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Biden didn’t block Texas from increasing power during emergency

February 23, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: 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.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. 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.

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THE FACTS: 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, even if it exceeded typical environmental limits.

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!”

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“So Biden’s Dept of Energy blocked Texas from increasing power output before and during the storm, because it would take them above green energy level,” another Twitter user wrote. “People are literally freezing to death in their homes.”

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.

According to an Energy Department spokesperson, the emergency order “allowed specified power plants to generate up to their maximum capacity in order to manage the expected increase in electricity demand.”

“We worked with the DOE to put the order in place,” said Leslie Sopko, communications manager at ERCOT.

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.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536