I hope everyone is staying safe and warm!
Although the legislature mostly ground to a halt this week, it has been exceptionally busy for those of us on the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association government relations team.
We have been in almost constant contact with government officials and other ag groups to address challenges and alleviate the concerns we’ve heard from our members.
Since the beginning of the disaster, we’ve been on daily calls with state and federal agencies to identify areas of concern and ensure the agencies act as necessary to meet cattle producers’ needs. We have had multiple conversations with the governor’s office to ensure he is aware of the challenges facing cattle producers and the beef supply chain, and ease regulatory restrictions.
They are currently considering a fuel waiver to allow on-road use of red diesel to alleviate fuel shortages and have already waived vehicle weight restrictions. The governor has also sent a disaster declaration request to USDA, which if approved will allow for assistance. On the federal side, hours of service restrictions have also been waived.
We have also been in contact with representatives from the electric cooperatives to discuss the needs of cattle producers and ensure the co-ops are taking those into account as they navigate the current situation.
Throughout the week, everyone we have talked to is acutely aware of the impacts on cattle producers and food security. They are working as hard as possible to assist and mitigate effects, but we still have a long road ahead given the unprecedented scale of this incident.
It appears that the last week of extraordinarily rare winter weather has also changed the Texas legislative game once again. Here in Central Texas, the snow is finally starting to melt, but the fallout from lost electrical, natural gas and water utilities is just beginning.
For many parts of the U.S., sustained sub-freezing temperatures and regular snow and ice storms are just regular ol’ winter. However, it’s a once or twice in a lifetime event for much of Texas, and our infrastructure is just not set up to deal with it. When combined with the fact that the winter storms covered almost the entire state, it was a recipe for disaster.
Almost every corner of the state, rural and urban, suffered from the resulting power, gas, and water outages that are just now starting to subside. Grocery store shelves are once again empty, and gas stations are without fuel as impassable roads prevent deliveries. What’s more, food processors and refineries alike had to stop or slow operations due to power concerns and staff shortages, which means it will take time to ramp back up and restock.
Many of our issues are a direct result of electricity generation shortages and electrical grid issues—a fact that our government officials are keenly aware of.
Gov. Abbott has called on the Texas Legislature to thoroughly investigate why this happened and ensure it does not reoccur. He has also placed reforms on the legislature’s emergency items agenda to address deficiencies. Legislative hearings are already scheduled for next week.
Your TSCRA government and public affairs staff will be working within the context of these hearings to ensure that legislators are aware of and appropriately address the needs of rural Texas in their investigation and resulting reforms.
This also has broader implications for the Texas Legislative Session. The coronavirus crisis was already set to dominate much of the session, and now we have a whole new crisis that will need to be addressed. That means other issues may get less, if any, consideration. It will take some time to see how TSCRA’s other priorities are affected. We will keep you apprised.
I hope everyone starts to thaw out and can get back to normal as soon as possible, but know that we will be here fighting for you and doing everything we can in the meantime.
Until next time.
Jeremy Fuchs is the director of policy communications and government relations for Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.