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United States: A Powerless Power?

Our most compelling quotes on what people thought of the U.S. power failures.

August 19, 2003

Our most compelling quotes on what people thought of the U.S. power failures.

When the lights went out in large parts of North America in August 2003 — and again in Washington D.C. and surrounding suburbs in September — 50 million people found themselves without electricity. These outages showed the degree to which developed countries rely on electricity. It also showed that the U.S. is not all that it is hyped up to be. Our Read My Lips explores global perspectives.

How was the massive power failure possible?

“Structural flaws in the U.S. electricity distribution system — and a political failure to deal with the effects of deregulation — were the root causes of the catastrophic power outages.”

(Joshua Chaffin, Financial Times Washington correspondent, August 2003)

Who coordinates U.S. energy policy?

“Outdated laws create a ‘balkanized” process in which an individual state or county can halt a project that spans several states — simply because the project will not directly benefit the residents of that state.”

(Roger O’Gale, president of GF Energy, 2001 paper on U.S. energy)

What was life like after the blackout?

“When you get to the point where you can’t wash your hands, you can’t go to the bathroom, you can’t get a drink of water in a tall building above the fifth floor, you’re getting into some not-so-humorous things.”

(Ralph Wyndrum, vice president of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., August 2003)

How did the thousands of stranded travelers fare?

“The toughest part was paying cash for beers in the airport. The message is: Never go cashless.”

(U.S. businessman, August 2003)

What did the blackouts reveal about the United States?

“We are a major superpower with a third world electrical grid.”

(Bill Richardson, former U.S. secretary of Energy and current governor of New Mexico, August 2003)

Should people start looking into new regulations?

“Either the rules we have are inadequate and need to be changed — or somebody wasn’t following the rules.”

(Michael Gent, president and CEO of North American Electric Reliability Council, August 2003)

Do Republicans in the U.S. Congress agree?

“The only sure way to prevent this nightmare from occurring time and time again is to modernize and improve our outdated energy policies.”

(U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, August 2003)

Is that really the most crucial problem?

“If you adjust for inflation, we’re making the lowest yearly investment in transmission since the Great Depression.”

(Clark Gellings, vice president of the Electric Power Research Institute, August 2003)

Why are politics to blame?

“The power crisis is a tussle in Congress between competing corporate lobbies and an ambitious White House more focused on energy supply than transmission.”

(Peter Tahl Larsen, Financial Times New York correspondent, August 2003)

What did people in the Middle East think of the outages?

“Now we understand why they have been unable to get the electricity running in Baghdad.”

(Engineer from Dubai, August 2003)

How about in Iraq?

“I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering.”

(Young Iraqi man, August 2003)

Are blackouts really that severe?

“Blackouts are part of our daily life. I can’t understand why there is such panic in America.”

(Turkish pretzel vendor, August 2003)

Did the outages reveal anything else?

“It is a reminder of how vulnerable the U.S. economy is to problems in the energy sector — and there are a lot of problems there.”

(Julian Jessup, senior international economist at London’s Standard Chartered Bank, August 2003)

Could such a breakdown happen in Japan?

“I would find it very difficult to believe that an outage of this scale — where all of Tokyo suffers a power outage — would happen in Japan.”

(Koji Morita, general manager of the energy think-tank Institute of Energy Economics Japan, August 2003)

What can Americans take from this ordeal?

“Americans are so used to electricity, they should be like the Chinese and ride bicycles to work.”

(Receptionist from Kenya, August 2003)