House Dems Gather Support for Price Cap Legislation

Democrats in the House of Representatives last Wednesday hit the ground running in their efforts to force consideration of energy price-cap legislation on to the House floor. Democrats, who need signatures from 218 members in order to move the price-cap bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) directly to the House floor, had already collected more than half the required number of signatures as of last week.

Inslee's bill would instruct FERC to implement short-term, cost-of-service based energy rates that would sunset March 1, 2003. The bill exempts new generation facilities from the rate limits in order to encourage new energy generation. Under Inslee's approach, if FERC ignores the will of Congress, states would have the right to appeal to federal courts.

House Democrats last week began collecting signatures for a discharge petition that, if successful, would take Inslee's bill out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and move it directly to the House floor for consideration. A total of 218 signatures are required in order to discharge a bill from committee.

A House aide told NGI that backers of the discharge petition Wednesday were able to collect 125 signatures in two hours. "That ought to tell you something," the aide said. That tally doesn't include some members who were planning on signing the petition, but were not immediately able to do so because they were in committee. The House aide also pointed out that there is no deadline for collecting discharge petition signatures. "It stays open until you get your 218."

The aide expected the signature-gathering process to continue through the end of last week leading up to Congress going into recess on June 30. A recent move by FERC to extend price controls on bulk electricity transactions to the entire western region (see NGI, June 25) may also come into play once members return from their recess.

"It will be like two weeks that it will have been in play, and I think you're going to still see some of the problems in California, so when we come back I think there'll be some increased activity from the members' point of view about moving this forward," the aide said. Congress will be in recess until July 9.

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