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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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NW senators claim win on BPA rates

E. Katherine Underwood Staff writer

WASHINGTON – Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo claimed victory Wednesday in the fight against a proposal by President Bush to raise electric rates for power generated by federal dams across the Northwest.

The Republicans said the Senate Budget Committee will not support Bush’s plan to require the Bonneville Power Administration to charge market-based prices for its electricity. Working with other GOP senators, Craig and Crapo said they persuaded Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the committee chairman, to draft a budget resolution without a BPA rate increase.

“I have said from the beginning that this is an ill-advised, unworkable concept based on misinformation about BPA,” Crapo, a Budget Committee member, said in a written statement.

Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both Democrats, also celebrated Gregg’s promise to exclude the BPA policy change from the Senate budget proposal in the works.

“The Northwest Senate delegation has been united on this issue,” said Murray’s spokeswoman Alex Glass. “Everyone has been very vocal about how this would be devastating for Northwest ratepayers, and hopefully that message has gotten through.”

But Cantwell said more work must be done to persuade the administration to drop the plan altogether. She wants the administration to say it won’t raise BPA rates.

“I will not rest until the administration’s plan is dead and gone,” she said in a statement.

When Energy Secretary Sam Bodman testifies today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell will present him with 10,000 signatures against Bush’s BPA proposal. She gathered the signatures through an online petition.

Sam Hudzik, a spokesman for Cantwell, said the senator wants the House to drop the proposal, too. The House Budget Committee has not yet made any recommendations about the president’s budget request, but Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said he has not heard of any lawmakers who back the proposed BPA rate change.

“There is enough political will among the different states that have Power Marketing Administrations to knock this down,” Whiting said. BPA is one of those entities, which sell electricity from federally built power plants at wholesale rates.

The agencies are designed to recover the costs of construction and financing, not to collect a profit. Because of this, the Northwest and some other regions with Power Marketing Administrations have among the lowest electric rates in the nation and are often targets for presidents looking for more revenue to offset federal deficits.

As soon as Bush released his budget to Congress, Northwest lawmakers of both parties mounted opposition to his proposal to raise BPA energy rates, which they said could devastate the region’s economy by “balancing the budget on the backs of ratepayers.”

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