Wyden says selling off BPA assets a non-starter

Senator opposes four Trump administration nominees

WASHINGTON - (Update: Wyden opposes Trump nominees, BPA sell-off)

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., voted Tuesday against four Trump administration nominees who he said would have sweeping control over energy costs, future energy infrastructure projects and public lands, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee business meeting.

Wyden said he voted against the nominee to be the deputy secretary of Energy, Dan Brouillete, because Brouillete did not commit to working to keep Bonneville Power Administration in public ownership, in a written answer to a question from Wyden.

In May, Wyden blasted the Trump administration’s recent proposal to privatize Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) transmission assets.

“Pacific Northwesterners have fought this battle before, and we’re going to fight these malicious efforts again," the senator said. "BPA is a key part of Oregon’s economic future, and selling most of it off to the highest bidder would strangle the power supply for businesses and stretch the wages of working families in the Northwest,.

Wyden added. “I cannot support a nominee who won’t even say whether he opposes a proposal that would hike energy prices for Northwest customers who have invested in a system that runs successfully on its own.”

Wyden also voted against David Bernhardt, the nominee to be the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, citing concerns about his potential conflicts of interest.

Additionally, Wyden voted against two nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In a statement on Monday, he raised concerns about the nominees’ commitment to remaining independent in the face of political pressure from the White House on decisions about future energy projects.

Wyden is a senior Democrat and the former chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

On Monday, 15 Northwest members of the House voiced their join opposition Monday to a proposal in President Trump’s budget to sell off the BPA's assets. 

In their letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, 15 members of Congress -- Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Denny Heck (D-WA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Adam Smith (D-WA), and Greg Walden (R-OR) -- expressed their concern over the proposal to privatize BPA and highlight BPA’s unique role in providing affordable, clean energy to the Pacific Northwest communities.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Perry and Director Mulvaney:

We write to you to express our concern with a provision in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request that proposes to sell off transmission assets for federal Power Marketing Agencies, including for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). We believe divesting BPA’s transmission assets will harm individuals and businesses, divert capital needed for further infrastructure investment in the Northwest, and undermine regional utility coordination. For these reasons, we are united in opposing implementation of these elements of the FY18 Budget.

BPA has a fundamental role in our region that dates back decades. Established by Congress in 1937 as a nonprofit federal power marketing administration, BPA was tasked with helping to manage and sell power generated by the newly constructed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.  Eighty years later, BPA has helped to develop and administer the complex electrical system that powers the Northwest, now providing affordable and reliable power to over 12 million people and the businesses that help the region thrive. 

Importantly, BPA is self-funding, and is of no cost to the taxpayer. The entire BPA transmission system -- both the capital investment and operation and maintenance -- is fully paid by the users of the system.  In fact, it has benefitted U.S. taxpayers by providing more than $32.5 billion in payments to the U.S Treasury. Divesting these assets to the highest bidder could transfer the benefit and equity of these investments from the Northwest consumers, who have financed the system, to distant investors.  Furthermore, this proposal will lead to a certain rate increase for consumers, imposing increased costs on families and economic development, potentially jeopardizing the ability of the BPA to repay the costs of the Federal Columbia River Power System. 

We are also concerned that the divestiture would put rural communities in the Pacific Northwest at increased risk. Currently, BPA coordinates in transmission and power marketing functions to maximize efficiency.  Severing that relationship will undermine this goal.  Moreover, privatization could lead to the division of the regional grid, with high-value assets sold off for a premium and lines that serve rural areas and grid reliability abandoned.  Private companies are unlikely to give these communities the proper maintenance and attention they need to maintain complex transmission assets.

Contrary to the FY18 Budget’s rationale, BPA owns 75% of the transmission in the Pacific Northwest.  All Northwest utilities and the customers they serve depend on BPA’s grid to access affordable and reliable power. Selling off BPA’s transmission assets is bad public policy that undermines the President’s economic objectives and betrays a lack of understanding of the Northwest.  

We oppose this proposal, and instead urge you to work with us to support the continued health of BPA, which has been central to the economic vitality of the Northwest.

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