Bipartisan Buzzsaw for Trump Plan to Sell Power Assets

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is helping lead opposition to the Trump administration's plan to sell off the nation's power marketing administrations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Bipartisan groups of House and Senate lawmakers have made clear their opposition to the sale of the nation’s power marketing administrations.

President Donald Trump’s budget request for the Energy Department includes the ability to sell the transmission assets of the Western Area, Southwestern and Bonneville power administrations, which together market and transmit electricity to power providers in more than 34 states.

The discussion is a recurring one. And “as usual,” 21 senators wrote Wednesday, “it is being opposed on a bipartisan basis.” The letter is to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The senators’ letter, signed by 14 Democrats and seven Republicans, follows correspondence from the Oregon and Washington House congressional delegations sent to both Perry and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in strong opposition to the privatization of the Bonneville Power Administration, which self-funds through consumer power costs and provides electricity to 12 million people in the Pacific Northwest.

Washington's Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led the letter. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also signed.

Both the senators and House members point to the economic benefits of the PMAs, stating that the anticipated revenue from the power the entities generate help build federal water projects.

And with the exception of the Southeastern Power Administration, which does not operate transmission lines, the senators add, the lines the PMAs control are “a backbone of the electric grid” to those they serve. “The sale of these PMA transmission assets would threaten the integration of these facilities with the PMAs’ power marketing responsibilities, raising rates and impairing grid reliability,” the senators’ wrote.

The American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association have also expressed their opposition to the sales to Perry.

In 1995, Congress authorized the smallest of the PMAs, in Alaska, to be sold. Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did not sign the letter.

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