The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is holding on tightly to records related to last month’s winter storm power blackouts. Following the storm, news outlets and watchdog groups submitted requests for information related to communications before, during and after the storm that caused millions throughout the state to lose power.
But the state’s grid operator says that since they’re a nonprofit, they don’t have to hand over the documents.
Christopher Collins is one journalist who submitted a public information request to ERCOT. He’s Associate editor at the Texas Observer.
“We were seeking text and email communications concerning both board members and top staff leadership to sort of give us an idea of what the communications were like leading up to the storm, during the storm and and immediately after the storm,” Collins told Texas Standard, “[to get] an impression of how they prepared, how they reacted in the moment and then, sort of, you know, if they were discussing what could have gone better or something afterward, to give us an idea of that.”
ERCOT, however, challenged his and others’ requests, sending a letter to the Texas attorney general’s office asking it to weigh in, and making the case that as a nonprofit, it should not be subject to open records requests.
Collins says there was a similar situation several years ago with an organization called the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development corporation. When people asked for records, GHP refused, and the case went to the Texas Supreme Court.
“And that case, justices eventually ruled that the Greater Houston Partnership did not have to turn over the records that were being requested,” Collins said. “However, in doing so, they set something of a standard, and that they said if a nonprofit gets a portion or a significant portion of its funding from the public [then] the public does get access to some of that organization’s records. And that standard, we still have that today.”
Collins says that could be used as precedent for trying to wrangle records from ERCOT.