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Barton Draft Electricity Bill Blows A Fuse

Aug. 17, 1999

Barton Draft Electricity Bill Blows A Fuse

Electricity Bill Short-Circuits Consumers, Workers, Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A draft of the “Electricity Competition and Reliability Act,” made available recently, provides few protections for electricity consumers, utility workers or the environment, Public Citizen says.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, is circulating the draft legislation in preparation for subcommittee action tentatively scheduled for September. The legislation is supposed to deregulate the electric power industry and enable consumers to shop for power and save money. In reality, however, the measure would give consumers a raw deal, Public Citizen says. The proposed bill is most notable for what it does not do:

  • The draft doesn?t address a $200 billion bailout of electric utilities already under way across the nation. Many utilities unwisely built expensive nuclear power plants, and ratepayers now are being forced to pay the tab for these dangerous and overpriced assets. The utility bailout is keeping electricity rates higher than they should be, and this draft legislation would do little to bring them down.

“Rep. Barton?s draft electricity bill is nothing but hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare for poorly managed utilities, all of it coming out of the pockets of families and businesses,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project.

  • The Barton draft fails to address the needs of rural Americans and Americans who struggle to make ends meet. Rural and low-income consumers already are seeing rising prices and decreasing quality for many services, including health care, communications, education and transportation. The draft legislation would add electricity to the list of inequities between the affluent and the less-advantaged by failing to ensure affordable electricity rates for all Americans.
  • The reliability of the electric system depends on a well-trained workforce, yet since 1990, more than 130,000 utility workers (about 25 percent) have lost their jobs. The draft legislation provides no money for worker retraining or retention and would likely lead to more layoffs, Public Citizen says.

“The Barton draft threatens the well-being of hard-working families,” said Charlie Higley, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project. “It also threatens the safety and reliability of the nation?s electric system–fewer workers means longer power outages and less attention to safety.”

  • The proposed legislation doesn?t address toxic pollution produced by the many coal-fired power plants exempt from certain provisions of the Clean Air Act. These “grandfathered” power plants produce not only more than half the nation?s electricity, but about one-third of the pollution that causes smog, one-third of the pollution that leads to global warming and two-thirds of the pollution that creates acid rain. In contrast, new power plants must use pollution control equipment. This makes electricity from new plants more expensive and gives old plants a competitive advantage at the expense of public health and the environment.

“About 500 coal-fired power plants are using the lethal loophole in the Clean Air Act to kill and injure thousands of people each year,” Hauter said. “By failing to address these issues, the Barton draft threatens the health, safety and livelihood of millions of Americans.”

  • The Barton draft is mostly silent on renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, even though both can create new jobs and a cleaner environment, and even though voters have shown broad support for both. The draft legislation is out of step with the desire of many Americans for a cleaner, more efficient power industry.
  • The draft legislation fails to address the problems caused when one or two electricity suppliers own most of the power plants serving a particular electricity market. The proposal wrongly relies on antitrust laws to curb market domination, even though the U.S. Department of Justice recently testified that antitrust laws cannot solve the problems facing electricity markets.

“The Barton draft legislation merely creates unregulated monopolies,” Higley said. “If this bill were enacted,electricity prices would go through the roof as suppliers protect their monopolies, stifle innovation and reduce the quality of electricity service.”