Coalition established to safeguard consumers from electric deregulation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In answer to growing murmurs from Republican legislators that the nation's electric utilities should be deregulated, a diverse group of 21 organizations announced formation of a coalition to protect consumers.

The Alliance to Protect Electricity Consumers (APEC) includes labor, environmental, consumer, industry, farmer and senior citizen groups joined to ensure that any changes in the utility system are done responsibly, with safeguards to guarantee reliable and affordable energy for all, National Consumer League President Linda Golodner told a news conference.

"Why a coalition to protect electricity consumers?" she asked. "Because we are the users of electricity, we are the workers who provide that electricity, we are the industry that supplies that electricity."

She listed a number of concerns, including reliability of deregulated systems; higher cost to consumers; deterioration of services to rural and inner-city areas; tax losses from deregulated providers; possible market abuses from merged mega-utilities; neglect of hard-won environmental protections, and compromising worker safety as current providers are swallowed by big utility conglomerates.

Joe Jurczak, assistant to the secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO, predicted deregulation of electric utilities would harm working Americans. "I think there will be a lot of money made from the consumers who can least afford to pay it," he said. "Those who want to deregulate the electric industry never talk about the losers; we are all here to try to protect those consumers."

Steve Protulis, executive director of the National Council of Senior Citizens, recalled the recent history of deregulation of airlines, cable TV, telephone service, bus transportation and savings and loans."We've been down the deregulation road before, and every time seniors are promised better service at a better price, they end up getting worse service at a worse price," he said.

"We are terribly concerned that big business has joined with the leadership of this Republican-controlled Congress to embrace legislation whose bottom line is that large corporations will get cheaper power and better service while low-income seniors will see their rates soar," he added.

Glenn English, chief executive officer of another APEC member, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, maintained that proposed changes could wipe out all federal and state protections for consumers. "We are concerned not only for rural Americans but also those who live in cities," he said.

American Public Power Association Executive Director Alan Richardson noted "the big players will merge and get bigger and bigger -- and this certainly doesn't foster competition to keep prices down. Restructuring the industry holds great potential for consumers, who could see benefits of lower rates and better service. But there are pitfalls that can be avoided if Congress will address the concerns of this coalition and the consumers we collectively represent."

A spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one of a dozen labor unions that joined the APEC coalition, noted "If we are going to change the rules that govern our electric utility systems, we must ensure that the social costs are taken into consideration before we act."

In addition to the national AFL-CIO and its Building and Construction Trades and Industrial Union Departments, APEC includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Machinists, Boilermakers, Service Employees, Steelworkers, the Professional and Technical Engineers, Utility Workers, Seafarers, Mine Workers and Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.


Nov. 21, 1997 issue

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