Cantwell Criticizes Bush Planby Jose Paul Corona
The Columbian, February 13, 2006
While many were enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was taking the Bush administration to task.
Cantwell held a Sunday press conference at Clark Public Utilities offices to decry what she described as a backdoor utility rate hike.
During the press conference Cantwell said that she would "fight every attempt to raise," utility rates. Last week, as part of the federal budget, President Bush proposed diverting an expected surplus of hydroelectricity revenue out of the hands of Northwest ratepayers and into the federal treasury.
If Bush succeeds in diverting the surplus funds, he will have undermined decades of "concrete planning" by local officials that will impact the entire region, Cantwell said. "We are not letting this happen," she added.
The proposal is just the latest attack on the Bonneville Power Administration, Cantwell said. Just last year, the Bush administration tried to privatize Bonneville, she said.
The proposal has drawn sharp rebukes from Northwest congressional representatives and public power groups.
Cantwell was even more upset by the fact that the administration has been considering the proposal since Aug. 2005, but only made it public last week.
They could have said something earlier, she said. "But they didn't," Cantwell said. They aren't being upfront, she added.
While Bonneville officials have said that the proposal would let them improve power transmission capacity, Cantwell and congressional representatives want the money used to offset rates.
If the proposal goes through it would assuredly drive up rates and energy costs that "are already through the roof," Cantwell said. "I think this is a really ill-advised plan," she said.
Bonneville sells electricity generated at federal dams and one nuclear plant to Northwest utilities, charging only the cost of generating it.
During the summer, federal hydroelectric dams generate more than enough power to serve the region. Utilities in California and the Southwest, where air conditioners run hard in the summer heat, need the surplus energy from Bonneville and they are willing to pay market rates to get it. The proceeds from those transactions effectively reduce the rates paid by Northwest customers.
Over the next decade, BPA officials figure this so-called secondary market will be better than ever.
Cantwell is leading a bipartisan coalition of Pacific Northwest senators who oppose the Bush administration's plan.
All eight senators from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have signed a letter to the president's Office of Management and Budget, the agency in charge of the president's proposal, and have called for the immediate end to any efforts to implement the plan without congressional approval.
Cantwell has also asked that Washington residents join her in signing an online petition posted on her Web site asking the president to drop the plan.
To see the text of or sign Sen. Cantwell's online petition: http://cantwell .senate.gov /petition/bpa .cfm
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