Biden declares major disaster in Texas, more than 14 million told to boil water after power failure – CNBC

City workers and volunteers distribute bottled water at Delmar Stadium, in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2021.

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President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state grapples with widespread power outages and water shortages amid freezing winter conditions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Saturday.

The action unlocks federal funding for individuals in Texas, grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

Millions of Texans have struggled with power outages and more than half the state is experiencing disrupted water service with boil-water notices in effect. More than 14 million people in Texas were told to boil their water as of Friday because parts of the state’s water supply might be contaminated.

The declaration also provides funding for cost-sharing with state and local governments and some private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation measures. Dozens of counties will be able to access the aid.

The federal government has already approved emergency declarations for Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and has sent supplies like generators, blankets, water and meals to Texas last week.

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Biden plans to visit Texas as soon as next week to assess the federal response. The president said he’ll make a final decision to go after ensuring his presence wouldn’t impede recovery efforts. The administration has been working closely with Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on disaster response.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said on Friday that it returned to normal conditions and restored power for millions of customers. More than 78,000 people in Texas still didn’t have power as of 10:30 a.m. ET Saturday morning, according to data from PowerOutage.us.

A shopper walks past a bare shelf as people stock up on necessities at the H-E-B grocery store on February 18, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

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Alison Silverstein, an independent energy consultant and former strategic advisor for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, projected that 20 million or more Texans could be forced to boil water.

In addition to the major disaster declaration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued an emergency fuel waiver for Texas. The waiver, effective immediately, permits the state to temporarily forgo certain fuel standards to combat gas shortages in impacted areas.

Texas refiners had paused roughly a fifth of the country’s oil production during the outages and freezing temperatures. Oil prices fell from recent highs on Friday as firms prepared to restart production as power services resume.