Deficient as usual, Nevada's mark of the beast is 661


Expanded from the 5-27-2001 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Back in the Sixties, a popular bumper sticker demanded "Down with Symbolism." The slogan didn't stick. Our society today lies infested with symbols substituting for substance. Some of the symbols even get elected.

In the symbol-saturated society, you don't have to actually do anything, just say that you care while surrounding yourself with the objects of your affection. Let the cymbals crash as your symbols are unveiled. With the great unwashed enthralled by the show, you can serve your masters behind the scenes. Herewith, some examples of the symbolic perversion of democracy.


USING THE POOR AS GREASE FOR THE RICH. Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, several key lawmakers, Gov. Dudley Do-Right and major lobbies have endorsed reinstatement of utility deregulation after repealing it just a few weeks ago with Assembly Bill 369. That measure did the same thing for Sierra Pacific/Nevada Power which Gov. Gray Davis did for California utilities. At the expense of ratepayers, it guaranteed complete insurance against corporate losses. (See the April 22 Barbwire.)

By 33 to 8, last week the Nevada Assembly passed AB 661 which would allow mines, casinos and other large energy users to buy power on the deregulated, competitive(?) market. The current spin goes like this: allowing Nevada big boys to crapshoot outside the system means more power for the little guy. I don't buy the premise, but state consumer advocate Timothy Hay asserts that by also allowing small consumers to aggregate their buying, the untested idea may work.

Remember what happened after Bill Clinton and Al Gore "deregulated" cable TV in 1996? Prices have jumped by five times the rate of inflation and no meaningful competition yet exists.

Gov. Kenny Guinn has said he supports "'partial deregulation' (for mining and gambling) as long as it increases the amount of low-cost electricity available for other customers." The Brooklyn Bridge is back on the market.

Guinn, former CEO of Southwest Gas, is not the ratepayer's friend. Consumer lobbyists assert that he pushed lawmakers into killing a proposal by Assemblyman Roy Neighbors, D-Tonopah, which would have allowed municipalities to aggregate small ratepayers into buying co-ops. That idea has been tried without much success in other states, but at least Neighbors was trying to protect his constituents.

Aggregation was offered as a crumb by Lord Vader himself, juice lobbyist Harvey Whittemore. Harvey is a master at engineering phony compromises which grease the way for legislation favorable to his corporate clients. (He did just that with the Tailhook Bill in 1995. When I challenged it, he asked me to step outside.)

As I told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee last Friday, the Assembly passed AB 661 largely sight unseen. It was almost impossible for the public to get a copy before the vote. Only eight lawmakers had the guts to fight Harvey and his Wallbanger Gang: Sharron Angle and Don Gustavson (both R-Reno), Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, Barbara Buckley, Chris Giunchigliani, David Goldwater, Mark Manendo and Dave Parks, all D-Las Vegas.

At the May 19 meeting of the Nevada Utility Reform Alliance (NURAy), both Townsend and Hay agreed with me that Elko County mines, which represent 25 percent of northern Nevada electric demand, can get whatever they need from two new plants now in the pipeline. So there is no issue in the north making "partial deregulation" necessary.

Statewide, there is little chance that any of the biggies will find an advantage in bailing out of the system within the next two years, given existing SPP/NP power purchase contracts.

I fear that Hay may cave in to the utilities, mines and casinos. In the lower house, he supported AB 661 as long as it allowed formation of small customer buying pools. I smell a typical Harvey-spawned phony compromise: allow small-user aggregation in exchange for support of deregulation.

Hay will thus be put in a box and lawmakers will be able to cover themselves by saying they engineered a compromise to include consumer protections. The deregulation genie has been put back in the bottle and should remain there rather than allowing major corporations to experiment with small ratepayers as guinea pigs.

Townsend's committee continues hearing AB 661 at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. You can view it or listen to it at the legislative website. [Editor's note: Townsend canceled the meeting without notice.]

Continuing updates at the Nevada Energy Crisis War Room.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE JOURNALISM. Last week, I noted how Nevada scored the front page of the May 19 New York Times. "Bleak Statistics Tarnish Nevada's Glitter" stated the headline.

"Pick almost any index of social well-being and Nevada ranks at or near the very bottom of the 50 states, though it ranks near the top in personal wealth," wrote reporter Todd S. Purdum.

Yesterday in response, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a front page piece of shameless boosterism which would have readers believe that this is paradise. It focused on local workers at the Patagonia warehouse, located on the Truckee riverfront west of Reno. A huge photo showed a worker fishing in the river. No smoke-sotted, low-wage casino employee was interviewed. As a matter of fact, gambling was barely mentioned. Judge for yourself by comparing the two stories, but hurry. The New York Times piece will only be available without charge for a few days more.

Be well. Raise hell.

NevadaLabor.com | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 , editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal. org/

He managed Sen. Townsend's 1980 initiative petition which forced the 1981 Nevada Legislature to establish Nevada's first office of consumer advocacy. He lobbied the 1981 session on utility issues and coordinated intervention in five cases before federal and state utility regulatory bodies. He is a member of NURAy.

Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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