloped by record-breaking cold.


The Facebook post said that Huizenga wouldn’t issue an order to allow electricity generation plants to operate at full capacity. 

“Didn’t happen,” the post says. “Did they do this on purpose to Texas? Fact check it! I dare you!”

Well, VERIFY did just that, and looked into exchanges of paperwork between ERCOT and the U.S. Energy Department.

In a Feb. 14 letter, ERCOT says that electricity producers were close to violating their limits for pollution emissions and wastewater releases for Feb. 14-19. 

ERCOT also added this, saying it "understands the importance of the environmental permits that are at issue. However, in ERCOT’s judgment, the loss of power to homes and local businesses ... presents a far greater risk to public health and safety than the temporary exceedances of those permit limits.”

In an order that Huizenga signed just before 8 p.m. on Feb. 14, the Energy Department gave ERCOT permission to exceed the pollution limits for the requested period, but with language warning ERCOT to keep generation to what was absolutely necessary to curtail the emergency. 

In the order, Huizenga said, “Given the emergency nature...I have determined that additional dispatch of the Specified Resources is necessary to best meet the emergency and serve the public interest.” 

The order was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Feb. 19.

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