Magazine article Insight on the News

Power-Hungry Davis Pointing the Finger

Magazine article Insight on the News

Power-Hungry Davis Pointing the Finger

Article excerpt

All right now, no more snickering about the "energy crisis" in California. Curtail in charity your sarcasm about the eco-freaks in that dreamy state and the posturing pols who hysterically are trying to convince the country that "profiteering" and "price gouging" are responsible for the rolling blackouts and stagnant hot tubs. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis would rather have ordered a slaughter of firstborns from San Diego to Eureka before countenancing his belated increase in retail prices for electricity, but he finally could not avoid the obvious.

On one level the chaos there is fairly simple. When in a populist spasm California deregulated energy, it removed ceilings on wholesale prices but left retail prices regulated. A middlingly bright 12-year-old could have predicted the resulting shortages.

Moreover, the state has not increased generating capacity in more than a dozen years despite a steep upward spiral of demand. The grubs-and-berries enviros in California opposed even repairs and upgrades of current plants, piously urging more windmills and solar panels or adding another gerbil to the wheel. Something had to give.

After desperate flailing and leading the chorus of outrage about "gouging" by out-of-state suppliers, Davis and flinching legislators put backbreaking debt on future taxpayers by purchasing the intricate web of transmission lines. He also finally decided it might be useful to build new generating plants, which will not come on line for several years.

Now, with public clamor approaching the decibel level of a contralto in a Wagnerian aria, the governor is indicting President George W. Bush for his reluctance to order that price controls be put on wholesale energy suppliers. Thousands of years of history of such market restrictions, dating back at least to ancient Egypt, have seemed only to tighten whatever economic knot they were intended to unravel.

Now, as this is being written, the governor is threatening to seize municipal-utility companies that refuse to accept confiscation. "We're going to get that power one way or another," Davis fumed, reminding Left Coast movie buffs of the World War II movie line, "Ve haf ways of making you talk."

Nothing this heavy in political freight could remain a California issue. Congressional Democrats have joined the anti-Bush fray on behalf of price caps, and while most of them may not be serious, when you want to beat a dog any stick will do. They assert, for instance, that the dimmed lights of California soon will spread across the country. While that's extremely unlikely, it rattles the cage of citizens elsewhere who have been made anxious by the whining and snarling along the San Andreas fault. …

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