Northwest Needs Help, Not Neglect, from Fedsby Editors
Our Views, The Herald, December 22, 2000
With consumers being burned, federal leaders must take more aggressive action to protect the Northwest from corporate profiteering.
So far, the Clinton administration seems to be on the verge of dropping the ball. Clinton's energy secretary, Bill Richardson acts like his main job is to keep the power flowing in California. As a second thought, he would also like to have a regional cap on the price of energy sales.
Richardson's idea for keeping California's lights on involves the Northwest. In fact, we are the idea. Take power from here and ship it to California. Supposedly, we'll be more than repaid by the Golden State within 24 hours. But how California is supposed to make power available here later is a matter of some mystery.
Even while that question hangs in the air, California hopes to turn the crisis into an excuse to steal the preference the Northwest has on power from the Bonneville Power Administration. Such a move would immorally abrogate longstanding commitments to this region.
While Richardson talks about sharing power, Washington Gov. Gary Locke and Oregon's Gov. John Kitzhaber want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate the cause of California's skyrocketing prices. On Thursday, Locke voiced the common suspicion about the prices. "It is pretty obvious there is price manipulation going on," he said.
Gov. Locke is not known for hot rhetoric, but he is clearly steaming. As he said Thursday morning, "Once again, we're waking up to obscene, manipulative and extortionist electricity prices in Washington, charged by out-of-state power generators."
In the short term, Locke promised more serious conservation efforts. And he joined other Western governors in promising to support new power projects. He may soon have the first opportunity to do so if a state commission is sensible enough to recommend that he approve a natural gas fired electric plant at Sumas. That power project should be just the first step toward remedying at least a decade of complacency about meeting the Northwest's own needs.
At the federal level, Richardson and his boss, President Clinton, need to wake up to the Northwest's needs if they don't want to leave the region with a sour taste that will last for years. The incoming administration, too, must meet the challenge. The Western governors called on President-elect George W. Bush to appoint an energy-crisis team to work with the governors while he is forming his Cabinet.
With luck, there should be enough energy to get the West through the winter in some reasonable fashion. But the Northwest is bearing too much of the burden for mistakes and manipulation elsewhere. Federal leaders must become more serious about protecting this region during the crisis.
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