Cantwell Presses Bush
by Charles Pope, P-I Washington correspondent
Analysts say plan would increase residential power rates by 7%
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Maria Cantwell took her case to protect Northwest consumers from higher power rates to the White House Tuesday, telling President Bush his proposal to siphon $1 billion from the Bonneville Power Administration would damage the region's economy and set a dangerous precedent.
"I asked the president, 'You're not serious about this are you?'" Cantwell, D-Wash., said after a meeting on broad energy policy.
Bush listened, she said, but did not make any commitments beyond assuring her that Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman would discuss the question in greater detail with her and other senators before a final decision is made.
"We put on a push at the highest levels but there was nothing there to convince me they had done a 180," Cantwell said.
Even so, she said the opportunity to talk is important because it provides time to solidify opposition. Unlike past efforts to restructure the BPA, the proposal this year does not require congressional action. Cantwell was one of about 10 senators who spent more than an hour discussing energy proposals that Bush laid out last week in his $2.77 trillion budget.
While some of the ideas, such as promoting biofuels and ethanol, mesh with Cantwell's priorities, the budget also calls for the BPA to redirect all revenue from the sale of surplus power beyond $500 million to the federal treasury. Analysts say that would drain $1 billion from the BPA over the next 10 years and increase residential power rates by 7 percent.
The BPA, which markets power across Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon from a sprawling network of hydroelectric dams, is a jealously protected icon of the region. Any attempt to alter its operating structure has been fiercely fought and lawmakers from the region -- both Republican and Democrat -- have vowed to do whatever it takes to prevail again this year.
Joining the chorus Tuesday was Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., who is loyal to Bush on most issues but took strong exception to his BPA proposal. With her addition, virtually all the Washington delegation has publicly denounced the BPA proposal.
"Though the president's budget provides many great initiatives, there is one specific proposal that I believe could be detrimental to the economy and livelihoods of people of the Northwest," she said, referring to the BPA.
"I am confident that the Northwest delegation will not rest until this proposed rule change is withdrawn." McMorris, who represents Spokane and a large portion of Eastern Washington, said ratepayers are already under pressure to pay for salmon protection and absorb higher rates that are a result of the Enron scandal.
To see the text of or sign Sen. Cantwell's online petition: http://cantwell .senate.gov /petition/bpa .cfm
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