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National Public Radio MORNING EDITION


President Bush says he’s prepared to help relieve California’s energy crisis. The president announced yesterday that Vice President Dick Cheney will lead a federal task force to examine short- and long-term options. In Sacramento, legislators are studying an audit of one of California’s utilities as they debate whether to approve a multibillion-dollar deal to aid the utilities. NPR’s Richard Gonzales reports.


Since his inauguration, the president and his aides have maintained that there was very little they could do to help California. Just this weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney said that California’s problems were largely self-inflicted by a flawed deregulation scheme. At the same time, the administration hasn’t wanted to appear unconcerned or indifferent, especially when the governors of neighboring states began expressing their fears that the energy problem could spill over into their states. In a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr. Bush cited those concerns.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re very aware in this administration that the situation in California’s beginning to affect neighboring states. Western governors came to see the vice president and they came to see me as well and they’re deeply concerned about the situation spreading beyond the California borders. And so are we.

GONZALES: Mr. Bush said it’s becoming clear that the demand for electricity and natural gas is outstripping the supply so he’s appointing Vice President Cheney to head a task force that will report on how best to cope with high energy prices and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

Pres. BUSH: The task force that’s being assembled will not only deal with the very short-run issues dealing with the West but, obviously, the longer-term issues of–that will be confronting our country for a while unless we’re willing to act boldly and swiftly, which we will do.

GONZALES: The administration already has extended a federal order directing energy generators to continue selling power to California. But the administration says the order won’t be renewed after the February 7th deadline. It’s not the only deadline creeping up on California lawmakers. An emergency order by Governor Gray Davis expires on Thursday. Under that order, Davis devoted $ 400 million in taxpayer money to buy power. Davis aides say that fund is now depleted. But the governor can tap other money to help keep the lights on until the Legislature acts.

Lawmakers are considering a proposal for the state to issue bonds to help pay off the debt run up by the utilities. However, before they do that, many lawmakers have been waiting for the results of an audit of both Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison. The audit was ordered by the Public Utilities Commission.

But by late last night, an audit report was released for only one of the utilities, Southern California Edison. The audit shows that Southern California Edison has about $ 1.2 billion in cash on hand. Harvey Rosenfield is the director of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Mr. HARVEY ROSENFIELD (Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): Our initial review confirms that Edison syphoned billions of dollars out of the utility company over the last five years. Edison has been inflating its losses over the last six months by about 45 percent. And the company has a billion dollars in cash. So overall, the report suggests to us that solving the energy crisis in California is not going to require a bailout.

GONZALES: Reaction to the Southern California Edison audit is expected to be a prime topic for California lawmakers today. The audit of the second utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, has not been released.

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