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Murray Co-Sponsors Bill to Impose Temporary Price Controls on Skyrocketing Energy Costs

Apr 24 2001

Bipartisan Smith-Feinstein bill introduced Tuesday will stabilize electric rates

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Calling it a "win-win" solution for consumers and the energy companies, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today co-sponsored the bipartisan Smith-Feinstein bill calling for temporary price caps on energy rates. The bill was introduced and referred to the Senate Energy Committee.

The bill imposes temporary price controls on electric rates, which would give relief to Northwest families, schools, businesses and industries for a limited period, while enabling energy wholesalers to maintain profitability. The bill would exempt any new plant that is either in planning or construction from the controls.

"We can impose a temporary cap that does not discourage new energy production, that exempts new plants from the cap, and that will pull us out of this crippling energy crisis," Murray said.

Murray has written to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ask for temporary price caps.

"If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was fulfilling its responsibilities of ensuring 'just and reasonable rates' then we would not be standing here, utilities would not be paying $3,000 for a megawatt hour of energy, and consumers would not be facing 50 percent increases in their electric bills," Murray said.

Murray agreed that more production was needed, but cautioned against waiting entirely for new generation to come on line.

"There are 420 employees at a paper plant in Bellingham who lost their jobs last month when the plant shut down, in part because of higher energy costs. Those losses came on top of a thousand jobs already gone," Murray continued.

"And not only are thousands more jobs at risk, but entire industries could be wiped out if we simply sit back and wait for the 'markets to correct themselves' as some suggest," Murray continued.

"This bill lets the energy companies continue earning fair profits, while allowing families, schools, businesses and industries to pay their electric bills. It is a win-win situation."

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

I am grateful for the hard work of Senators Feinstein and Smith on this important bipartisan bill, and I am glad we are introducing it today.

But we should not have to introduce this bill today.

We should not have to pass legislation to compensate for a federal agency not doing its job.

Because if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was fulfilling its responsibilities of ensuring "just and reasonable rates" then we would not be standing here, utilities would not be paying $3,000 for a megawatt hour of energy, and consumers would not be facing 50 percent increases in their electric bills.

I have written to the Chairman of FERC twice to remind him of his duties, to ask for temporary price caps, and to request that FERC investigate wholesale prices in the Northwest, to determine whether Washington state utilities deserve the same refunds that California has received.

Ironically, Northwest utilities are paying the highest prices in the country for next-day delivery of wholesale power, and it is taking a heavy toll.

Unfortunately, so far, these requests have been rejected in favor of pledges to produce more energy.

There is no question we need to build more generating capacity in the U.S., and we need to explore all our options in energy production and in energy conservation.

But there are thousands of men and women in my state who cannot afford to wait two years to build another plant.

There are 420 employees at a paper plant in Bellingham, Washington who lost their jobs last month when the plant shut down, in part because of higher energy costs.

Those losses came on top of a thousand jobs already gone.

And not only are thousands more jobs at risk, but entire industries could be wiped out if we simply sit back and wait for the "markets to correct themselves" as some suggest.

We can impose a temporary control that does not discourage new energy production, that exempts new plants from the cap, and that will pull us out of this crippling energy crisis.

This bill lets the energy companies continue earning fair profits, while allowing families, schools, businesses and industries to pay their electric bills.

It is a win-win situation.

I thank Senators Feinstein and Smith for their leadership, and my colleague, Senator Cantwell, and I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this bill.