Head-shaking oddities abound in politics, but the interplay among billionaire Warren Buffett and politicians in two states is one for the books.
Buffett’s umbrella corporation, Berkshire Hathaway, owns PacificCorp, which delivers electricity to much of the Pacific Northwest, a tiny slice of California, and, through a subsidiary, several Rocky Mountain states.
PacificCorp also owns many generating facilities, including four dams on the Klamath River in California and coal-burning plants in Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Colorado.
Therein lies the rub.
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The Klamath dams are very old, very antiquated and probably incapable of being relicensed because they block fish spawning runs. They also contribute just 1.5 percent of the power PacificCorp generates.
Logically, therefore, PacificCorp should tear down the dams. But they are ensnarled in politics involving not only aquatic habitat but restrictions on water for farmers in Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
One of Buffett’s longtime pals is Arnold Schwarzenegger, and during his governorship a bi-state “compact” was forged, aimed at removing the dams, restoring habitat and giving farmers water supply stability.
As part of the deal, California would give PacificCorp $250 million for dam removal. The money was later included in the 2014 water bond sponsored by Schwarzenegger’s successor, Jerry Brown.
However, Congress has balked at putting up its share, and most recently, the two states and PacificCorp have agreed to begin implementing the compact on their own.
So why are California taxpayers coughing up $250 million (about $500 million with interest) to subsidize what a billionaire’s corporation should be doing on its own?
The public explanations have never gone beyond something like “just because.” Privately, officials have said that improving salmon runs on the Klamath might balance out, in the minds of regulators, degradation of runs on other California rivers, including the Sacramento.
If that weren’t odd enough, now there’s a flap over PacificCorp’s heavy involvement in coal-fired generation, a secular sin among liberal politicians who dominate both states and who’ve been demanding conversion from carbon-emitting power plants to wind, solar and other “renewables.”
The Oregon Legislature is considering a bill that would require private utilities serving the state to phase out coal generation by 2030.
This month, California’s leading anti-coal crusader, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon and other lawmakers sent a letter to Brown opposing a pending agreement between California’s Independent System Operator and PacificCorp.
Their reason: It could bring coal-fired power to California and thus undermine the state’s effort “to reduce climate pollution and promote clean energy.”
However, those same legislators are quite willing to give Buffett’s PacificCorp $250 million in taxpayers’ money.