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Independent Task Force Should Investigate Blackout; Public Should Not Trust DOE-Led Team


Aug. 20, 2003

Independent Task Force Should Investigate Blackout; Public Should Not Trust DOE-Led Team

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

The Department of Energy (DOE) has already begun the process of sweeping the power outage mess under the rug in an effort to protect the very utilities that ought to be investigated for last week’s blackout. Given the Bush administration’s close ties to the energy industry, it should come as no surprise. How can we trust a DOE-led investigation with seeking the truth when the administration’s pockets are padded with energy money?

The Bush administration should not be protecting its friends in the energy industry. Instead, an independent task force should be created, comprising a variety of parties to independently seek the true causes of what went wrong – and why. This task force should include not only U.S. and Canadian officials but public utility commissioners from the affected states, consumer organizations in the United States and Canada, independent utility experts and representatives of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Less than two years after Enron helped manipulate the California power market, which occurred on Bush’s watch, none of the main culprits have been prosecuted and no citizens have been offered refunds. A couple of settlements by guilty energy companies hardly constitutes justice for the American people. And yet here we are, facing round two of an energy crisis, and the Bush administration still shows an unwillingness to confront its top campaign contributors.

It is worth noting that the DOE was an active participant in the National Energy Policy Development Group, Vice President Cheney’s energy task force, where officials sat with FirstEnergy, Enron and other corporations, to draft energy policy. How can the DOE, which is an eager advocate of pro-industry legislation pending in Congress, conduct a fair investigation? These officials have yet to release the documents from this energy task force. Cheney should turn over all records to the public to guarantee an impartial investigation.

The likely culprit for this recent disaster is Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corporation. FirstEnergy is a large contributor to Bush’s re-election campaign. In fact, FirstEnergy’s chief operating officer, Anthony Alexander, was designated a “Pioneer” by President Bush after he helped raise more than $100,000 during his last campaign. H. Peter Burg, FirstEnergy’s chairman and chief executive, was one of three hosts of a $600,000 fundraiser for Bush’s re-election campaign in June.

With a DOE-led investigation, the public will get only secrecy and subterfuge. Now is the time for a real investigation, not a backroom operation that will protect corporate allies. With Congress due to return in September to take up an energy bill loaded with corporate subsidies and scarce on consumer protections, the American public deserves real answers to what went wrong. A DOE investigation will not give them the truth.