Statement of Charlie Higley, Research Director, Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project, on the Electricity Competition and Reliability Act (H.R. 2944)

Dec. 14, 1999

Statement of Charlie Higley, Research Director, Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy Project,
on the Electricity Competition and Reliability Act (H.R. 2944)

The Electricity Competition and Reliability Act (H.R. 2944), now before the House Commerce Committee, fails to reduce the monopoly power of investor-owned utilities; lacks provisions for ensuring that consumers have access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity; ignores the lethal loophole in the Clean Air Act that allows older power plants to pollute more than new ones; and neglects the needs of utility workers.

Public Citizen has sent a letter to House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.), detailing our concerns.

H.R. 2944 fails to reduce the monopoly power of investor-owned utility holding companies. Provisions need to be added that ensure all suppliers have open access to the transmission system, enable federal agencies to create truly competitive electricity markets, prohibit utility bailouts, and protect consumers and businesses from abuses by utility holding companies.

By excluding provisions guaranteeing consumer access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity, H.R. 2944 would leave consumers at the mercy of electricity suppliers. Provisions need to be added that allow municipalities to buy power on behalf of their residents and businesses; provide federal matching funds for programs that support low-income consumers, energy efficiency and renewable energy; establish uniform business practices for all suppliers of electricity; and require all electricity suppliers to sell a certain percentage of electricity from renewable energy power plants.

H.R. 2944 ignores the tremendous amount of pollution spewing from old coal-fired power plants that are now exempt from the Clean Air Act. Not only does this lethal loophole discriminate against new, cleaner power plants, but it lets old coal plants create pollution that kills thousands of Americans each year and reduces the health of lakes, rivers, forests and croplands. Because electricity deregulation already has caused an increase in lethal pollution from old coal plants, provisions must be added to H.R. 2944 that require all power plants to reduce pollution.

Since 1990, more than 145,000 — 30 percent — of utility workers have lost their jobs. Without enough experienced workers, power plants and power lines may not be operated or maintained in a safe manner, which may lead to more frequent and longer blackouts, and to more killed or injured workers. H.R. 2944 must include provisions that ensure that workers have the necessary skills to safely perform their jobs and that power plants meet federal safety and health standards.

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