Davis to divulge details of costly energy buys

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Davis to divulge details of costly energy buys


SACRAMENTO -- Amid mounting attacks on Gov. Gray Davis' energy-crisis secrecy, administration officials said Thursday they will soon begin revealing full details of the state's costly, last-minute power purchases aimed at thwarting blackouts.

The Davis administration told ANG Newspapers that in the next two weeks it will start disclosing information on the initial, multimillion-dollar purchases it made on the volatile spot market in January.

In doing so, the administration will begin honoring Davis' promise to reveal the details after a period of six months or less. The governor said disclosing the information any earlier would compromise efforts to hold down power costs.

But there has been a growing chorus of protest of the secrecy from open-government advocates, consumer activists, Republican lawmakers and others.

GOP legislators and news agencies have filed separate lawsuits, under the state's Public Records Act, seeking disclosure of details on about $8 billion in emergency, short-term purchases and additional billions on less costly, years-long contracts.

A San Diego Superior Court judge is scheduled to issue initial rulings on the lawsuits today in San Diego.

On Thursday, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights called on Californians to phone the governor's office in protest.

"The public has a right to know how our money is being spent and who is getting it," said Harvey Rosenfield, the group's director.

The governor "won't let us look at them (contracts) to make sure they won't cause further rate hikes in future years," Rosenfield said.

"It is also important to know how much power he has negotiated for this summer so we can determine how much it will cost us to stop the blackouts," he said. "We believe the governor is refusing to divulge because the contracts are inflated and contain damaging provisions."

Administration officials dismissed critics' assertions and said that full disclosure will eventually come when the data is no longer a sensitive marketing matter.

Officials acknowledged for the first time, however, that some of the state's less costly, long-term power contracts with generators contain secrecy clauses that may prevent public disclosure.

The administration said state negotiators were so intent on securing less expensive, long-term power supplies that authorities worried little about the clauses requiring them to keep terms of the contracts secret unless they have the suppliers' permission to divulge them

Though violating the agreement could void the contracts, industry representatives said they doubted generators would break existing pacts. Suppliers might, however, sign no more contracts with the state, the representatives said.

"Apparently there are some contracts with that (secrecy clause), and our legal people are looking at it," said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio. "I don't know what the end result is going to be, but it's the governor's intent to release the contracts."

While administration officials insisted they are attempting to find a way around the secrecy clauses in long-term contracts, they said disclosure of the initial short-term purchases will soon begin.

Maviglio said the administration will start posting the details of short-term, spot-market buys made in mid-January within the next two weeks on the Internet, easing a controversy that has enveloped two of Davis' fellow Democratic statewide elected officials.

State Controller Kathleen Connell scrapped plans to reveal the costly state power bills in February during a dramatic, 11th-hour reversal under pressure from the Davis administration.

The controller, who has emerged as a sharp critic of the administration's handling of the energy crisis, indefinitely postponed plans to put information from electricity-purchase invoices on the Internet and canceled a news conference to announce the disclosures.

In March, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, representing Davis in this instance, provided Connell with a letter of advice that the governor is not legally bound to reveal the details of billions of dollars in state power purchases.

Lockyer's letter said the public's interest in maintaining confidentiality in matters relating to negotiations between the state and prospective power contractors far outweighed its interest in disclosure.

But Lockyer, a former East Bay politician, said last week he personally favors making public the details of the purchases.

"In my mind at least, and as a matter of philosophy, the expenditures are so extraordinary, the issues are so important, that the contracts ... need to be made public," he said at the annual meeting of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Open-government advocates point to a recent poll conducted for the California First Amendment Coalition that indicates seven out of 10 Californians believe they are getting too little information about how state officials are responding to the power shortage, and a whopping 86 percent want details of long-term power purchasing contracts made public.

"Californians reject government secrecy as a matter of law in the state's Open Government Act," said Kent Pollock, the coalition's executive director. "The poll results are an overwhelming repudiation of state policies that shield information from public scrutiny."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 01, 2001

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