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Utility Industry Members Fight
Deregulation, Corporate Welfare

October 8, 2004

The heart of the Bush administrations energy policy is reviving the flagging electricity deregulation movement despite the concepts repeated failure, demonstrated most spectacularly three years ago in California.

From the moment the Bush administration convened its secret energy task force in 2001 to develop policies, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have backed the open-market approach to electricity distribution. Although states learned the model was prone to wild price spikes and market volatility, the administration has stacked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with deregulation proponents who are attempting to nationalize the failed policy. Its chief promoter is FERC Chairman Patrick Wood, III, the former head of the Texas Public Service Commission, who was hand-picked by Enrons Ken Lay.

All along, the IBEW has been a powerful voice both in public and behind the scenes on Capitol Hill against deregulation.

"Theres a lot of opposition by the IBEW and a lot of large energy corporations that dont like deregulation and want it to go away," said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter. "On the state level, no one is pushing for it."

So far, opposing forces and competing legislative interests have prevailed to stop the top-down imposition of deregulation. But the big-money corporate interests who have paid handsomely for the consideration of top Republicans in the federal governments executive and legislative branches expect a return on their investment.

In 2003 alone, the Boston Globe found that corporations with an interest in energy policy spent $387.8 million in Washington. They also dropped tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions on Republican officials composing the most recent version of the energy bill. By design or coincidence, they got what they sought in the bill. The bill has not passed, but the Republicans are trying to attach it to every piece of legislation that comes down the pike. The Globes investigation sheds light on the power yielded by powerful corporate interests over policy.

Most interested parties receive big breaks in policy changes, tax benefits and subsidies if the legislation passes. Sixty of Bushs 400 Pioneers and Rangers those who have committed to raising $100,000 or $200,000 on the Bush reelection are among those who would receive regulatory or cash windfalls. The bill which remains stuck in Capitol Hills gridlock is considered to be one of the most extreme examples of excessive corporate giveaways.

One of Washingtons most right-leaning think tanks even found the package too extreme.

"The bottom line is, its not going to provide the power thats needed for the economy so people can turn on their lights," Charlie Coon of the conservative Heritage Foundation told the Globe. "Its such a farce."

Last years energy bill was the latest version based on the plan resulting from months of secret meetings between Cheney and industry insiders in 2001. Labor and environmental organizations were locked out of the talks on the sweeping energy policy.

That plan relies heavily on foreign oil, which has spiked to its highest price ever in recent days, and domestic natural gas, which is expensive. Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president, has a win-win alternative that will reduce Americas dependence on foreign oil, take advantage of an abundant native natural resource and improve the quality of the environment here at home.

The IBEW has publicly endorsed the Kerry-Edwards plan for clean coal. With the right technology, coal can produce electricity, liquid fuels and hydrogen. The proposed 10-year, $10 billion plan would test, develop and market coal plants with zero emissions and create jobs for thousands of Americans in mining, construction and transportation.

Four years ago in West Virginia, George Bush promised to invest in clean coal technologies. That pledge was not fulfilled. The Bush administration has been unable or unwilling to get comprehensive clean air rules passed and this has left the industry in turmoil.

"The Kerry-Edwards initiative is not only timely, it is overdue," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "It shows that with the right leadership and the necessary commitment to investment and technology and our environment, clean coal is attainable."

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What's Happening in Utility Deregulation?