Lawmakers Oppose Federal Plan
by Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Senators from four Northwestern states Thursday urged Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to abandon a plan to reduce the federal deficit by tapping surplus revenue from the Bonneville Power Administration. At a meeting at the office of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, lawmakers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana said the plan could result in a 10 percent rate hike for Northwest consumers and hurt the economy of the energy-sensitive region.
"This proposal really is a dagger at the heart of the Pacific Northwest," said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in a comment echoed by other senators attending the 45-minute meeting.
Under President Bush's budget proposal, some surplus revenue from the Oregon-based power marketing agency would be used to pay down the federal debt, instead of lowering electricity rates for Northwest businesses and consumers.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the plan "economic poison" for the region and said it could result in nearly $1 billion in additional costs for Northwest ratepayers over the next decade.
Wyden compared the plan to a breach of contract and challenged administration claims that the plan can be achieved without Congressional approval.
He and other lawmakers said Congress will do everything it can to stop it, including holding up the Energy Department budget.
"We will work them if we can and oppose them if we must," Smith said, referring to the Bush adminis- tration. Craig said the plan would "skim revenues away from Bonneville that have been and remain extremely valuable for the stability of that hydro system in the Northwest," adding: "I don't believe Bonneville was, nor has it ever been anticipated to be, a revenue-raiser for the general fund treasury of our government."
Bodman and other officials have defended the plan as consistent with sound business practices, saying BPA revenues would only be tapped once they exceed $500 million. BPA officials expect to generate annual surpluses of about $650 million through 2009.
Although the proposal would mean "a modest rate increase" for BPA customers in 2008 and 2009, Bonneville customers would benefit in the long-term through improved access to capital, which would be used to improve critical infrastructure, Bodman said.
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