Rep. Barton?s Electricity Deregulation Bill Hurts Consumers

Dec. 12, 2001

Rep. Barton?s Electricity Deregulation Bill Hurts Consumers

Consumers Demand More Accountability, Not Less

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? An electricity bill scheduled for hearings in the House on Wednesday and Thursday would replace consumer protections with unregulated corporate control over energy markets, potentially leading to the kind of price-gouging that plagued California consumers after deregulation, Public Citizen said today.

No consumer groups were scheduled to testify at the hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, chaired by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas). Public Citizen sent a written request to Barton on December 5.

“It is wrong that only supporters of electricity deregulation ? the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and energy corporations ? were invited to testify, but consumers were not,” said Tyson Slocum, research director for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “Millions of consumers are paying higher prices because of deregulation’s failure in California, Montana and other states. Consumers have a right to have their voices heard in this important debate.”

Barton?s bill ends FERC?s authority to review utility mergers and power plant sales, in addition to repealing the Public Utility Holding Company Act.

“After the California debacle, the last thing consumers need is for Congress to remove controls over market power ? but that’s what Barton does by repealing PUHCA and ending FERC?s merger review authority,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen?s Texas office. “Removing these important consumer protections allows greed to go unrestrained, resulting in skyrocketing prices and energy company bankruptcies. As we begin deregulation in Texas, consumers outside urban areas don’t have much choice ? and only one or two companies are serving them. If we remove the merger and anti-trust protections, we will have no controls to prevent price-gouging.”

Barton?s legislation also limits state regulatory oversight by transferring state jurisdiction of transmission lines to FERC. In addition, it strips electricity markets of transparency and accountability by forcing the creation of Regional Transmission Organizations, ending the ability of state regulators to regulate transmission.

“Rep. Barton promises his constituents that he supports private property rights,” said Katy Hubener, director of a Dallas-based air quality group, the Blue Skies Alliance. “But his bill eliminates the ability of property owners to protest transmission line projects in their neighborhood. Because Texas doesn?t fall under FERC jurisdiction, our citizens have the right to protest such projects. By transferring authority away from other state and local officials, Barton is saying, ?What’s good for Texas isn’t good for America.?”

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