The Smoking Gun

Washington Democrats have joined the call for Attorney General John Ashcroft to open a criminal investigation into Enron's role in the Western states' energy crisis.

Days after documents released by the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission (FERC) showed that Enron deliberately manipulated power markets in California, four Washington Democrats called on FERC to allow Washington state out of long-range power contracts that state utilities were virtually forced into at the height of the crisis, when energy prices were up to 100 times higher than usual.

"You gotta hand it to the guys at Enron," U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (D-1st District) told The Stranger. "Essentially they found out a way to charge $100 for a loaf of bread." Inslee said he's calling on FERC to demand that energy providers refund as much as $1.5 billion to ratepayers across Washington state for tinkering with the energy market.

The documents reveal an Enron scheme code-named "Death Star," which involved creating the appearance of congestion on energy transmission lines so that the company could get paid for relieving the nonexistent congestion. Of course, when Enron execs were asked during the crisis what they thought the cause of the energy crisis was, they blamed--you guessed it--power grid congestion.

For months Western Democrats have been pushing for the federal government to open a criminal investigation into the Enron debacle. The allegations of price gouging and artificial market manipulation in the Western states' recent energy crisis were vehemently denied by Enron and other energy producers at the time. Now Democrats say these documents are the smoking gun.

At the height of the energy crisis, FERC refused to implement a price cap on wholesale power prices as they skyrocketed out of control. In Inslee and Representative Brian Baird's (D--3rd) letter to Ashcroft, they write, "As a result of the administration's callous intransigence, many Northwest utilities are now stuck in long-term expensive contracts with Enron and other companies. We hope that in light of these recent revelations the administration will not show the same indifference to our constituents this year."

Don't hold your breath.