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Congressional members say price caps are energy solution

By Matthew Lorenz Special to the Daily Planet
Wednesday May 30, 2001

OAKLAND – House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, joined congressional representatives from the Bay Area Tuesday at the Ron Dellums Federal Building to take a hard look at the energy crisis in a forum not lacking in commentary on the president’s arrival in California the same day. 

U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek; and Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco heard from advocates for various groups particularly affected by the crisis, then listened to those who had ideas on its solution. The congressional delegation had ideas of its own on immediate answers. 

“We know that price caps are an immediate solution to this problem. That is what we have all embraced and are suggesting and insisting on,” Lee said.“Our leader, Congressman Dick Gephardt, met with our delegation and embraced our strategy immediately, because he knew that our delegation was suggesting the most realistic, the most practical and the most visionary solution to California’s energy crisis.” 

Gephardt affirmed the need for price caps, on which Gov. Gray Davis is also insisting.  

“Your entire delegation on the Democratic side and some Republicans are fighting to try to bring about a price cap on wholesale electric prices now as a temporary and important answer to this problem,” Gephardt said. 

“From what I understand California paid a year ago about $7 billion for energy. If these prices that you’re facing now – and are likely to face in the next year – keep going up, you will be spending in the next year about $70 billion for energy.  

“That is a 10 (fold) increase in the price of energy (and) will devastate the economy of California Washington and Oregon. And I predict that other places in the country are going to face these kinds of increases.” 

“I am glad that President Bush is making his first trip to California of his presidency today,” Gephardt said. “Many people believe that he wrote off the state of California. He has a chance to finally take action to stop electricity price gouging and give people real relief from soaring electricity bills.”  

Gephardt urged Bush to make good on his campaign promises and put pressure on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase sales of petroleum. 

“In two weeks OPEC meets again. I hope President Bush follows through on his campaign rhetoric and calls OPEC to reverse the 3 million barrels-a-day production cuts they have announced since November of last year,” Gephardt said. 

Advocates of those for whom the energy crisis has been particularly difficult had much to tell the public officials. 

Ethel Long Scott, executive director of the Women’s Economic Agenda Project, a nonprofit organization assisting low-income women to achieve a livable wage, said price gouging is complicating the lives of many low-income citizens so profoundly, there often seems no right decision to make. 

“(Low-income families) suffer because they’re forced to make impossible choices,” Long Scott said. “Do I pay this exorbitant energy bill, or pay the rent? Do I pay this exorbitant energy bill, or buy food? Do I pay this exorbitant energy bill, or buy medicine or books for our children?” 

Out of these questions, Long Scott found her own to pose to the congressional representatives present.  

“Will you recommend a real cure?” she asked. “By that I mean, a move to take over the power plants in the name of the little people who can afford nothing less?”  

Francie Moeller, president of Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Services, spoke on behalf of the disabled, and posed equally difficult questions. 

“Unlike some other people, when the energy crisis hit, many, many disabled lives were being put at risk on a daily basis. Every time there is a power outage we are risking lives. We’ve had people who’ve been cut off while they were on ventilators, while they were on oxygen machines, while they were on dialysis machines.” 

And these are the life-endangering issues, Moeller said.What about the other problems that are only supremely inconvenient? What happens, she asked, when 

someone in a wheelchair exits a BART train and hears on the loud-speaker that no elevators are working?  

Mary Frances Calan, superintendent of the Pleasanton Unified School District, talked about how the crisis affects schools. 

The energy costs of the Pleasanton district have doubled in three years, and if that additional money were returned to its budget, Calan said, every school in the district could have a half-time fully-credentialed librarian and an additional half-time counselor as well as a total of 9,000 more textbooks and 23,000 additional library books for the entire district. 

“I’ve put this in dollars and cents,” Calan said, “because I think that’s probably a clearer way of explaining it, but I am not even touching on the safety issues and the learning environment.”  

During the second part of the forum, speakers sought to give answers. 

Mark Levine, director of Environmental Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, emphasized the importance of this intention. 

“I’m really interested in talking about solutions,” Levine said. “It’s hard living in California, hearing only about the problems all the time.” 

Levine pointed to the Web site the Berkeley Lab has put together to help make the U.S. Department of Energy’s “20-20 Plan” a reality for all Californians. The web address is: 

The DOE’s 20-20 Plan says that any Californian who succeeds in saving 20 percent of the energy used the previous year in a given household will receive an additional 20 percent rebate. 

“For 20 percent savings you get 40 percent,” Levine said. 

Levine also introduced several products developed by the Berkeley Lab, such as a compact fluorescent lamp and windows that will help decrease energy use. 

Gephardt talked mostly about a political solution, pushing for the passage of a bill moving through congressional committees that would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to set price caps. 

“I think at the end of the day, the President and FERC have to do this in the name of common sense,” Gephardt said, “to help the people of the West Coast, and to avert what will be not only be an electric crisis, but will ultimately be an economic crisis throughout the United States.” 

Bay City News contributed to this report.