June 23, 1998

Grassroots Groups Launch Nationwide Campaign to Protect Consumers, Environment as Utilities Deregulate

Sen. Wellstone, Rep. Kucinich to Introduce Federal Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than 100 organizations across the country today kicked off a grassroots campaign to ensure that consumers and the environment are protected as the electric utility industry is deregulated.

The campaign -- We?ve Got the Power: Ratepayers for Affordable Green Energy -- will work to support federal legislation to be introduced later this summer by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota). The legislation will address the critical issues that are vital to consumers and natural resources as the $220 billion electric utility industry is broken up and restructured over the next few years.

Press events were to be held in over 20 locations. Sen. Wellstone, Rep. Kucinich, and consumer advocate Ralph Nader headlined the campaign in Washington, D.C., at the Capitol. David Brower, one of the nation?s best-known environmental leaders and founder of Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute, announced support for the campaign in California. Jim Hightower, well-known political commentator and radio personality, spoke at the Texas press conference.

Sen. Wellstone summed up his intent to have a proactive agenda. "There must be a voice for citizens at the grass roots level," he said. "We must have the courage and vision to put forward an agenda that protects consumers from rip-offs and cost-shifting, ensures that power generation is not harmful to human health or the environment, shields low-income communities from degraded electric service, guards people in rural areas from less reliable service, and promotes a future where clean and affordable energy options prevail."

Rep. Kucinich said, "Utility deregulation threatens to cost consumers more for electricity, cause the air to be dirtier and global warming to increase, and to leave nuclear power plants operating at dangerously understaffed levels. But by banding together in this campaign, consumers have power. Together, we have the power to guarantee that there will be no bailouts, that we will pay lower prices, that we will have cleaner air, and that Congress will act to put these guarantees into law."

Brower outlined his concern about electricity deregulation and his support for the campaign, "Deregulation is driving big energy interests to forget the conservation and efficient technology programs that the best of them were doing very well," he said. "The technologies exist to provide for our energy needs without sacrificing the future to pollution and climate change. We should be investing in securing a safer energy future, not in any attempt to bail out our past mistakes. The ratepayers have suffered enough from the Great Nuclear Blooper. The grassroots campaign outlined here today has the vision to move us forward on the path to a rational and affordable energy future for all Americans."

Nader characterized the battle ahead at the Capitol news conference. "Billions of dollars are at stake as big energy companies lobby Congress to deregulate the electric utility industry," he said. "Powerful economic and political interests are clashing at both the state and national levels in an effort to profit. If these vested interests succeed, we will be left with a few energy companies who control our energy future and who will weaken our democracy by their collateral political powers. Only a citizens movement with its own legislative agenda can counterbalance the forces of greed."

"The big energy companies don?t care about residential and small business consumers," Hightower said. "Rural and low-income families are especially at risk in this current effort to deregulate the electric industry. We must have legislation which offers a floor of protections for real people."

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