On First Anniversary of Blackout, Congress Still Hasn’t Passed Reforms to Protect Consumers

On First Anniversary of Blackout, Congress Still Hasn’t Passed Reforms to Protect Consumers

Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

August 14 will mark the one-year anniversary of the power blackout that affected much of the Northeast and Midwest in the United States. Despite the billion-dollar hit to the economy from the extended outage, the Bush administration and Congress have failed to implement the reforms necessary to prevent another blackout.

A year ago, Public Citizen pointed out that electricity deregulation was the primary culprit that has weakened reliability. The United States’ transmission system was designed to accommodate local electricity markets, not deregulation’s large, freewheeling trading of electricity that moves power over long distances.

Short of ending America’s failed deregulation experiment, Congress should pass mandatory reliability standards, thereby forcing power companies to comply with enforceable reliability rules. Two bills pending in Congress, H.R. 3004, co‑sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), and S. 2236, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), are effective first steps in holding energy companies accountable and improving the reliability of our nation’s electricity grid.

These two bills lift language included in the still‑stalled energy bill (H.R. 6); the Bush administration and lawmakers are refusing to act separately on this needed reliability language. That’s because energy industry lobbyists don’t want the only useful part of the pork-filled energy bill to be separated from the rest of the 1,000 pages designating billions of dollars to energy corporations. After all, the oil, gas, coal, nuclear and power companies that would benefit from the tax breaks and other subsidies in the energy bill have contributed more than $76 million to federal politicians since 2001, with three‑quarters of that going to Republicans. Consumer and environmental groups have bitterly opposed the bulk of the energy bill.

We urge Congress once again to live up to its obligation to the American people by passing necessary reforms that will protect electricity consumers from future blackouts.

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