IT'S BEEN two weeks of almost solid travel. Kansas City for a hearing on electric costs, Madison, Wis., for a hearing on natural gas for agriculture, back home for a Saturday overnight. Then out to Seattle for another electric hearing, to Portland for a briefing at the Bonneville Power Administration and a flying tour over its facilities. Back to D.C., up to Boston for another electric cost hearing, then down to Memphis last night.
Several months ago I promised Aaron Henry, a tough man and a longtime father figure from the civil rights movement, that I would participate in a community meeting on energy sponsored by the local NAACP in Clarksdale, Miss., where he lives. So here I am again in a Holiday Inn, this time in Memphis.
Henry called last night. Complications. He was invited to the Egyptian-Israelis peace signing, will fly to Washington for it, fly back by 5:30 p.m., missing the big state dinner, and preside at the meeting tonight.
The drive from Memphis to Clarksdale reminded me of my Mississippi childhood, flat terrain and windrows every half mile or so. Southern hospitality also still lives. I had a delightful lunch in Clarksdale at the home of a Mrs. Cannon. Among the guests was my cousin Henry Hackett, whom I hadn't seen for more than 30 years. Cousin Henry is now a very spry 83. I last remember him coming to visit my father: gray homburg, gray suit, gray spats, gray patent leather shoes. I had the pleasure of giving him a photograph of my great-grandparents Holden, who were his aunt and uncle. Another copy hangs on my office wall.
The NAACP meeting began with a ceremony essentially religious in tone (the South still has that quality as well). Sometimes I do a fairly good job, but not tonight. I even heard a couple of fellows in the back row muttering "Let's get out of here." They did.
I usually tell people what I understand of underly costs, why energy is going up in price, why it usually is too easy just to "damn the utilities." That is never a sweet message for consumers to hear, especially if many of them are very poor.
It was a long drive back to Memphis. Tomorrow I go to Rust College.
began this morning with two savvy Memphis reporters at breakfast. They were very interested in prices under the Natural Gas Policy Act adopted in 1978. The Memphis municipal gas utility recently asked the city council to aprove a substantial price rise (more than 20 percent).
Rust College in Holly Springs is a place where Hiram Revels once lectured in theology. Revels, an African Methodist Episcopal clergyman, was the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi.
I did a radio interview on campus, with the usual explanation of the FERC functions. They wanted to talk about gasoline and nuclear power. There are some nuclear power plant proposals in that part of Mississippi. I emphatically excluded gasoline. It is not FERC turf.
The speech went a little better than the one last night.I talked mostly about mobility. Students could see that if they had only two gallons of gas a day they could not even drive from Rust College to Memphis, about two hours away and if they did get to Memphis they could not easily get back.I also speculated about their own social mobility. These are relatively poor rural kids, three-quarters from Mississippi, so what we are talking about is having the kind of economy in which they can find jobs that will take them further along than their parents could go.
In early this morning to the office, trying to catch up. We had a brief agenda: only five electric rate cases to discuss. The few today must mean a flood held back for later.
Because I was out for most of two weeks, the stack of paper on my desk is literally two feet high. Incoming letters, staff memoranda, lawyer's briefs (a misnomer for sure), speeches and testimony by Department of Energy top brass, daily press clippings, travel vouchers (which I hate! ), newsletters on nuclear fuel, newsletters on oil newsletters on gas newsletters on electricity, FERC staff papers . . .
Around 4 p.m. my 14-year-old son John called. He takes a steady interest in things in the papers that have something to do with my job. He said a nuclear power plant had somehow gone wrong in Pennsylvania. His telling was more dramatic than I thought the facts probably warranted. By the time I got the late news, I knew he had been essentially right.
FERC has nothing to do with the licensing or operation of these plants. But any financial consequences will come partly to us if companies are under our rate authority. The owners of Three Mile Island are under our authority.
Dorothy, my wife, picked me up to go to a reception at the L'Enfant Plaza. The Joint Center for Political Studies is bringing out a volume on energy and equity, including a speech I gave at a conference of theirs.
The day was full of calls. There was also a lot of discussion with the staff about legislation to realign FERC responsibilities. People feel embarrassed about the turf battles. I do not know why. Judicious conservation of your own turf is particularly important. Never take a chance on waking up dead.
Three Mile Island must be a remarkable challenge to the spirit of those who live with anxiety and the skills of those who have to reestablish control. All this is, for regulation, in Nuclear Regulatory Commission terrain. But when this all settles down the company is going to have to pay the bill in one way or another. That is going to raise significant policy issues that will come to us, at least in part. How the compnay will handle its finances, what the responsibilities are of its vendors, what costs should be passed on to its customers - these will be inescapable questions.
I had a brief talk in the morning with the chairman and another later with Bill Bechtel, co-chairman of the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission. We were both in Wisconsin government when Pat Lucey was governor.
I created a schedule conflict, so I did what you do when you have made a mess - I delegated to my secretary the responsibility to straighten it out.
Call from a fellow down in Richmond about the Great Lakes Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners. It has a wide scope, including states from Wisconsin to New England to the Southeast and the Virgin Islands. The event involves delicate undertones, since DOE IS NOT WHOLLY POPULAR IN ALL THOSE STATES.
THE COMMISSION HAD AN ELABORATE MEETING THIS AFTERNOON ON CURTAILMENT FILINGS THAT THE NATURAL GAS PIPELINE COMPANIES HAVE TO MAKE UNDER THE NATURAL GAS POLICY ACT. CURTAILMENT IS OUR JARGON FOR RATIONING. THE MEETING GOT A LITTLE RAUCOUS. AN ABLE YOUNG WOMAN ON THE STAFF HAD CHALLENGED AN EQUALLY ABLE SENIOR MEMBER. HER ARGUMENT WAS VERY PERSUASIVE, AT LEAST THEORETICALLY, AND HE HAD A HARD TIME MEETING IT, ALTHOUGH HE WAS PROBABLY RIGHT IN SUBSTANCE. I DO NOT THINK YOUNG STAFF, PARTICULARLY, OUGHT TO BE INTIMIDATED BY THEIR SENIORS, AND I MADE IT CLEAR THAT I THOUGHT THE MAN WAS OVERREACTING AND NOT ANSWERING HER QUESTIONS. RIGHT AFTER THE MEETING HE CALLED ME TO MAKEE APOLOGIES. MOST GENTLEMANLY.
ED YOUNG, PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, CALLED. HE WANTED ME TO TBE THE UNIVERSITY'S DELEGATE - I'M STILL A PROFESSOR ON LEAVE - AT THE INAUGURATION OF PRESIDENT TOLL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND. IF THE LAWYERS DO NOT RAISE ANY OBJECTIONS, FINE. I CANNOT SEE HOW THEY WOULD, BUT WE HAVE LITIGATION PARANOIA AROUND HERE.
Thank God for a slow day, the first one in more than three weeks. I could work on my yard and otherwise loaf. John and I spent some time figuring outwhere to put a fence. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By James M. Thresher-The Washington Post