Gas Options Paper Elicits Lawmakers' Interest
The natural gas policy options paper, still officially under
wraps at FERC, apparently has blown enough of its cover to pique
the interest of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and start the war-drums
within the industry, according to sources.
Chief of Staff Michael Ware of Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) office,
for one, met recently at FERC to discuss the "potential procedures"
outlined in the options paper, said Michael Frandsen, press aide
for the Idaho senator. He said the meeting was "very minor," but a
gas industry group contends otherwise. It insists the meeting was
called to "alert FERC that they need to involve Congress 'at the
front end of this process.'"
The industry group said that at the meeting "FERC staff was
given a number of questions to answer - some procedural questions
and...some not necessarily favorable to the proposal. It was also
suggested that Sen. Craig would hold an oversight hearing on the
options paper. It was also mentioned that it was not a good idea to
release the paper during an election year." Moreover, the group
insisted producers had contacted Craig's office about the options
paper, sparking the senator's interest in the issue.
Craig's office, as well as producers, deny these claims. "The
decision as to whether there should be an oversight hearing will be
made by somebody else, not Sen. Craig," Frandsen noted. "Though
frankly if there's a policy change being contemplated [by FERC], it
seems like it would be an appropriate subject for a hearing."
Furthermore, the senator "doesn't have any position either way"
about when the options paper should be released, he said.
Nor, he added, was Craig's interest in the options paper
prompted by gas producers. "Sen. Craig has [a stake] in this issue
because, first of all, his position on the Energy and Natural
Resources Committee," and because the options paper "apparently
addresses the issue of deregulation," which Frandsen said was a
"topic of enormous importance right now in the Senate." In
addition, he refuted the gas group's claims that Craig has been
given a copy of the options paper by FERC staff. "I don't [even]
think he has seen the options paper," he told NGI last week.
"Our initial reaction [to all of this] was 'they have a lot of
nerve to lean all over FERC.' There isn't even a paper out yet.
There isn't even a real firm initiative," a representative of the
industry faction said. "Congress is asking about issues that are
only being discussed, not proposed, internally. I wouldn't be happy
if I were FERC [and was] getting hostile questions from members of
Congress at this point in time." The group has "briefed our members
to let them know that members of Congress are being contacted
[about the options paper] in this manner. I think we'll leave it up
to the individual companies to deal with it." Efforts to reach FERC
Chairman James Hoecker on this matter last week were unsuccessful.
Charlotte LeGates, spokeswoman for the Natural Gas Supply
Association, said she was aware of Craig's interest in the gas
options paper, but she failed to see what all the fuss was about
over his staff member meeting with FERC. "Well everybody and their
grandmother has had a meeting with FERC about this paper. I mean
not about it specifically, but about the issues." Moreover, "I'm
sure that Craig is not the only lawmaker" interested in it "because
there are a number of members of Congress who have major
constituents that would be affected by this."
She believes it's "quite possible" that an oversight hearing on
the options paper will be held, particularly if it leads to a "new
and sweeping inquiry" of the natural gas industry. The paper takes
a close look at a number of ways in which to resolve lingering,
second-generation gas issues, such as pricing in the
capacity-release market, negotiated terms and conditions of service
and regulation of pipelines on the Outer Continental Shelf. It was
prepared by FERC staff, and has been in the hands of the
commissioners since March.