February 17, 2005

Wyden Threatens to Block Energy Department Nominee

Cites Concerns About Sells Role in BPA Privatization Scheme

Washington, DC U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today announced his intention to place a hold on the nomination of White House energy advisor Clay Sell to become Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy unless Sell is able to testify at his upcoming nomination hearing that the Bush Administration is willing to consider dropping its plans to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Privatizing BPA would destroy a major economic driver for the Northwest: the lower-cost power that attracts economic investment to the region.In 2003 Wyden received assurances from White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels that the Administration had no interest in privatizing BPA; this year Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told Wyden before his confirmation, in Mr. Sells presence, that he would oppose any such attempt, and repeated that assertion days later in his public confirmation hearing. But the Presidents subsequently released FY2006 budget proposes to change BPAs current cost-based power rates to a market-based rate, increasing bills for Northwest consumers by 20 percent each year until the market rate is reached. Such a switch is clearly a move toward privatization; once rates rise to market levels, the taxpayer and ratepayer benefits of keeping the power agency publicly held will be eliminated.The attempt to switch BPA power to market rates at great expense to Northwest ratepayers is clearly a first step toward privatization, and as the White House energy advisor Mr. Sell clearly knew the Administration was planning this budget bombshell, said Wyden. I have very serious concerns regarding this policy, which would impose a new energy tax on Northwest ratepayers, and I have very serious concerns about Mr. Sells role in developing this dangerous scheme.As a matter of policy, Wyden publicly announces any hold he places on nominees or legislation, and if he places a hold on the Sell nomination he will do so with a formal statement in the Congressional Record. Wyden has led efforts to end the practice of secret holds in the U.S. Senate.