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California's Energy Crisis? Bush Says Relax Environmental Regulations
Fair Use Statement

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Bush's solution to the California energy crisis? Bush is Slicker than Oil - He says, "If there's any environmental regulations that's preventing California from having 100 percent max output, then we need to relax those regulations". And who is he listening to? Kenneth Lay, chairman and CEO of Texas-based Enron Corp. Lay is a member of the incoming administration's energy policy coordinating group, set up to assist the incoming energy secretary to prepare for the job. Enron was a major player in California's deregulation and is owed millions by California utilities. Enron was also the largest contributor to the Bush campaign and has other ties to the Bush family.

The escalating prices for power, as high as they are, still do not reflect the real costs in terms of cleanup, public and ecosystem health, foreign intervention, imports, global warming and the like. In 1998 electric utilities accounted for 38% of toxic air releases nationwide (USEPA 1998 TRI Explorer). This is unacceptable and clearly not sustainable. It is time for stability, reliability, efficiency and environmental "friendliness." None of these can be had with a fossil fuel based energy infrastructure. The time is right to take a closer look at the alternatives.

Related Story --> Key Figure in California's Power Crisis Has Bush's Ear

Source: Mercury News

Published Friday, Jan. 19, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Bush refuses to support continued emergency power sales to California

Published Friday, Jan. 19, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News


Mercury News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The incoming Bush administration signaled yesterday that it wil not continue the emergency measures imposed by the Clinton administration to force suppliers to sell power to California utilities when they expire Tuesday.

In a series of pre-inauguration interviews Thursday, President-elect George W. Bush also rejected calls for federal price controls on electricity to ease California's energy crisis. ``That's not a fix,'' Bush told the Associated Press. He called it ``a short-term delay of a needed solution'' to broader energy problems facing California and the nation.

Bush said he preferred easing environmental regulations to keep state power plants in operation through the crisis.

``If there's any environmental regulations that's preventing California from having 100 percent max output,'' Bush told Cable News Network, ``then we need to relax those regulations.''

As a long-term solution, Bush wants more exploration for oil and natural gas on federal lands, including in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, more pipelines to handle greater supply and new deals with Mexico for oil. He rejects calls from environmentalists to breach some hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest to increase salmon runs.

``I can't emphasize how important it is for this nation to develop energy supplies,'' Bush told the Reuters news service. ``There needs to be conservation, no question about it, but we cannot conserve our way to low prices and energy independence.''

Bush said California's energy crisis is the result of a ``faulty'' deregulation and the failure to build power plants and pipelines. His comments came as rolling blackouts in California increased pressure for the new administration to get involved in resolving the crisis before it severely affects the state and then the national economy. Thursday, Bush's nominee for energy secretary described California's situation as an ``urgent priority.''

Former Sen. Spencer Abraham, whose nomination was unanimously approved by a Senate committee Thursday, refused to discuss what federal actions it might take to ease the crisis when pressed during his confirmation hearing. He said he was hesitant to indicate how the new administration might act before Bush is inaugurated Saturday because it could influence ongoing negotiations between the state, utilities and power suppliers.

But the pressure on the administration was clear in Thursday's hearing.

``You better have some answers after the 20th because there's expectations that it's going to be partial responsibility of government,'' warned Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Despite those warnings, Murkowski and other Republicans on the committee urged Abraham to limit the federal government's role in resolving the problem. Senators from Washington and Oregon -- Republicans and Democrats -- urged Abraham to carefully consider the impact on those state-of-emergency orders diverting their electricity to California, the federal action taken by the Clinton administration to help ease the electricity shortage.

Abraham, a former senator from Michigan who was defeated in November, will most likely be confirmed by the Senate on Saturday to take over for Bill Richardson, who has continued to grant emergency orders forcing suppliers to sell power to California's financially troubled utilities. Richardson leaves office with the rest of the Clinton administration Saturday when Bush is inaugurated. Abraham on Thursday would not say if he would continue granting such orders.

Abraham said he discussed the situation with Richardson on Wednesday. He noted he and other administration officials had not been involved in discussions led by Clinton administration officials with all the major players in the California energy crisis to negotiate a solution to the problem.

But a White House official pointed out that Ken Lay, the chair of Enron, one of the major suppliers of energy to California, has been involved in those discussions. Lay was one of Bush's biggest financial backers during the campaign and is a member of the incoming administration's energy policy coordinating group, set up to assist the incoming energy secretary to prepare for the job.

Republicans have not been sympathetic to pleas from officials in California, where Democrats dominate the state government. Although deregulation was passed under the administration of former Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, members of the GOP said the current crisis was the fault of ``politically correct'' Democrats who didn't want to build new power plants in the state, to prevent pollution. They also said Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, failed to recognize the impending problem last year.

``This was not a problem caused by the previous administration,'' Murkowski said.

He and other Republicans on the energy committee Thursday said California officials had to be willing to take much of the brunt of the solution on themselves.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said many in Washington don't fully understand the California situation. But she agreed that California ratepayers are going to have to accept more than just the 90-day increase in rates approved earlier this month.

But Feinstein also believes federal regulators should cap the wholesale rate power suppliers can charge in the West for electricity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has refused to do that, and Feinstein soon will introduce legislation transferring that authority to the secretary of energy.

Related Story --> Key Figure in California's Power Crisis Has Bush's Ear

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Michael R. Meuser
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