At a press conference on February 8, Governor Gray Davis announced, “We'll demonstrate that California can cut red tape, build needed energy supply, and maintain our respect for the environment. All three things can be done. All three things will be done.”
The next day, the Governor issued six executive orders that thrust aside environmental regulation in favor of allowing private corporations to build new power plants in California. To add insult to injury, the governor proposes to use the money allocated to the Department of Parks and Recreation to reward private companies who can build new power plants quickly.
Davis’ executive orders are as follows:
D-22-01: Allows all power plants to increase output 50% without regulation; speed up approval of thermal power plants; orders State Water Resources Control Board to allow power plants to exceed their heat discharge limits; allows contracting exempt from Government Code and Public Contract Code; calls for contracts building plants using renewable and other resources.
D-23-01: Orders that the Independent System Operator coordinate maintenance of power plants; orders the Public Utilities Commission to ensure that power plants are being operated in a way that ensures the availability of electricity; requests legislation to issue performance benchmarks for power producers, and fines if those aren’t met.
D-24-01: lowers air quality standards to allow power plants to run longer; raises money by selling emission reduction credits (the more a power plant needs to pollute, the more it can pay to do so); allows contracting exempt from Government Code and Public Contract Code.
D-25-01: expedites approval of thermal plants; allows Energy Commission to suspend all procedures in post-certification amendments; forces power plants to be built quickly; allows contracting exempt from Government Code and Public Contract Code.
D-26-01: Shortens review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to seven days for power plants.
D-27-01: Orders the Department of Parks and Recreation to make its remaining appropriated funds immediately available for the provision of performance awards relating to the construction of power plants for new sources of generation brought on-line prior to July 1, 2001
It is clear that the investment made by the utility companies in Gray Davis’ election campaign is paying off. A few weeks ago the Governor and the complicit legislature used taxpayer money (in the form of a Billion dollar bond) to ensure that private companies will be able to buy cheap power to sell to taxpayers at a profit. This in spite of a government audit that indicated that these same corporations had shifted profit to their “parent corporation”, who invested heavily in the purchase of power generation plants.
Now the Governor wants to ensure that power plants will be built as quickly as possible. He has suspended most environmental review requirements; has lowered air and water quality standards; and suspends all government codes and contracting requirements. Backroom deals have led to proposals favoring profit over the environment, and that are ripe for corruption and manipulation. Money for this venture will come from the Department of Parks and Recreation, placing further strain on an already tight budget.
Drastic changes are being made in the way power is regulated in the state. The crisis precipitated by deregulation has turned into a feeding frenzy for the power companies. This situation must stop. Instead of bailing out the power companies with taxpayer money, the California government should take back jurisdiction over the power companies. And the power crisis should not be used as an excuse for environmental destruction.