Talks on CA Energy Bill Spill Over Into Congressional Recess

Plans by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to mark up emergency legislation designed to provide relief to the troubled California wholesale energy markets were delayed last week after last-minute negotiations broke down between Democrats and Republicans over the measure. Members from both sides of the aisle on Friday said that they would continue to try and hammer out a bipartisan solution over the Congressional recess that starts this week.

Talks between House members on the panel appear to be centered around an amendment offered by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). The Massacusetts lawmaker has proposed that at least 80% of all wholesale sales of electricity made by a public utility or other entity fall under contracts with pre-determined prices over a period of at least one year. Under Markey's plan, if suppliers do not meet the 80% floor of long-term contracts, they run the risk of having their market-based rate authority stripped from them and becoming subject to cost-of-service ratemaking.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) told reporters that Republicans put out feelers to Democrats last week, saying they wanted to "sit down and talk," but she also emphasized that the process was at a starting point. "Do we have anything written down on paper in terms of anything that's agreed upon? No," she said. "Was there a very healthy discussion about one major aspect? Yes, a good give and take," Eshoo continued.

Eshoo was also asked to comment on how much attention has been given in the negotiations to a proposal by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) to re-impose the cap on prices paid in the secondary gas transportation market to California. "Just touched a little bit, touched on it," Eshoo said. "We raised it as being something that hadn't been addressed yet," she added. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America recently went on record in opposition to the Boucher plan (see related story).

Markup of the bill, the "Electricity Emergency Relief Act," was originally slated for last Thursday, but was delayed in the wake of the talks between Democrats and Republicans. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), was recently voted out by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and air quality (see NGI, May 14).

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will now try to come up with a bipartisan solution to their differences over the Congressional recess. "Since Congress will soon recess for the Memorial Day holiday -- lessening the likelihood that 'The Emergency Electricity Relief Act' can make it to the House floor before the weekend -- both sides have agreed that we will continue to work over the recess period in hopes of reaching a bipartisan solution," said Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) in a joint statement issued last Friday. Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Barton, in a separate statement, said that he will work with Boucher on several amendments with the goal of reporting the bill the week Congress gets back from its recess. "Unfortunately, the down side of waiting is likely to be additional weeks of blackouts and higher than necessary prices for Californians which might have been improved or alleviated," Barton said.

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