Commentary

Dim bulbs

Let’s see, wholesale electricity markets were deregulated, but transmission and retail markets were not. That’s enough for New York’s media to blame deregulation: The Republicans’ embarrassed silence allowed Democrats to seize control of the narrative. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, an energy secretary under Clinton, landed on the front page of The New York Times on August 15 with the now famous quote, “We are a major superpower with a third-world electrical grid.” He not only got the Iraqis laughing (they have been without electricity for months), but also provided a spark for ensuing news coverage. On August 16, the Times ran a story by David Firestone and Andrew C. Revkin that’s worth reading if you missed it. Among the causes of last week’s blackout, they reported, is an unregulated energy market in which private companies have no incentives to build transmitters, and industry monitors have no power to enforce reliability rules. Then there are the groups who oppose construction of new transmitters. (Tom DeLay went on Fox News Sunday to denounce these “BANANA extremist environmentalists,” i.e., people who would “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything.”) The Times launched a mini-crusade over the weekend, publishing two anti-deregulation op-eds on Saturday (one by Richardson and one by The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner). The lead editorial that day said the most important question after figuring out the technical cause of the blackout is deciding if it’s time for the government to step in. A Week in Review piece offered raw numbers to back up the deregulation indictment. Here’s a column by Reason’s Lynne Kiesling that helps rebut the above. By the way, Bill Richardson’s “superpower with a third-world electrical grid” seems to have one the sound bite battle.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.