Cantwell, Northwest Delegation Call for Final Approval of Legislation Halting Administration's Energy Rate Hike Plan
Tuesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a bipartisan coalition of Pacific Northwest Senators and Representatives calling on Congress to approve Senate legislation halting a Bush Administration plan to raise Northwest electricity rates. Currently, a fix to the rate hike is in a Senate appropriations bill, but not in the House version. Cantwell and her colleagues sent a letter today to members of a conference committee tasked with working out differences between House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill, calling on them to preserve the Senate-passed language blocking the administration's Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) rate hike.
"An energy rate hike is like a tax on those of us living in the Northwest," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. "We are still recovering from the Western Energy crisis and today's sky-high energy rates are placing an additional strain on family budgets throughout our region. We don't need another rate hike to bog down our economy. A proposal that raises rates, changes how we manage our energy supply, and hasn't had any hearings first has no place in the federal budget process. The Pacific Northwest delegation is united in its opposition to this ill-conceived plan, and we're working together to stop this proposal. We've managed our own energy resources successfully for decades, and I will do everything I can to preserve the access to cost-based power that the Northwest economy is built on."
The administration's proposal included in the president's Fiscal Year 2007 budget would reverse a decades-old BPA policy of using revenue from surplus power sales to lower electricity rates for consumers in the Northwest.
Earlier this spring, Cantwell and other Northwest members of the Senate Energy Committee met with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to express opposition to the plan and question the administration's legal authority to pursue the proposal. Cantwell also launched a petition, signed by more than 9,000 ratepayers, opposing the rate hike plan.
On April 4, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would prevent the Bush Administration from implementing the rate hike through April 1, 2007. Now Northwest members are fighting to make sure the amendment remains in the final bill.
In a bipartisan letter sent Tuesday to conference committee leaders, Cantwell and 22 other members of the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation urged that the Senate language be included in the final version of the legislation approved by the conference committee.
Cantwell helped stop a similar BPA rate hike proposal last year. This year, the Bush Administration is trying to implement the rate hike without Congressional approval.
[The text of the letter to conference committee leaders follows below]
Dear Chairmen Lewis and Cochran and Ranking Members Obey and Byrd:
We are writing to request that you include Section 9013 from the Senate version of H.R. 4939, the Fiscal Year 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill, in the final version of the bill that emerges from conference.
This section is important to residents of the Northwest as it will prevent a misguided administration budget proposal that would lead to an electricity rate increase of up to 10 percent for customers of the Bonneville Power Administration. This increase would be devastating to the Northwest, which is still recovering from the nearly 50 percent hike in rates that happened throughout the region in the wake of the 2001-2002 Western electricity crisis. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the administration's budget proposal would raise power rates in the Northwest by $145 million a year, resulting in the loss of more than 1,100 jobs.
On a bipartisan, bicameral basis, we have communicated our concerns to the administration about the budget proposal, which was offered without notice to or consultation with the Northwest congressional delegation and other regional stakeholders. On policy and economic grounds, the administration proposal is unwarranted. Section 9013 would provide the timeout that is necessary to ensure this poorly conceived policy, which Northwest members continue to hold is not within the BPA Administrator's discretion, is not imposed on a region that has expressed universal concern about its impact.
For those concerned about the cost of H.R. 4939, it is important to note that Section 9013 does not have any budgetary impact. The Congressional Budget Office has scored it as revenue neutral.
We thank you for your careful consideration of our request. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.