May 19, 2005

Senate Energy Bill Would Create Energy Consumer Advocate

Senator Wyden championed provision to have new Federal watchdogprotect interests of energy consumers, investigate across state lines

Washington, DC - A provision championed by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to create a Federal advocate to protect the interests of American energy consumers was included today in the Senate's comprehensive energy legislation. The provision, which would create an independent consumer advocate to be appointed by the Secretary of Energy, is part of the energy bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Wyden offered amendment language to create such an advocate when energy legislation was considered by Congress in 2002, as Oregonians reeled from price spikes and energy market manipulation by Enron. He has long been concerned that wholesale energy transactions, which often occur between and among states, are causing higher electric bills for Americans. "This provision will at last give American energy consumers an independent watchdog to protect their interests by ensuring reliable service and preventing unnecessary price spikes," said Wyden. "Oregonians have been shellacked by bad actors like Enron in the past, and the creation of this position will give them a strong advocate in Washington for their interests." The consumer advocate's responsibilities could include: • Representing consumers at FERC, judicial proceedings, and other federal agencies; • Investigating rates and services provided by the electric utilities and natural gas providers; • Providing information, consultation and technical assistance to FERC on behalf of consumers; and • Representing the interests of consumers before the Federal Trade Commission, other Federal agencies, and in the courts. The Oregon Citizens Utility Board (CUB), the state equivalent to the Federal advocate that would be created by the Senate energy legislation, expressed support today for this provision: "On behalf of utility consumers, the Citizens' Utility Board expresses its appreciation to Senator Wyden for pursuing a customer protection that has long been missing," said Bob Jenks, Executive Director of the Oregon CUB. "One of the lessons of the Western energy crisis is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) operates in a vacuum without a full understanding of its effects on real consumers. Thanks to Senator Wyden's efforts, the utility customer should now have a meaningful voice in FERC proceedings." Wyden's original 2002 proposal won support from a number of consumer groups including the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, and Consumers Union.