THIS WEEK, President Bush is making his first visit to California at a
time when consumers have been socked with hefty electric rate increases, and
$70 million is being drained from our state budget each day as we buy
wholesale energy at outrageous prices.
If Bush were serious about helping Californians, he would immediately tell
the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, to do its job. FERC's legal
mandate is to ensure that wholesale electricity prices are "just and
reasonable." But current wholesale prices are not just and reasonable, and
they are completely divorced from costs.
FERC has been ideologically fixated on the free market while ignoring the
reality that companies controlling California's energy supply are manipulating
the market to make obscenely high profits at our expense.
During the past several months, the news media have unveiled how generators
are turning power plants on and off as often as several times an hour; taking
plants off line for "unscheduled maintenance," and simply refusing to sell
California power. Investigators have determined that these energy companies
have deliberately gouged consumers to the tune of billions of dollars.
State Senate figures show that profits of these energy companies rose more
500 percent between 1999 and 2000.
If President Bush wanted FERC to control wholesale prices through a system
of cost-plus pricing, it would happen overnight.
When it comes to long-term solutions, Bush's energy policy dangerously
promotes a continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels and a resurgence of
unsafe nuclear energy. Bush pays lip service to smart, sustainable solutions
such as solar, wind and other sources of renewable energy, and to energy
savings derived from conservation and improved efficiency.
Technologies proven to be dirty, dangerous and expensive will get the
lion's share of taxpayer subsidies, while the 2002 federal budget slashes
funding for solar research by more than 50 percent, with major cuts in funding
for geothermal, hydrogen and biomass technology, and fuel cell research.
If the Bush administration were to make sustainable energy sources a
priority, technologies such as wind, solar and some types of biomass could
solve our long-term energy needs. While such a policy is anathema to oil, coal
and utility industry leaders, it is central to any forward-looking energy
The sensible responses to the energy crisis are clear: Control prices now
and rely on renewable energy and conservation in the future.
It is up to us to let the president know he can't kowtow to the energy
industry interests. Hopefully, he'll respond to the angry Californians he will
hear this week.
Medea Benjamin is founding director of Global Exchange, a San Francisco corporate accountability organization.
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle