Nov. 14, 2003
New Energy Plan is Travesty for Consumers and Environment; Congress Should Kill It
Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen
Today’s deal on energy legislation is an appalling abomination, written by a few Republicans working with energy industry executives behind closed doors. The undemocratic process in which this energy bill was crafted does not benefit consumers or the environment; in fact, both are likely to become the victims of an energy plan that will reward corporate polluters at taxpayer expense, with the following consequences:
- With the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA), expect a consolidation of the utility industry, as huge corporations buy local utilities and use ratepayer assets to finance risky investments. This likely will lead to more Enron-style scandals, higher electricity bills and more blackouts. Assets of the 179 largest investor-owned utilities in the United States were estimated to be worth $600 billion in 1996 – closer to a trillion dollars today. Electric utility industry revenues constitute between 3 and 4 percent of the gross domestic product, larger than telecommunications, natural gas pipelines, and airline revenues combined. PUHCA’s repeal will allow, for the first time since 1935, the ownership of this huge and essential public service by investment banks, oil companies, insurance companies, electric equipment companies and others with potentially huge conflicts of interest.
- The bill will hand out an estimated $20 billion in tax breaks, most to the oil, gas and nuclear industries, enabling further pollution of the air, land and water. As a result of the attempt to revive the declining and uneconomical nuclear industry, the public will face a growing nuclear waste problem and increased shipments of radioactive waste through their communities.
- Environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, will be gutted through exemptions or extensions of cleanup deadlines. Public lands in the Rocky Mountain states will be opened to drilling at the expense of wildlife habitat and federally protected lands. The coalbed methane industry will continue to pollute groundwater, rivers and streams, bolstered by tax breaks and permit exemptions. Consumers will be left paying billions of dollars for the cleanup of groundwater contaminated with MTBE because the producers will be immunized from lawsuits. Residents in areas such as Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles likely will face an increased incidence of asthma because of exemptions to the Clean Air Act.
Congress should consider the implications of a bill that was written under the guise of energy independence and sustainability but in reality demonstrates alarmingly little concern for safe, renewable energy policies that will benefit us all. Congress must reject this deal, which was produced under pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney, and instead develop an energy plan that will address the real needs of consumers and the environment.