Trump BPA sell-off dead on arrival

Power lines from Bonneville Dam head in all directions in North Bonneville.

Among much other public property he hopes to sell off, President Trump wants to market one of the largest assets ever built in the Pacific Northwest. As part of a plan to help fund his fantasy budget and slightly offset its vast deficits, the Trump administration aims to sell the transmission lines of the Bonneville Power Administration to the private sector. That would assuredly raise energy bills throughout Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana.

President Donald Trump follows George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan in his quest to steal an asset whose value Northwest ratepayers have paid for, at market rates.

This new scheme would penalize residents of the Pacific Northwest in more than one way.

The Columbia River is our region’s most valuable natural resource. The river’s dams and their electricity are the region’s most valuable man-made resource. The Bonneville Power Administration is the overarching authority that sets the operation of the dams and transmits the electricity. The BPA generates more than $4 billion in annual revenue through sales of the system’s electricity.

During the 1980s, President Reagan proposed to sell the entire BPA system. Trump’s proposal is more clever, because it avoids the emotional alarm of selling the dams.

What is tactically more serious about the Trump idea is that if you sell off the transmission of power from the dams, you directly affect the way the river is managed. BPA’s management of the dams recognizes there is a trade-off for how much water is saved for fish, how cold and how deep that water is. Few people realize that the BPA runs the largest fish conservation program in the world.

In other words, when you sell the transmission side of the dams, more than power rates is at stake.

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Washington state U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell are the best positioned to fight the Trump proposal. They are the most senior Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Selling off BPA’s transmission system and abandoning cost-based rates would raise electricity rates and throw sand in the gears of the Northwest economy,” Cantwell said this week. “Northwest consumers already cover the full costs, with interest, of building and operating our region’s hydropower system. I will be working with all my Pacific Northwest colleagues to once again stop this bad idea in its tracks.”

“This is vintage highway robbery,” Wyden said when this plan was first floated last year. “The people Trump says he cares about would be whacked around. It would raise their utility bills. This is a transfer of values from people of the Northwest to the U.S. Treasury.”

More than this, the proposal bears a striking resemblance to the gangland theft of Russia’s public assets by Vladimir Putin and his cronies,

Northwest Republicans cannot stand idly by. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., 3rd Dist, voiced her objections to this scheme back in June 2017 and should renew her position against it now.

An excellent longterm solution would be for Bonneville to buy itself, using bonds. Then it could become truly a regional agency.

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