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Energy Legislation Increases Risks to Consumers, Communities, Budget

April 8, 2003

Energy Legislation Increases Risks to Consumers, Communities, Budget

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

Like the sweeping energy bill soon to be voted on in the House, Senate legislation sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) points in the wrong direction. At a time when the United States needs safe, clean, affordable energy, this bill is harmful to consumers and the environment. As the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today begins consideration of the bill, lawmakers should reject this package that would pad the pockets of polluters.

As currently drafted, the Senate bill repeals important consumer protections in the electricity market, paving the way for more Enron-type disasters. Other provisions preempt local control over the siting of transmission lines, promote deregulation and leave consumers vulnerable. Deregulation has failed to provide consumers with affordable and reliable energy. Congress’ response should be to strengthen consumer protections, not erode them by accelerating deregulation.

The bill also continues to waste taxpayer dollars on nuclear energy. Particularly objectionable are sections authorizing the Nuclear Power 2010 program and the “Nuclear Energy Finance Act,” both of which commit federal money to the construction of new commercial reactors. The misguided 2010 program contemplates a series of unusual taxpayer subsidies for nuclear generators, such as federal preferred equity and government power-purchase agreements at above-market rates. New nuclear power plants would burden the public with expenses and liabilities while imposing additional safety and security threats and exacerbating the nuclear waste problem. Moreover, these unfair subsidies to a mature industry distort electricity markets by granting nuclear power a competitive advantage over safe, clean energy alternatives.

Anti-consumer, anti-environment and fiscally irresponsible proposals in both the Senate and House legislation far outweigh the feeble support granted to clean energy technology. Although the Senate provides incentives for energy efficient buildings and appliances, the bill’s focus clearly is on providing billions of dollars in benefits to polluting fossil fuel and nuclear industries. Even much of the $2.5 billion in subsidies and research for hydrogen over the next five years will go to the coal, nuclear and natural gas industries to produce the hydrogen.

Rather than pandering to the interests of energy industry executives, Senate and House lawmakers should work toward forward-looking policy that invest in conservation, efficiency and renewables.


Click here to read Public Citizen’s analysis of Chairman Domenici’s energy legislation.