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Energy Legislation

Critics say utility bills would skyrocket if legislation passes

By Billy Davis

A climate-change bill that passed the U.S. House Friday, and is now set for debate in the U.S. Senate, will dramatically hurt Mississippi families, opponents of the bill have said.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act squeaked by 219-212, with the White House and Democratic leaders in the House pushing for passage of the legislation.

But 44 Democrats, including Mississippi congressmen Travis Childers and Gene Taylor, voted against the bill, also known as “Cap and Trade.” Eight Republicans voted for it.

Proponents of the bill acknowledged that the legislation, meant to curb carbon emissions, would raise household utility rates, but said those rates would rise only $175 a year per household.

Other parties, however, estimated the cost would rise from $1,000 a year to more than $3,000 per household.

In Mississippi, the more likely cost is between $1,500 to $2,000 per household per year, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley told The Panolian.

He viewed those figures at a regional meeting of public service commissioners, where the attendees signed a joint letter opposing the legislation.

Presley pointed out that the legislation, if enacted, would adversely affect a low-income state like Mississippi, where he said some families spend 40 percent of income paying utility bills.

Even though the bill’s aim is for environmental protection, “it has the potential to push ratepayers’ bills out the roof,” he said.

TVEPA general manager Brad Robison, when asked for comment, described the bill as a “national energy tax” that will hurt families as well as industries and businesses.

“The idea that is passively being allowed to take root is the concept of raising energy prices to the point people cannot afford them, forcing a reduction of energy use,” Robison said in a statement.

Robison also said he was grateful that Childers had voted against the bill.

Childers was considered a swing vote as late as Friday, and his office at the Capitol was flooded with phone calls from constituents. Most callers voiced opposition to the bill, a spokesman said.

A spokesman also said Childers was “leaning” toward a “nay” vote Friday morning.

Batesville resident Wayne Belk said he was one of the 1st District callers who lobbied Childers to vote “nay.”

“If you read the bill, it will blow your mind,” Belk said. “They want the power to inspect your home and fine you if it’s not energy efficient. They will inspect farms and tell the farmers how to do their job.”

“I could not in good conscience vote for a bill that could significantly raise costs for hard-working American families and producers – specifically the agriculture industry – during today’s difficult economic times,” Childers said in a statement following his vote.

Childers also said the bill, if passed, would have a “disproportionate effect” on the South, where energy suppliers have fewer opportunities to develop alternative sources for energy.

In a follow-up question sent to Childers, asking for his personal estimate of rate hikes, press secretary Dana Edelstein said the congressman feared a “ripple effect” from the bill, which would make its exact cost “impossible to measure.”

“Congressman Childers felt like it would have been irresponsible to vote for a bill that you can’t measure the costs of,” Edelstein said.

The climate-change bill is expected to face a tough battle in the Senate, where Democrats enjoy a slim majority, and hence may never become law.

Rep. Taylor, known for his independent streak and criticism of Democrat leaders, said the House leadership forced some Democrats to vote for the controversial bill.

“A lot of people walked the plank on a bill that will never become law,” Taylor told a Washington, D.C. newspaper.