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‘Last Week Tonight’: John Oliver takes a closer look at the deadly storm in Texas and castigates Cruz for his Cancún getaway

John Oliver on "Last Week Tonight."
John Oliver on "Last Week Tonight."HBO

John Oliver opened up his show “Last Week Tonight” on Sunday by noting that “it’s been an unpleasant week” — with news headlines ranging from “New York Governor Andrew Cuomo admitting to withholding information about COVID deaths in nursing homes to the release of grim unemployment numbers.”

But taking center stage, and which he focused on during the opening segment of his program, was the disastrous storm that struck Texas — as well as the response (or lack thereof) of several of the state’s leaders.

A dangerous winter storm strikes Texas

Texas faced a devastating winter storm this past week — with record-low temperatures, impassable roads, and the state’s electric grid operator losing control of the power supply all creating widespread issues for residents.

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“Texas saw a full-blown humanitarian crisis this past week, with many losing electricity and access to clean water, hospitals having to evacuate patients, and dozens of deaths,” Oliver said. “And if you watched Fox News, there was one culprit for all of this: green energy. Because multiple hosts placed the blame firmly on frozen wind turbines.”

Oliver proceeded to debunk the claims of those like Tucker Carlson, who insisted that “windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are and people in Texas died.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott also repeated the same argument on Sean Hannity’s show by asserting that the situation demonstrated why the Green New Deal would spell trouble in the long-run.

But, Oliver said, “Texas only relies on wind power for about 25 percent of its electricity.”

“The vast majority comes from thermal heat sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear — and all of those were utterly hobbled by the cold this week,” Oliver said.

Further, several “uniquely Texan issues” were at play that “made this the calamity it was,” Oliver said.

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One of the primary issues, Oliver said, is that Texas runs on its own power grid separate from the rest of the country — a purposeful move by state leaders to avoid federal regulation.

“That independence meant that Texas was limited in its ability to import energy from neighboring states, and it also meant there was significant pressure on ERCOT, the company that manages the state’s grid,” Oliver said. “ERCOT scrambled to meet surging demands, and has since admitted that Texas was seconds and minutes away from catastrophic month-long blackouts.”

The point being, Oliver said, ERCOT was “not prepared for this storm.” But, he said, neither were the power companies that supply the grid.

ERCOT could not compel companies to winterize their facilities so that they would not go down during a storm because “the state had left that choice up to power companies, many of which opted against the upgrades because they were expensive,” Oliver said.

“While this storm was unusually strong, it also wasn’t unprecedented,” Oliver said. “Ten years ago, Texas was hit with a storm that paralyzed the state after which federal regulators warned that power plants needed to winterize to prevent this from happening again. And state officials knew full well what might happen if they didn’t act.”

In short: “Texas had a decade to prepare, and just didn’t,” Oliver said.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s short-lived trip to Cancún

Oliver also had some sharp criticism for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who packed up his bags and jetted off to a family vacation in Cancún last week as hundreds of thousands of his constituents went without heat or running water.

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After photos of Cruz at the airport and subsequently boarding the plane circulated across social media, Oliver noted how the junior senator initially implied that “his plan had always been to just drop his family off, and then come back — a claim that never really rang true.”

“Sure enough, he eventually admitted that he planned to stay the whole time and blamed his preteen daughters for the trip,” Oliver said. “Because the first rule of fatherhood is: throw your daughters under the bus at the first opportunity.”

But group chat text messages between Cruz’s wife, Heidi, and her friends and neighbors, soon revealed a different story: the trip had been planned, thereby contradicting the Texas Republican lawmaker’s claim that he flew down simply to act as a chaperone.

“I mean, that’s just incredible. Ted Cruz — who, remember, wants to be president — told the world he was bullied into international travel by tweens, then got cyberbullied into coming home by the Internet, leaving his wife to solo parent two kids on vacation in another country while trying to figure out who in her mom group doxed her.”

Oliver added: “It’s all amazing.”

After also blasting the state’s former governor, Rick Perry, for suggesting that Texans prefer blackouts to federal regulation, Oliver reiterated that “thousands of Texans are still struggling.”

“As easy as it is to venerate sacrifice, the thing about sacrifice is, people have to choose to do it. And the people of Texas didn’t choose to lose power, heat, and water for days this week,” Oliver said. “This mess only happened because those in charge didn’t implement critical lessons from 10 years ago.”

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Oliver admonished state leaders for not stepping in to help and asked his viewers to assist with the crisis by donating to feedingtexas.org.

“The people of that state do need help,” Oliver said. “They deserve it, just as they deserve better than a pat on the back for their fortitude and independence as they shiver to death, and representatives who [expletive] off to Mexico at the first sign of danger.”

Watch the main segment on the meatpacking industry below:




Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.