Federal Agencies Respond to the Severe Arctic Blast

Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Dallas. Even though the store lost power, it was open for cash only sales.

Customers use the light from a cell phone to look in the meat section of a grocery store Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Dallas. Even though the store lost power, it was open for cash only sales. LM Otero/AP

As millions of people continue to endure compromised access to water and heat, no electricity and other emergencies resulting from the frigid, fatal Arctic blast brutally disrupting parts of the U.S., multiple federal agencies are shining a light on how they are trying to help. 

Caused by air flowing down from the Arctic, the freezing front already killed more than 20 people and forced heaps of others to live without warmth. 

“Nearly 40% of Texas’ electricity generation capacity has gone offline, largely driven by cold weather impacts on natural gas, coal, and even nuclear facilities. There have also been limited impacts on generating capacity from the iced-over wind facilities,” the Energy Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman said in a video the agency released on Wednesday highlighting its response efforts. “The resulting power outages have left over 4.5 million businesses in Texas without power, as well as approximately 390,000 additional outages in Louisiana and Oklahoma.”

So far, the Energy Department published two “extreme cold and weather situation” updates detailing some of what’s known about the extent of the impacts, and more could follow. Hoffman further elaborated on the issues—and how federal officials are working to remediate issues—in the video.

“In response to this emergency, the [department] has approved an emergency order authorizing Texas to run power plants across the state at maximum capacity to avoid blackouts,” she said. Further, Energy officials are also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide excess hydropower to the Lone Star state and engaging with partners in the petroleum industry. The department has additionally paused operations at one of its Texas-based plants to preserve power for locals in the area, Hoffman confirmed. 

Other federal entities shared relevant resources as well.

“As severe weather and natural disasters continue to threaten the livelihoods of thousands of our farming families, we want you and your communities to know that [the Agriculture Department] stands with you,” Acting Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Shea wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Visit farmers.gov or your local USDA Service Center to inquire about assistance."

In the document, the department further spotlighted risk management and disaster support options it provides and information about food assistance programs. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is also “helping to meet the emergency needs of pets and their owners, as inspectors coordinate closely with zoos, breeders and other licensed facilities to ensure animals in their care remain safe,” the release noted.

With support from President Biden’s administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent generators and other supplies to areas impacted. The agency also published several press releases on its ongoing moves to respond to the deep freeze, and some information about COVID-19 vaccination efforts it’s continuing to roll out amid the weather emergency.

And the Environmental Protection Agency additionally published a couple of pieces of guidance this week urging families and businesses to be careful when using certain heat sources that have the potential to turn deadly.

“Never use a portable generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or similar areas. Deadly levels of [carbon monoxide] can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator is shut off,” EPA officials wrote in a release Wednesday. “Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home.”

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