Congress Must Defeat Bush's Plan for BPAby Editors
The Olympian, February 25, 2005
Members of Congress from the Pacific Northwest have united in their efforts to beat back a proposal by President Bush to require Bonneville Power Administration to start selling power at market rates.
In a letter to the director of the federal budget, members of Congress warned that a shift from market to wholesale rates "would lead to massive electricity rate increases in the Pacific Northwest, reduce reliability of the electrical grid, and potentially threaten the continued viability of the Bonneville Power Administration."
That's a dire warning, and it's reassuring to see Democrats and Republicans standing together as one to battle the Bush administration on this important consumer issue.
Members of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association say that if the president is successful in shifting from selling power at cost-based rates to market rates, it will force BPA to increase its rates by $1 billion across a three-year period. Those rate increases, of course, would be passed directly on to consumers -- businesses and private individuals.
"This is nothing more than an attempt to raise money for the U.S. Treasury by taking it out of the pockets of Northwest consumers," said Steve Johnson, executive director of the PUD association. "Cost-based electricity from BPA helped build the Northwest economy, and the administration's proposal will bring it crashing down."
Members of Congress rightfully acknowledge that the Northwest consistently has been one of the nation's hardest-hit regions during economic downturns. One of the reasons for the slow economic recovery in the Northwest is a 50 percent increase in the cost of power from 2001 to 2002.
"The rate increases persist today, and we do not want our constituents exposed to that kind of devastation again," the members of Congress wrote the budget director. They warn that the president's proposed shift would lead to another 50 percent rate increase during the next three years.
"It is totally unacceptable to artificially jack up power costs in the Northwest in an effort to reduce the trillion dollar-plus federal deficits by $12 billion," the congressional delegation wrote. "Power costs in the Northwest did not cause the deficit and should not be used to bail the federal government out. Besides, arguably, the economic damage done to the region by a 50 percent rate increase and the resulting decline in tax revenue would more than offset any money raised by the electricity tax you'd be imposing on Northwest consumers and businesses."
The annual budget battle over BPA rates is annoying. Every couple of years, lawmakers from regions of the country with higher electricity rates look to the Northwest as a source of increased revenue.
Contrary to their belief, Northwest power is not subsidized by the federal government. Every year, BPA makes debt payments to the U.S. Treasury. That's why it's time to put the "subsidy" argument to rest once and for all.
It's also time for Northwest lawmakers to stand united in their effort to torpedo the president's plan for BPA rates. Democrats and Republicans alike must withhold their vote from appropriations bills until the Bush administration backs down on the market rate proposal for BPA.
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