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Markup of House Electric Bill Pushed Back

Markup of House Electric Bill Pushed Back

If you made the trip to Capitol Hill or were listening over the Web last Thursday, your jaw probably dropped a few inches when Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-VA) of the House Commerce Committee announced to a packed hearing room that he was postponing the scheduled markup on electric restructuring legislation until this week. At press time Friday, the committee hadn't yet set a new date for the markup, but an aide said the goal was to do it this week.

The delay disappointed energy executives, lobbyists and regulators, many of whom still are holding out hope that Congress will pass a comprehensive restructuring measure before it adjourns in October. Whether this comes to pass is all up to Bliley and his committee.

Bliley said he made the decision to delay markup after meeting separately with Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) of the Energy and Power Subcommittee on Wednesday. He realized that if he had pressed forward with markup as scheduled last Thursday, the "outcome [would be] very much in doubt." He also postponed the markup partly out of deference to Markey, who was absent due to a death in his family.

Both Barton and Markey, who have been at odds with Bliley over the particulars of House restructuring legislation, expressed their willingness to "sit down and work with me" in the week ahead to achieve a bill that "we can all support," Bliley said. "Having said that, I'm going to set the bill aside today. We will come back to it next week," he told the crowded committee room, which was prepared for a day-long markup session.

The key issue that Bliley and Barton disagree on is the extent of jurisdiction FERC should have over the interstate electric transmission grid. Specifically, Bliley favors expanding the Commission's oversight, while Barton would prefer to keep it in check. In fact, Bliley had planned to introduce a 128-page substitute amendment addressing the issue during the scheduled committee markup of the Electricity Competition and Reliability Act, which was approved by Barton's subcommittee last October.

Also, Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK) has prepared a substitute amendment that calls for changes to a number of sections of the subcommittee bill: regional transmission organizations (RTOs), retail reciprocity, the Tennessee Valley Authority and on grandfathering states that have introduced competition to their retail markets.

Obviously frustrated on Thursday, Bliley said it was "vitally important" for the House to pass a comprehensive electric bill now to ensure the reliability of the transmission grid. "I mean we've had outages already. Silicon Valley [reports] that when they have one of these rolling outages it costs them anywhere from $50-$100 million a day. That's huge."

Susan Parker

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