News Releases

Murray Testifies on the Energy Crisis In Washington

Jun 20 2001

Calls for Six Steps to Help Washington Families and Businesses

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) testified before the Senate Government Affairs Committee on the energy crisis. Murray outlined its impact on Washington state and offered six steps the federal government must take to provide relief. Senator Muray's testimony follows:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee for calling this hearing. In Washington state, there is no more important issue than the energy crisis.

Two days ago, after months of delay, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finally woke up and took action against alarming energy rates. FERC put in place price controls that are similar to what I, Senator Lieberman and others have been urging for months.

I'm glad FERC finally came around -- helping us bring some order to the volatile energy market. But this one step won't solve the energy crisis. The energy crisis is real, it's not going away, and the federal government needs to do its part to help our communities.

Today, I want to share with this committee how the energy crisis is hurting Washington state. Then I want to offer six things the federal government must do to protect our people and our economy.

Let me begin with the impact in Washington state. We have already lost thousands of jobs because of rising energy rates. Entire industries could be idled, just to prevent massive rate increases. According to one estimate, Washington state could lose another 42,000 jobs over the next ten years unless we take action.

Not only are there economic costs, but there are environmental impacts as well including our ability to recover endangered salmon.

I want to share with you a typical letter I received from a constituent in Washington state. Mrs. Valeria L. Mesler of Okanogan, Washington wrote to me:

"I am a 91 year old widow living on my Social Security check each month, which is small. I cannot afford any increase in the cost of my electricity. I am sure there are many like me and also younger families on low income."

Mr. Chairman, she is right. There are thousands like her. Today, the energy crisis is hitting our pocketbooks. Unless we act, tomorrow it could threaten our prosperity.

Even Washington's schools are feeling the impact.

Nancey Olson, the superintendent at the Ocean Beach School District in Ilwaco, Washington wrote me that energy costs will add another $200,000 to their budget.

As a result, they are going to have to layoff the equivalent of three and half teachers. According to Superintendent Olson:

"We have no 'extra' anywhere in our budget. We will now have to resort to cutting teachers which means increased class sizes."

They are even considering going to a four-day week because of the costs.

We in Washington state are doing our part. We are conserving and cutting our energy use.

Several of Washington's Public Utility Districts have worked with consumers and have agreed to cut back on the amount of power they receive from the Bonneville Power Administration. Last week, the Benton County PUD agreed to reduce its energy load by 10 percent. Recently, Clark Public Utilities and Franklin, Pend Oreille and Grays Harbor PUDs have signed load reduction agreements.

People are changing their habits and buying more energy-saving products. In fact, in many parts of my state you can't find a compact flourescent light bulb on store shelves because they're all sold out.

We're also bringing new energy sources into service -- especially renewable sources like wind. We have a 300 megawatt wind field being developed near Walla Walla and another 150 to 500 megawatt wind field planned for Prosser. We have a company in Kelso that takes plastic from landfills and turns it into high octane, low sulfur diesel fuel.

We are doing our part, but we need the support and leadership from this Administration. I'm not saying this Administration caused the crisis. It did not. But I believe it has stood in the way instead of providing the help that's needed.

First, they identified it as just a California problem. Then, instead of urging conservation, they decried it as simply a "personal virtue." Later, when we introduced bipartisan price caps legislation, the administration said no. Instead, they sent us an energy plan that focuses to much on drilling for oil and gas with very little support for alternative and renewable sources of energy. Throughout, FERC has not done anything to help Washington consumers get relief from predatory pricing.

This week, the Administration's FERC appointees finally came around and accepted what we've been telling them all along -- that we need price caps to protect consumers from outrageous rates. Frankly, I think our bipartisan legislation helped them finally make the right decision. Mr. Chairman, this administration has minimized this crisis for months, and people across Washington have paid the price.

We're doing our part to conserve and to generate new, clean energy in Washington state. Now it's time for the federal government to do its part.

I want to turn to six steps we need at the federal level.

1) We need a disaster declaration so that hard-hit small businesses can get low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

2) We need real federal support for conservation.

3) We need to diversify our energy sources.

4) We need to site new plants.

5) We need FERC to keep its word and investigate price gouging in Washington state and other Western markets. If prices have been unjust, there must be swift refunds. In April the Seattle Times reported that utilities in the Pacific Northwest were paying the highest prices in the nation for next-day delivery of wholesale power. The Northwest wholesale market averaged $267 per megawatt-hour -- which is 16 percent higher than the average price in Northern California and 28 percent higher than Southern California.

6) Finally, we need to make sure that as we expand our energy infrastructure our oil and gas pipelines are safe.

Mr. Chairman, those are the steps we need to take to keep this crisis from getting worse. I hope this time the Bush Administration will see the wisdom of acting now to protect our economy, our communities, and our citizens, before it's too late.