Among the names on the apparent short list for Barack Obama’s all-important choice as Secretary of Energy is that of John Bryson, former head of Southern California Edison.
As the embodiment of greenwashed corporate piracy and radioactive public bailouts, Bryson’s appointment would send a terrible message.
Bryson is now being hyped as “an advocate of hybrid cars.” No doubt he is reinventing his image. On a personal basis, he may be the finest of individuals.
But John Bryson will forever epitomize the bailout of the nuke power industry and the horrific catastrophe of electric utility deregulation, including the contrived energy crisis that cost Californians tens of billions of dollars and allowed them to be robbed by the disgraced Enron.
Early in his career, Bryson helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council. Under Jerry Brown he headed the California Public Utilities Commission, where he played a role in the installation of some 17,000 windmills. He also sold his soul—and much of California’s—to the nuke power industry.
When Bryson left the CPUC to head the huge Southern California Edison utility company, many heralded the switch as an eco-triumph. But in the early 1990s, California’s green community proposed a pioneer renewable construction project that would have provided the state with some 600 megawatts of Solartopian power free from fossil and nuclear fuels.
Bryson attacked, falsely charging that the power was unnecessary and expensive. In defense of the state’s four reactors, all sited near earthquake faults, he used Edison’s huge legal and political resources to kill the proposed renewable energy bank.
With all those windmills and solar panels safely buried, Bryson drafted AB1890, the catastrophic deregulation law that opened the door for Enron.
AB1890 allowed SoCalEd and Pacific Gas & Electric to recoup billions in nuke construction cost overruns. Rushed through the legislature under intense pressure from Bryson’s lobbyists, the bill overrode years of citizen opposition and forced ratepayers to eat the utilities’ radioactive mistakes.
AB 1890’s chief public advocate became a Bryson disciple named Ralph Cavanagh, who unfailing flouted his “green” credentials during radio debates (a few of them with me).
Cavanagh and SoCalEd paved the way for corporate piracy on a gargantuan scale. They argued that the state’s expensive, uncompetitive reactors could not stand in the market place. Their billions in “stranded costs” must therefore be absorbed by the ratepayers to pave the way for “true competition” that would somehow “lower rates.”
Bryson then sat back and watched as Enron selectively withheld power and gamed the de-regulated grid, driving thousands of businesses into bankruptcy and soaking the state’s ratepayers for tens of billions of dollars.
AB1890 passed with Republican Pete Wilson in the governor’s mansion. But the crisis broke on Democrat Gray Davis. A close Bryson associate, Davis failed to stand up to SoCalEd and Enron’s price gouging. Public outrage opened the door to the recall that led to Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor.
Bryson’s seminal pro-nuclear, anti-ratepayer role at SoCalEd stands as a monument to the power of greenwashing. From California the craze to deregulate electric utilities spread to two dozen states. In many of them, the idea of a marketplace in electricity was merely a cover used to scam billions in cost overruns at uncompetitive nuke plants. (In Ohio alone, the take exceeded $9 billion) These “stranded costs” then disappeared from utility balance sheets, giving the illusion that their bloated, dangerous and inefficient reactors were somehow paying for themselves.
Some of the same utilities that argued then for these stranded cost handouts on the grounds that their nuke plants could not compete are now demanding loan guarantees to build still more reactors on the grounds that they are somehow “cheap.”
However much he may wish to greenwash his image, John Bryson has never come clean about what he did to delay renewables and bankrupt ratepayers.
Long gone from Southern California Edison, Bryson’s ascent to head the DOE would send a disastrous signal to those who are genuinely committed to a post fossil/nuclear future. It would say that somehow an extremely powerful executive who took very destructive steps to delay the green revolution and support nuke power is now the one to lead us to Solartopia.
There are other candidates to head the DOE who have long histories of genuine support for the renewables revolution on which the future of this country so thoroughly depends.
In an age where green-powered self-sufficiency is an absolute necessity, John Bryson is unfit to be Secretary of Energy.
HARVEY WASSERMAN, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the nukefree.org web site. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He can be reached at: Windhw@aol.com