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Save the Very Rich, Squeeze the NW

by Editors
The Astorian, February 19, 2006

Bush budget for Bonneville Power would whack power consumers

Pacific Northwest electric utility customers will see higher rates and a weaker economy under the latest plan proposed last week by the Bush administration for the Columbia River hydropower system.

Coming close on the heels of a similar White House proposal a year ago, this is yet another example of balancing the budget on the backs of ordinary working people.

This scheme for Bonneville Power Administration would skim BPA funds generated by the sale of surplus electricity. Those funds are now reinvested in the Pacific Northwest to improve the hydropower system and keep rates low.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington estimates the proposal would equate to a $924 million rate hike in our region over the next decade. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council forecasts a smaller financial impact but a loss of 1,120 jobs if these BPA funds are diverted to the U.S. Treasury. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden likens the Bush plan to loan sharking. "This is economic poison for our region, and we are going to block it," Wyden said.

The Bush plan also is opposed by Republican Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Idaho's Larry Craig and Montana's Conrad Burns, as well as Democrat Patty Murray of Washington.

The dams were federally funded and it is appropriate that the region repays its debt for this important investment. But as the Northwest senators said last week, BPA and its customers have voluntarily made more than $1.46 billion in early payments to the Treasury over the past five years - even as our region has grappled with the economic aftershocks of the Western energy crisis

BPA rates historically have been based on the cost of power generation, a system that balances economic development goals with environmental priorities, recognizing the high price many in the Columbia River Basin paid for federal dam construction - in the form of lost habitat, decimated salmon runs and other consequences.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has briefly delayed implementation as a meaningless nod to the Northwest congressional delegation. But it is clear Bodman intends to begin skimming funds from the BPA as soon as he can get away with it.

In this and many other respects, the administration's spending and tax package aims to preserve tax breaks for the wealthy while taking a sledgehammer to a host of government programs that benefit ordinary people.

All Northwest citizens and leaders, of every political persuasion, should come together to defend our power system from this damaging and unwarranted attack.

Save the Very Rich, Squeeze the NW
The Astorian, February 19, 2006

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