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House Gives Facelift to Customer-Choice Legislation

House Gives Facelift to Customer-Choice Legislation

House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-VA) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Dan Schaefer (R-CO) tried to jump-start interest in electricity restructuring on Capitol Hill last week by issuing draft legislation that would mandate customer choice at the state level by Jan 1, 2001, and would grandfather all state retail-access programs that are in effect by the deadline.

"This is just a discussion draft. It's still a work in progress," a Capitol Hill press aide told NGI. Bliley has asked committee members to take copies of the draft home during the July 4th recess and review them carefully, she said. Some believe subcommittee markup could take place before lawmakers leave for their August recess.

"Rep. Schaefer has said this is not a perfect bill. There still are corrections that need to be made. But he wants to use it to build a broad consensus," noted Luke Rose, press aide for the senator. This is the legislative "vehicle Schaefer intends to use to move toward markup" after Congress returns from recess on July 6th, he said, adding that the timetable calls for the bill to then head to the full Commerce Committee for markup after the August recess. Assuming it is voted out of committee then, Rose noted the House Leadership has promised Bliley and Schaefer floor time for the full House to consider the legislation. Prompt action by the House, he believes, would then spur the Senate to move more quickly on electricity restructuring. There are those, however, who think this scenario is much too rosy, particularly in an election year when Congress will be adjouring early.

The draft legislation is an "effort to rekindle discussion" on electricity restructuring and achieve markup when Congress returns from its July 4th recess, said Martin Edwards of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). It "sounds consistent with a lot of the principles we've heard in the past."

Two months ago, Bliley and Schaefer met with the committee members seeking legislative feedback on restructuring, the Hill aide noted. The end product was the draft measure. It incorporates some provisions from Schaefer's comprehensive bill, as well as parts of the draft legislation proposed by subcommittee members Sens. Bill Paxton (R-NY) and Steve Largent (R-OK). The draft also includes provisions that are similar to the Clinton administration's restructuring guidelines, the aide said.

"Some of the tweaks and changes" in the bill include:

* It provides for enforceable reliability standards developed by a national reliability orgnization approved by FERC;

* It has "much stronger legislative language" with respect to the role of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other power marketer administrations in competitive electric markets; and

* The language allowing for the grandfathering of existing customer-choice programs is "a lot broader" than it had been in previous proposals.

Susan Parker

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