April 29, 2001 11:00 pm

The idea of capping the price of electricity may go against the grain of many free-traders. But with power selling for upwards of $500 per megawatt, the western United States cannot afford to live in this kind of environment. Over the past year, both electricity and natural gas prices have risen so quickly that consumers in California are selling personal possessions at pawn shops just to make their monthly payments.

So far the Bush administration has said no to any price capping. That, however, could turn out to be both a critical error to the economic health of the West and to Bushs political career. Even though Oregons, Washingtons and Californias electoral votes went to former Vice President Al Gore, Bush could improve his position in four years by acting wisely on the energy issue. He also could help Republican senators and representatives who will be running for

re-election in 2002.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill that would cap electricity prices. We agree that the deregulation of Californias electricity has helped leave a path of destruction. Seeing major utility companies file for bankruptcy should speak volumes to Bush and his energy chief.

The idea that people in communities like La Grande and elsewhere in Eastern Oregon could weather the expected power rate increases is beyond belief.

People have been struggling with the rate hikes that have been passed on to them over the past 12 months. Some people are paying $50 to $75 more per month. Additional increases could negatively affect industries and have a serious impact on consumers, forcing some of them to live in frigid conditions next winter.

Bush needs to abandon his current approach to the energy crisis and show us some of the

compassionate conservatism he espouses.


Some exceptional people come along from time to time who make a difference in the lives of young people.

Such a person was Jim Huber, a man who provided leadership and inspiration for Union Countys 4-H program for several years. Huber, a retired county Extension agent, died last week in Provo, Utah. His life will be celebrated at a service at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the La Grande LDS Stake Center.

Huber will be remembered for his kind, quiet spirit and the way he reached out to help people. He loved kids and enjoyed working with their adult leaders. He helped spearhead the development of the lodge at the 4-H Center in Summerville. The facility today is called the

Huber Lodge.

The former Extension agent made a lasting difference in the lives of youths, encouraging many of them to take their place as community leaders as adults today.