PUD slugs it out with Enron

  • By Jerry Cornfield / Herald Columnist
  • Saturday, June 19, 2004 9:00pm
  • Local News

If you’ve ever been slimed by a slug then you know what it feels like dealing with Enron.

Slugs are humpbacked cavities of composting efficiency with a nasty effluent. Slug slime is a numbing, gluey substance. Get it on your fingers, and it won’t rub off. Rinse in water, and the irritation will worsen.

The spew enables slugs to glide effortlessly across all terrain. They can pass over a razor blade without incurring a nick.

Which brings me to Enron, the bankrupt slug of energy traders. Now, after digesting the funds of “Grandma Millie” and thousands of Snohomish County consumers with skillful skullduggery, Enron is sliding past the serrated knives of jurisprudence on a track of political ooze.

The rip-offs came during the “energy crisis” from early 2000 to August 2001.

Electricity can’t be stored like a canned good. It’s here and gone. It was here, and Enron made it gone then reappear instantly at inflated prices. They concocted shortages.

These cunning magicians keyed Enron’s profiteering. Utilities such as Snohomish County PUD signed exorbitant contracts to guarantee electricity.

You know what happened next. Enron folded, and a couple of low-lying totems got spanked for miscreant behavior.

Our PUD quit its contract. They want the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – which granted and then stripped Enron of its ability to sell power – to void the agreement. But FERC commissioners won’t.

The commissioners are not unbright, just unwilling. That’s not too surprising, given that Kenneth Lay, Enron’s king slug, urged President Bush to appoint current FERC commissioners Pat Wood and Nora Mead Brownell.

The PUD may now have delivered FERC the regulatory tonic it needs: transcripts of the taped conversations scheming to manipulate the market over 473 days of the “crisis.”

Carl Pechman and Lisa Bunin oversaw the decoding of the conversations, which were locked in snippets of 2,000 hours of tape. Working in Santa Cruz, Calif., the two hired a dozen people and taught them how to listen for gaming jargon such as “get shorty” and “fat boy.”

From March to mid-May this year, they listened to voices eight to 11 hours a day in a 600-square-foot office adorned with pictures of Lay and another nefarious Enron exec, Jeffrey Skilling.

PUD lawyers filed the transcriptions May 17. On Thursday, FERC commissioners recognized the PUD’s efforts for the first time.

Still, Brownell cautioned there may be no new evidentiary value in these shocking dialogues.

An Enron optimist to the end.

The PUD’s foresight and Pechman’s insight should change Brownell’s tune. A humble Pechman brushed off insistence that his unheralded team could prove to be the unsung heroes in this saga.

“We think we’re contributing to justice for the people of Snohomish County,” Pechman said.

There’s nothing slimy about that.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be heard at 7 a.m. Monday on the “Morning Show” on KSER (90.7 FM). He can be reached at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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