Mark-up of Electric Bill Delayed
The odds of Congress passing electric restructuring legislation
during this session were reduced to next to nothing as the House
Commerce Committee --- which has been beset by infighting ---
postponed the long-awaited mark-up that was scheduled for last
week. The committee could give "no firm date" for when it would be
With this delay and the holdup in the Senate, the likelihood of
both chambers passing a bill during the 106th Congress and
forwarding it to President Clinton for his signature is "less than
10%," said a Capitol Hill observer. "It's very unlikely there will
be a Rose Garden [signing] ceremony" this year. The best this
Congress, which plans to adjourn in early October, can do is put
together a proposal that would enable the 107th Congress to move
quickly on electricity restructuring, he said.
House Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley (R-VA) has drawn the
wrath of his committee colleagues by failing to negotiate the
restructuring issues. "He's kind of been like [Moses] bringing down
the tablets" with respect to the electricity bill, the observer
noted. "He's told the committee members 'this is what you're going
to do or else.' The committee members are balking. You can't order
members of Congress to just obey you."
There's "serious disagreement" between Bliley and members of the
Energy and Power Subcommittee on the issue of the extent of FERC
jurisdiction over electric transmission. Bliley floated a proposal
recently that would give the Commission almost carte blanche
authority over the entire interstate transmission grid (bundled and
unbundled service), but subcommittee members aren't willing to go
to that extreme.
In a speech in St. Louis, MO, last week, FERC Chairman James
Hoecker called the congressional debate over who should have
jurisdiction over bundled and/or unbundled transmission a
"troubling side show that saps out energies and diverts our
attention away" from the important issues.
Nevertheless, ".....I still think that the FERC will only be
able to promote real competition to the extent that all uses of the
grid and all transmission facilities are subject to the same
non-discriminatory rules," he told Mid-America Regulatory
Commissioners at their annual meeting.
"Many state regulators view the restructuring bills being
debated on [Capitol] Hill --- especially those which give the FERC
jurisdiction over all transmission, authority to correct market
power abuses and order RTOs, and greater reliability
responsibilities --- as intrusive and contrary to state interests.
That is both an unfortunate and an inaccurate characterization,"
Hoecker noted. "Under virtually every scenario I can imagine,
states will retain jurisdiction over most of the industry, its
assets and its costs."
As for restructuring legislation, he believes the chances of a
bill this year are "still slim," but he added that he senses a
"degree of focus and understanding" that wasn't present previously
in the debate.
In the House, "it would be a serious mistake for Bliley to bring
up the bill now. Bliley would get rolled."
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