Give us a deregulation rain check ...

Guest editorial
   By Senator Ted Ferrioli
   Senate District 28
Who said Oregon's deregulation HAS to happen October 1? What if the switch couldn't be flipped until October 2 - gasp! - months, even years later? Would the earth stop spinning on its axis? Would the lights go off?
   That October 1 date was chosen back in 1999. No one had a crystal ball that would predict the situation we are in now. Wasn't 1999 about the same time the Internet gold rush was on and everyone was sure their nugget was going to bring untold riches? We all know how that tall tale has turned out. The slap of reality has caused people to step back, take a breath, and more cautiously revisit the drawing board.
   We should take that same cautious approach as we decide whether or not to deregulate October 1. It was an arbitrary date that made sense back in 1999. It doesn't make sense in today's circumstances. Has anyone noticed there's an energy crisis going on? Raise your hand if you've got a queasy stomach from the stock market ride. Have you caught the unhappy trend of daily, major corporate layoffs? Have you enjoyed the lack of rain - wait until summer. So, does it seem like a good time to add a little more uncertainty - in the form of deregulation - to the pot? Common sense would shout, no!
   Yet, Senator Gene Derfler and utility commissioner Ron Eachus are still pushing for statewide deregulation effective October 1. No matter how much they insist that Oregon's plan for deregulation (they're calling it "restructuring," in a thinly veiled attempt to not ruffle any feathers) is 180 degrees different from California's, the fact is, we don't know what the effect of deregulation in Oregon will be in these volatile times.
   Do we really want to add another wild card into an energy deck that's already stacked against us? Wouldn't a more prudent course be to wait until the energy market - not to mention the stock market and the general economy - has settled a bit? In 1999, more than 24 states approved some form of deregulation. But in the past few months, especially in light of the crisis in California, states like Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Arkansas and Oklahoma have opted to repeal or delay deregulation because of concerns for energy consumers.
   Back in 1999, utility deregulation looked good on paper. The idea was that deregulation would allow energy wholesalers to compete with one another to supply utilities with power. This competition, in turn could bring prices down. But, unforeseen variables like scarce power supply turn this warm, fuzzy idea into an uncontrollable monster - like the one on the loose in California right now. Customers desperate for power are at the mercy of greedy wholesalers who can charge whatever price they like.
   Most people do not want to see that monster set loose in Oregon. It's a fact recent polls indicate that 69 percent of Oregonians already have a negative opinion about Oregon's plan for deregulation. Come on, folks, all the indicators are in front of us - the situation has changed, the time is not right. Rather than tremble in fear that if we don't do it now we never will, let's take heed of what's going on in 2001, do the sensible thing and take a rain check on deregulation. As a concerned State Senator, I have introduced Senate Bill 968 to postpone deregulation for 2 years. This bill is a positive step towards addressing Oregon's energy crisis by taking that "Deregulation Rain Check".
   Senator Ted Ferrioli's address is S-217 State Capitol, Salem, Oregon 97301. Phone (503) 986-1728
   And while on the subject of water ...
   If you think we have water problems
   Our neighbors in the Klamath Basin are in a major crisis and they need our support. On Monday, a federal judge denied a desperate plea for water from the farmers in the Basin saying the Endangered Species Act clearly gives threatened and endangers fish the highest priority during the current drought.
   That means that more than 1,400 farmers and 6,000 water users in that area will get no water this year. The damage to the local economy is expected to be catastrophic with a direct loss of $350 million and with the normal seven (7) fold effect of circulating dollars throughout local communities.
   To protest the decision favoring fish over families the Klamath Falls community is forming the Klamath Basin Bucket Brigade on Monday May 7. At 12:30 thousands of people will form a bucket brigade from the Veteran's Memorial Park through the downtown area, approximately 1.2 miles, to the "A" Canal. A broad cross section of the community will pass 50 buckets of water representing each of the 50 states.
   This will become a national event and the Brigade needs a large turnout to dramatize the situation. If you can be in Klamath Falls to show your support on Monday we encourage you to do so. After all, we may be next.