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Senate, House Again Debate Electric Power Restructuring

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 working.

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 address reliability."

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.

Ellen Beswick

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