New "Community Choice" Legislation Filed in Congress:

Gains Support of Key Consumer/Environmentalist Coalition

U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has filed "Community Choice" legislation in Congress which consumer advocates and environmentalists are calling a "federal blueprint" for states that currently face electric deregulation.

H.R. 4798, which is the first federal proposal to follow the Massachusetts "Community Choice" model by allowing whole communities to purchase power collectively, includes a number of additional provisions to protect consumers and clean up the environment. It is the only federal legislation to receive the key endorsement of R.A.G.E. (Ratepayers for Affordable Green Electricity), a national coalition of 140 consumer and environmental groups led by Ralph Nader and Sierra Club founder David Brower, including Public Citizen, Self Reliance and the American Local Power Project.

"This legislation represents a giant step that Congress can take to ensure that consumers are not ripped off by the massive investor-owned utilities that are trying to shed government regulation but at the same time maintain their monopolistic hold on markets and consumers," said Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook.

Unlike some other proposed deregulation bills, Kucinich's legislation does not mandate deregulation, but provides a safety net for consumers in states that choose to deregulate, many under heavy lobbying pressure from power companies and industries that are heavy electricity users.

Apart from its key "Community Choice" provision, H.R. 4798 creates minimum standards for high-quality, affordable electricity service. The bill provides funds for universal service and low-income protection so that no one is left in the cold. It requires all power plants to meet the same standards for pollution while supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy development, to clean up the environment. The legislation also protects against corporate abuses, providing for worker retention/retraining programs so that utility workers are not sacrificed to corporate downsizing. Finally, the legislation limits the market share of power plant owners, separates regulated companies and competitive companies to protect against cross-subsidies, self-dealing and other abuses of holding companies, and protects consumer privacy against "data mining."

The legislation filed by Kucinich also prohibits the ratepayer bailout of utilities that made unwise investments in nuclear power plants, many of which can't compete with cheaper power sources in a deregulated electricity market.

"After witnessing the effects of early mistakes made in states like California that were first to deregulate, Congress has the opportunity to introduce corrective measures that ensure a truly competitive market," said Matt Patrick of Self-Reliance, a RAGE Coalition leader. "With Kucinich's bill introduced, consumers and environmentalists finally have federal legislation they can point to as a positive model."

U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate sometime in 1999. "I look forward to working with Senator Wellstone, Ralph Nader, the hundreds of consumer and environmental groups working together in this task, and my colleagues in the House of Representatives," said Kucinich.

Copyright (c) 1998 by the American Local Power Project.