28 April 2014

            AUSTIN, Texas -- It's the All-American Blame Game! A
Finger-Pointing festival. A perfectly circular firing squad of, "Told you
so." Bureaucrats perfecting their CYA moves. Politicians jumping on the
opportunity to make points against the other guys. And so's your old man.

            U.S. officials quickly blamed a Canadian plant for touching off
the mess. Mel Lastman, the clearly sleepless and exhausted mayor of Toronto,
replied bitterly: "Tell me, have you ever heard the United States take blame
for anything? This is no different."

            It would be a refreshing change, would it not, if somebody just
stood up and said, "My fault."

            The early book has the great power outage of '03 beginning with
FirstEnergy of Akron, Ohio.

            But there has been no shortage of warnings that the grid was
elderly, frail, inadequate, could short out, would short out, should short
out at any time.

            Those regulatory tigers at FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission), the guys who stood by doing nothing while California got ripped
off for $45 billion, have in fact presciently warned that the Midwestern
grid is a mess. So they get lots of points in the "I told you so" category.
Not that they did anything about it.

            The Clinton administration, in the person of former energy
secretary and now governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, is also in the
clear, having tried to Do Something back in 1998, to the usual chorus of
boos and jeers from the Republican Congress. This naturally did not stop
Rep. Tom DeLay, the Exterminator, from blaming it all on the Democrats as
soon the lights went out.

            The Republican theme song is that if only Congress had passed
Dick Cheney's perfectly darling National Energy Plan, this would never have

            Since the Cheney plan, hatched in secret with lobbyists from
Enron and other players, is all about producing more power, not transmitting
it safely and reliably, this may strike some as beside the point.

            According to Public Citizen, the Cheney Plan "contains billions
of dollars in handouts to nuclear, coal and oil companies, including some of
the wealthiest corporations in the world. It would repeal time-honored
consumer protection law and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act, and
thus advance the destructive path of deregulation and encourage the same
type of behavior that gave us Enron and the California energy crisis."

            Among the bill's dumbest provisions:

            -- It re-authorizes the Price-Anderson Act, which caps the
liability of nuclear operators in the event of an accident or attack,
thereby making taxpayers liable for nuclear catastrophes (a great example of
privatizing profits and socializing risks).

            -- It authorizes the Nuclear Power 2010 program, which would
grant federal land and taxpayer money to energy companies for building new
nuclear plants.

            -- It promotes dangerous nuclear waste reprocessing technologies
that are now banned.

            -- It does nothing to improve fuel economy of vehicles, and
contains provisions that invite the auto industry to sue to delay increases
in fuel economy standards.

            Now, here's an interesting joker in the deck. Who do you suppose
wanted FERC to expand its jurisdiction to cover all aspects of electricity

            Why, Ken Lay of Enron.

            For the first two years of this administration, what Ken Lay
wanted, Ken Lay got. In his famous memo to Cheney to deter FERC from
imposing caps on wholesale power prices, so the California rip-off could
continue, Lay also urged that FERC "develop reliability standards and
enforce those standards" for the grid.

            So guess what? Cheney's plan recommends that FERC "improve the
reliability of the interstate transmission system" and "develop legislation
providing for enforcement of a self-regulatory organization subject to FERC

            In 2001, Ken Lay had a come-to-Jesus session with Curtis Hebert,
then chairman of FERC, saying that if he didn't get on board with Enron's
program, he was gone.

            So Hebert was replaced by Pat Wood, who came recommended by Ken
Lay. So did another FERC appointee, Nora Mead Brownell.

            The White House then denied that Lay and Enron had any undue
influence over national energy policy, which was certainly a big relief to

            Before we all get lost forever in the finger-pointing, let me
point out the fundamental question here. Given that our economy, security
and basic services are totally dependent on the electric grid, do we really
want to turn our electric system over to those who only seek short-term

            As Public Citizen argues, the blackout is "a strong argument
against the electricity provisions in the federal energy legislation that
would promote the kind of deregulation that brought us the West Coast energy
crisis. These flawed policies are destined to worsen the dangers of overly
centralized, profit-driven electric generation and distribution systems."

            Or to point the finger up into the wind: Do we really have to
suffer through another blackout or two before we re-regulate these guys?

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other
Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web
page at www.creators.com.