McMorris Chairs Hearing on ESA Transparency Bill

(Washington, D.C.)  Congresswoman Cathy McMorris (WA-05) today chaired a Resources Committee hearing on her bill H.R. 4857, The Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Act of 2006. The bill requires Power Marketing Administrations, including the Bonneville Power Administration, to provide each wholesale firm customer a list of direct and indirect cost estimates associated with compliance under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“The hearing today emphasized the need for transparency within our federal agencies,” said McMorris. “BPA estimates that they have spent approximately $500 million annually on ESA-related compliance costs in recent years – a cost that gets passed down to individual rate payers. Customers have a rate to know what they are paying for so they can then make a fully informed decision on whether this money is being spent appropriately and effectively.”

“This legislation provides electricity consumers with clarity and explanation of where some of their money is being spent,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). “Anyone who wants more cost transparency and information on their electricity bill should be for this common-sense legislation.”

The hearing included testimony from three power customers, an environmental expert and two federal officials. Kris Mikkelson, CEO of Inland Power and Light in Spokane testified at the hearing on the challenges associated with obtaining ESA compliance costs and the need for transparency. Inland Power and Light is one of the few power customers that already list ESA compliance costs on billing statements.

“We feel our customers have the right to know what ESA compliance is costing them, yet obtaining the data we need to print this information on our bills has been a challenge,” said Mikkelson. “Ratepayers expect clear answers about rising bills and it is critical that utilities have the information they need to adequately explain increases. Having good numbers and easy access to ESA costs will go a long way in helping the region’s utilities, regardless of their size, or level of sophistication, to provide good information to their consumers.”

ESA costs related to endangered salmon have risen considerably over the last several years due to federal court-mandates and other compliance programs. In 2004, one mandated spill cost the federal government $77 million in lost hydropower generation in the Pacific Northwest. Another spill this year helped make the Bonneville Power Administration the federal agency with the highest ESA compliance costs in the Nation. According to the BPA, last summer’s spill assisted between 25 to 300 adult salmon, meaning it cost rates payers between $250,000 to $3 million per fish. By law, the agency passes on all of these costs to its wholesale customers, who in turn forward the costs on to the retail electricity consumer.

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