Senate, House Again Debate Electric Power Restructuring
The heat wave and attendant electric and gas price spikes of
early May have lit a fire under federal legislators, who may have
to answer to consumers this summer and constituents this fall as to
why the nation's partially deregulated power industry isn't
The Senate Energy Committee held its first mark-up session last
Wednesday and promised some votes this coming Wednesday on S. 2098,
the Electric Power Market Competition and Reliability Act. In the
House the Commerce Committee promised to start marking up its
version, the Electricity Competition and Reliability Act, H.R.
2944, June 14.
Both chambers have been considering --- but failing to act on
--- proposed legislation for the last four years. The partial
deregulation that has ensued and uncertainty as to the rules of the
game going forward has been blamed for the failure of the electric
power industry to grow to meet increasing demand.
Attempting to head off a movement toward a stopgap "reliability"
measure rather than comprehensive legislation, Senate Energy
Chairman Frank Murkowski, (R-AK), warned his colleagues last week,
"nothing we enact will alleviate any reliability problems we will
face this summer and next winter. Our existing generation
capability and transmission capacity are what they are. Nothing
that can be done by legislation will alter that in the near-term."
The chairman said he supports "a comprehensive bill that will
In last week's session Murkowski attempted to sound out
committee members on a long list of controversial issues, including
the federal versus state role in oversight of a restructured
industry, mandatory RTOs, transmission expansion and construction,
retail reciprocity, and repeal of existing laws regulating public
utilities. He said the committee would begin voting on provisions
to be included this week.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said at the beginning of last week's
session that committee members had made "substantial progress" on
reliability issues and there appeared to be "a consensus on the
committee and the utility industry" behind the proposals in a bill
introduced by Sen. Slade Gorton, (R-WA) and co-sponsored by
Bingaman and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). The bill would create a
new, national reliability organization to set the rules for the
national transmission grid. "I hope we can report Gorton's bill
(the Electric Reliability
2000 Act, S.2071) before we begin experiencing problems this
summer," Bingaman said.
Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) said the committee should either pass
"a regulatory" measure to deal with reliability, without loading on
any other issues, or a comprehensive bill.
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