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Texas energy fiasco highlights Biden's climate goals

Texas suffered massive power outages beginning Feb. 14 when ice, snow and frigid temperatures slammed the state. Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman breaks down how the winter storm has impacted Biden’s climate change plans.

Video Transcript

MYLES UDLAND: Certainly on the market side, we've had a lot of excitement with Bitcoin hitting a record high. We had those hearings related to Robinhood yesterday. But in the background, the biggest national story this week has been the situation in Texas, where we still have hundreds of thousands of customers without power.

There are empty grocery stores, flooded homes, flooded businesses, streets full of snow where the-- we haven't had temperatures above freezing for days in areas of the country that do not prepare to have any snow at all-- ever. And so it is certainly an unfolding humanitarian crisis that continues, unfortunately, as we head towards the weekend. But this also brings to the fore climate change and the effects that it could have on all kinds of industries and all kinds of goals that politicians have here in the US.

Yahoo Finance's Rick Newman joins us now to discuss how this episode, Rick, really the first major crisis that we've seen in Joe Biden's presidency, could inform his climate plans. And I guess I would ask two things. One, how did you read Biden's climate plans, his ambitions there as he took office? And how do those get reshaped now?

RICK NEWMAN: Yeah, I've been following Biden's climate policy, which is very ambitious. I mean, we don't know the whole thing yet, but he wants to make major transformations in the US energy sector. And the thing that I noticed in the aftermath of these storms in Texas is how quickly the whole conversation became about green energy, even though thermal energy, as they call it, powers about 80% of the electrical grid in Texas.

Most of the problem there is a breakdown in natural gas pipelines, and there have been smaller breakdowns in nuclear reactor power and things like that. And yet Fox News and other places are saying, oh, see, this goes to show we can't rely on windmills because some windmills froze. So what that tells me is there's a lot of paranoia in the oil patch down in Texas and other parts of the energy economy when they're hearing about Biden's plan. And they're trying to use opportunities like this to really trash green energy when that is not the problem.

I mean, a green energy failure was not the problem in Texas. It was the plain old carbon energy infrastructure that failed. And yet look where the conversation is going. So you've got Republicans in Texas saying, look, this is why we can't rely on green energy.

And you've also got Democrats saying, look, this was the conventional electrical grid that failed. It shows the need for more infrastructure spending, including more green energy. So both sides are trying to capitalize on what's happening in Texas.

JULIE HYMAN: I mean, if anything, Rick, I've been shocked at what I've been reading in terms of how much wind energy Texas does get. Texas, of all places, right, especially in the summer. I've seen figures as high as 40% of the state's energy, at times, comes from wind energy, as opposed to here in the Northeast, which is very much still in the fossil fuel era, if you will. It seems to me that the Texas situation is going to give more support to Biden's, perhaps, infrastructure plans than anything else since that seems to be what needs to be worked on in Texas.

RICK NEWMAN: Right. And that's why the messaging battle is so important. You're right, Julie, Texas is actually the number one state for wind power. I mean, it's not surprising if you think about it. There are vast flat expanses, and that's-- that's ideal for wind power generation, also solar power. Texas is number four for solar power generation.

And I don't exactly understand why the governor, Greg Abbott, is trashing wind and solar, because there are at least 35,000 jobs in these two industries alone in Texas, and they still provide a relatively small portion of the total energy there. I think it's only adds up to about 20%. So this is actually a good industry for Texas. So you'd think that the governor would be trying to use that to his advantage, but that does not seem to be the case.

And you know, you think about everything that motivates politicians. It's money, who are your big donors? It's who are your buddies, who has control at the legislature level, and so forth? And I think what we're seeing is the ongoing control, along with anxiety, among big oil in Texas and the politicians that support big oil.

MYLES UDLAND: And Rick, I would also note, and I'd be curious just quickly for your thoughts on this, like, we haven't heard that much from Joe Biden during this time. And it certainly is very clear how different it's going to be with Biden as the president versus Trump, who would have just tweeted through it and probably said all the things that you said.

I mean, it's different when Greg Abbott, a governor, says things versus when the president says them. And I think Biden's patience with this, declaring an emergency, releasing the funds, and then not coming out every day with inflammatory statements shows how things are likely to go in other areas over the next few years.

RICK NEWMAN: So I've actually seen some criticism of Biden among Democrats, because he has not come out and made some big public statement to show we're on the case, we're here. However, Biden has had a phone call with Governor Abbott. He has pledged to send whatever they ask for.

You know, we may get into this interesting tug of war, where there's this attitude in Texas we don't need anybody's help. We're going-- we'll handle this on our own. That kind of contributed to this problem with the grid, because I think it might be the only state grid that doesn't connect to other grids, because they don't want to have to deal with federal regulation. And yet people in Texas really need help.

So you've got politicians kind of posturing one way, saying, you know, we're Texas, thanks, but no thanks. And residents and citizens saying, we'll take whatever we can get. So it looks as if the Biden administration, through FEMA and other organizations, is going to send generators, blankets, water, all that kind of stuff. It's probably already on the way.

But you're right. Biden's just being very quiet about it. He's not trying to gain points on it yet. He may, in the future. I mean, he is a politician, after all. And I think Biden and Democrats, they will try to find a way to use this and other incidents to say, look, this just tells you why we need more infrastructure spending.

MYLES UDLAND: All right, Yahoo Finance's Rick Newman. Rick, thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend. We'll talk to you soon.

RICK NEWMAN: Bye, guys.