January 16, 2004
The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Speaker:
As you know, the historic cold weather currently gripping the Northeast and New England is causing great hardship on residents of those areas, and has now led to warnings of potential rolling blackouts of electricity, which would only serve to amplify the suffering.
On September 30, 2003, we presented you with the findings of the Speaker’s Task Force on Affordable Natural Gas (TFANG). Our transmission letter (attached) included the following warning: “Our findings are stark: The United States is on a trajectory towards an energy future which threatens Americans’ livelihoods and quality of life, and puts at peril our national manufacturing and industrial base.” We further pointed out that “In many parts of the country, it is the only permitted option for electrical generation so necessary for our modern quality of life. But efforts to produce, transport and distribute natural gas have become more difficult and access to supplies has been enormously reduced. Government policies compel the use of more natural gas, and are at the same time making supplies of natural gas more difficult to obtain.”
We write today because our predictions have come to pass much more quickly than we had anticipated. Consumers in the Northeast and New England are being asked to conserve electricity or risk rolling blackouts because of inadequate natural gas supply capability to gas-fired electrical plants. Because of inadequacies in the distribution system, there is simply not enough transmission capacity to accommodate the demand for natural gas for heating, manufacturing and gas-fired electrical generation that is growing in the region. This limited supply and increased demand drove natural gas prices to $74 on the spot market at the New York City gate, and have remained historically high. These prices can only hurt consumers and jobs, and may even threaten lives. Something must change.
As we indicated at the time of our September letter, there are no “quick fixes” to our growing national natural gas crisis, but there is also no time like the present to begin putting policies in place to alleviate future impacts and bring some certainty and stability to energy markets. Since then, under your leadership, the House of Representatives has responded by passing the Energy Bill Conference Report, a good first step. Included in the energy legislation are changes in law that would speed the construction of natural gas pipelines, which would help alleviate the price spikes and shortages currently hurting consumers in the Northeast. Two such pipelines, under existing law, were recently stopped from beginning construction in the New York region.
Unfortunately, relief for consumers has been held hostage in the Senate, where obstruction of problem-solving initiatives seems to have become the coin of the realm in an election year. The introduction of crass politics into the consideration of legislation which would help consumers cope with soaring heating bills and possible energy shortages is a sad note to the beginning of a new year most Americans hope will be a happy and prosperous one.
With the return of the Senate next week, we would urge you to use your offices to educate obstructionist Senators about the serious energy difficulties their constituents face, now and into the future. The only way to begin to alleviate the growing suffering caused by our outdated energy systems is for them to act swiftly on the comprehensive energy bill. We also ask that you consider whether additional measures beyond the energy bill might be taken by Congress to help alleviate our growing natural gas and energy crisis. This could include a charge from you to TFANG to mobilize in an effort to search out solutions to the cold realities of our energy dilemma.
TFANG remains at your service to help craft legislation to assist the nation achieve our goals of affordable natural gas supplies so important to our economy and our way of life. Thank you for the opportunity to update you on natural gas and energy matters, and for your consideration of our request.
W.J. “Billy” Tauzin
Committee on Energy & Commerce
Richard W. Pombo
Committee on Resources