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The Buffalo News

If federal law doesn’t afford the justice system an opportunity to throw some Enron executives into a 6-by-8-foot cell with stainless steel plumbing, then the law desperately needs updating. Either way, Attorney General John Ashcroft should quickly agree to the request of three California politicians to begin a criminal investigation into the comatose company’s trading practices.

Several investigations are already under way regarding the company’s accounting practices, but with last week’s revelations that Enron manipulated California’s energy market to create or exploit shortages and to drive up prices, it’s time to expand the scope into the criminal sphere, as California’s governor and its two senators have requested. The scent of criminality permeates this affair, and with the company all but dead, the only punishment and deterrence possible is in the threat of criminal penalties for individual perpetrators.

Ever since California’s electricity shortages convulsed the state last year, Gov. Gray Davis has insisted that outsiders played a role. President Bush, an ex-oil man and friend of former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, rejected that notion, blaming instead a faulty state energy deregulation plan.

Indeed, California’s plan was shortsighted, mainly through its rejection of long-term contracts that would have lent stability to the cost of electricity. The state needs to fix its legislation.

But Enron‘s actions — given cloak-and-dagger code names like “Death Star” and “Fat Boy,” according to the company’s own internal memos — seem undeniably linked to the power shortages that caused misery and economic havoc in the state. What the company did was at least despicable and possibly criminal. And if it’s not criminal, it should be.

This episode should also increase the pressure on the Bush administration to reveal the makeup of the secret energy committee that met with Vice President Dick Cheney to fashion the administration’s energy policy. To no one’s great surprise, that policy turned out to be heavy on exploration and light on conservation.

The Cheney committee has always been suspect because of the administration’s insistence on hiding the identities of its members. But now, given the president’s ties to Enron and that company’s penchant for conducting itself in a fashion that falls somewhere below moral bankruptcy, the administration must do everything it can to cleanse itself of the unsavory aroma that Enron leaves on everything it brushes against.

With the revelation that Enron purposely provoked the very shortages that the Bush administration used to justify its heavily titled policy, the administration needs, at last, to come clean on the makeup of this committee. To continue to refuse in the face of the company’s malevolent conduct would be to treat the public with a contempt that can only be called Enronian.

GRAPHIC: Associated Press Douglas Heller, left, senior consumer advocate for The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, points to memos written by Enron executives concerning energy trading in California. Harvey Rosenfield, FTCR president, looks on.

Consumer Watchdog
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