Monday, Feb. 5, 2001 | 10:30 a.m.
Ten Western governors met Friday in Portland, Ore., in hopes of developing short-term and long-term strategies to solving the energy crisis that has hammered California -- and which threatens to expand elsewhere in the region. Anxious residents of Western states, though, likely will be disappointed that no consensus emerged from the meeting. Still, a one-day gathering couldn't possibly solve a crisis that has endangered California's economy.
Washington state Gov. Gary Locke and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber did try to persuade Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who attended the meeting, to cap the wholesale price of electricity. These governors have reasoned that a temporary cap would allow consumers to be protected from skyrocketing rates as the states try to stabilize the situation. (Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn is not advocating a cap, but he says it should be looked at.) But Abraham restated the administration's previous rejection of price caps, saying that they would not encourage consumers to conserve electricity. If that were to happen, Abraham argued, the energy crisis would be even worse this summer when demand is even greater. Admittedly, price controls should be a last resort, but the administration's instant rejection doesn't acknowledge how severe the rate hikes will hurt consumers and, in turn, the economy. For that matter, the price gouging by the wholesale suppliers threatens the financial stability of util! ities.
One misconception of those who don't live in the West is that its governors reflexively will support business interests over environmental protection, including during this energy crisis. Of course, that stereotype is given life by a few governors with extreme views, such as Montana's new governor Judy Martz, who calls herself the "lapdog of industry." Abraham and President Bush should listen instead to the common-sense views of the Western governors who have said the federal government should ignore quick fixes, such as dismantling pollution controls. "Sacrificing environmental quality or despoiling pristine wilderness is not required to ensure our energy future," Kitzhaber told Abraham.
This summer, as the demand for electricity peaks, could be exceptionally troublesome for not just California, but also for the rest of the West. It is critical that the states and the federal government continue their dialogue and search for meaningful, responsible steps to end this energy crisis.