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Calif., GOP Jockey for Energy Solution

BY Hil Anderson
by Hil Anderson on 6/19/01.

The political duel between California and Washington continued Tuesday as the Republican whip in the House scolded the state on how to solve the electricity crunch, and the state attorney general joined in a lawsuit over energy efficiency standards for appliances that were issued during the final days of the Clinton administration.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office announced that California would join New York and Connecticut in a legal battle to prevent the Bush administration from torpedoing new efficiency standards for electric appliances such as air conditioners, which cause a prodigious demand for power to surge during hot spells.

Lockyer said in a statement that, "Instead of helping, the Bush administration is making it harder for California in the current energy crisis by ignoring or trying to eliminate the toughened efficiency standards for residential air conditioners."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which initiated the lawsuits filed in Manhattan, said that the Clinton standards would increase the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio of air conditioners from its current rating of 10 while the Bush administration seeks to increase the SEER to a 12.

"(Energy Secretary Spencer) Abraham's plan to weaken the air conditioner efficiency standard is in blatant violation of federal law," said NRDC attorney Katherine Kennedy. "Under federal energy law, the DOE can't change an energy efficiency standard to make it weaker, so DOE is trying to act as if the Clinton administration's final rule was just a proposal and make it go away."

The appliance efficiency dispute is the latest in a series of heated disagreements between California and the White House over the strategy for ending the state's electricity crunch. On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission extended the reach of an earlier order implementing "soft" price restrictions on electricity sold in the western United States.

President Bush gave limited support to FERC's ruling, insisting that the restrictions were not a formal form of price controls, which he and Republican allies insist would be the wrong path for California, preferring to let supply and demand determine the price for energy.

House Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, issued a statement Tuesday saying that while he had not seen the final FERC proposal, he would not be in favor of the type of firm price caps that California Gov. Gray Davis and other lawmakers from the state have been urging.

"While I can't take a definitive position until FERC's order is made available for review, I hope that its actions are based on market principles -- not political half-measures," DeLay said. "Any effective solution for California 's electricity shortage must increase the development of new electricity production and encourage conservation."

The Texas Republicans seeming indignation at attempts to rein in the West's bull electricity market was matched by an announcement by the Washington group Citizens for a Sound Economy.

In a press release issued Tuesday, CSE declared it would have a "price cap truth squad" on hand Wednesday when Davis is scheduled to testify at a hearing on FERC's role in electricity deregulation before the Senate Government Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill.

CSE echoed the GOP position that price caps would not solve the fundamental shortage of power in California, and placed the blame for the ongoing crisis on Davis.

"It's Gray Davis' fault," said Chad Cowan, director of communications for CSE.

"It's unfortunate that Gov. Davis has chosen to come to Washington to continue the political blame game. He should be back in California, tending to the energy problems that plague California's families, problems which he helped create."