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Bush Energy Policies Protect Polluters’ Profits, Plunder Consumers’ Pockets

July 16, 2001

Bush Energy Policies Protect Polluters’ Profits, Plunder Consumers’ Pockets

HOUSTON – Contrary to what Texas politicians will tell people today at an invitation-only “town hall” meeting in Houston, President Bush’s energy plan will harm the environment and consumers, consumer rights advocates said. U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Sugarland) and other Texas Republicans in Congress are foolhardy to try to revive aspects of the plan, the advocates said.

Energy experts from the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen and the Texas Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) point out that the Bush-Cheney energy agenda benefits energy producers at the expense of consumers. The administration s energy plan relies on old ideas and failed policies of the past. It has no price or blackout protections for electricity consumers. It suspends public health laws so power plants can increase emissions, subsidizes nuclear power and dirty coal, gives money for more oil and natural gas drilling, and reduces federal spending for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

“Tom DeLay and President Bush are abandoning Texas consumers by promoting Bush s energy plan,” said Tim Morstad, director of Texas Public Citizen s global warming project. “Bush s idea to suspend public health laws and replace local controls by expanding the federal government s authority to build new coal and nuclear power plants will do nothing to alleviate the energy crisis. But it will make air quality in Houston and the rest of Texas significantly worse.”

Public Citizen faults DeLay and the Bush administration for their lack of commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Bush claims that to satisfy demand, we must build 1,300 power plants over the next 20 years. But this claim is disputed by the president s own Department of Energy, which found that if existing energy efficiency technologies were implemented, we would need 690 new power plants over the next 20 years. Bush s claim is also disputed by the success of increased energy efficiency and renewable energy sources in Texas. All across West Texas, small towns are experiencing economic booms due to a Texas policy that requires the use of renewable energy.

“While DeLay uses events like today s in Houston to talk about energy efficiency, he has voted to slash federal energy efficiency budgets,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “We should be increasing investments in energy efficient technologies, not sinking billions more in taxpayer subsidies for dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power.”

Texans already know all-too-well the negative impacts of relying on coal for electricity. A recent Knight-Ridder analysis of air quality records in 36 states shows that smog in Texas has increased dramatically. Experts interviewed attributed this to hotter weather, increased use of coal to generate electricity and higher sales of SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles.

“Houston s air quality is dangerous and getting worse as a result of Bush s toxic two-step,” said Morstad. “This toxic two-step — collecting campaign contributions from the energy industry and crafting toxic energy policy — is endangering citizens health in Texas cities. Instead of pandering to his major campaign contributors, Bush needs to hold coal power plants accountable and make SUVs adhere to the same fuel efficiency standards of automobiles.”

Some elements of DeLay s energy pronouncements already have proven faulty. Defending his omission of Democratic language supporting price caps in wholesale electricity markets, DeLay said on June 23, “All government price controls can offer California is the specter of longer and more frequent blackouts,” and he urged a market-based solution to the state’s power crisis. But prices have plummeted and no rolling blackouts have occurred in California since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) enacted price controls.

“Tom DeLay was wrong to oppose price controls in California s electricity market,” Hauter said. “Consumers have benefited from lower prices from the increased government protection. The only negative impact of FERC s price controls is that the three major California power producers, which contributed $1.5 million to the Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republican National Committee in the last election cycle, can no longer pad their profits by price-gouging utilities and consumers.”

Other DeLay policies would lead to higher energy prices for consumers. DeLay supports the Bush administration s goal of building new nuclear power plants and increasing drilling for natural gas. But when Texas two nuclear power plants, South Texas and Comanche, experienced cost overruns of $5 billion and $10 billion, respectively, consumer electric bills jumped. And overreliance on natural gas-fired plants lead to skyrocketing Texas natural gas prices in the 1970s. Texas enacted regulation in the 1970s after the price of power increased as much as 164 percent over a five-year period.

“Real solutions require energy producers to sell electricity and other commodities to consumers at affordable rates, and investing in proven renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, not exploring old ideas that don t work,” Morstad said.

While Bush and DeLay speak about the value of “state s rights,” the administration s energy plan runs roughshod over state and local rights. Bush would limit the traditional purview of states and local governments to lay transmission lines by transferring this authority to FERC.

“Expanding the power of this obscure agency, FERC, to seize property for massive transmission lines goes against the last century of electricity planning in America,” Hauter said. “Consumers and property owners are better served by having more not less control over energy planning decisions.”