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Barton Backs His Choice for Vacant FERC Seat

February 21, 2000
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Barton Backs His Choice for Vacant FERC Seat

The race for the vacant Republican seat at FERC is getting awfully crowded as a third candidate from Capitol Hill has signaled his interest in the post.

Joseph T. Kelliher, majority counsel for the House Commerce Committee, has said he wants to be considered for the Commission spot, according to Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the energy and power subcommittee. The Texas Republican said he plans to form a coalition to support Kelliher in his effort.

Kelliher joins Nils Johnson, a long-time energy aide of Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-ID), and McLane Layton, legislative aide and legal counsel on energy issues for Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), both of whom have thrown their hats into the ring for the FERC position. The post was vacated last month by ex-Commissioner Vicky Bailey, who left to join Cinergy Corp.

Barton made the announcement last Tuesday during a day-long conference sponsored by The Energy Daily and The Hill publications that addressed "The Outlook for Energy Legislation" this year.

Kelliher's energy background - both on Capitol Hill and in the energy industry - dates back to 1985. He has served in his current capacity for the past five years, during which time he was the lead counsel on the electricity restructuring bill that was voted out by the energy and power subcommittee last year. Prior to that, Kelliher was manager of federal affairs for Public Service Electric & Gas Co. He also worked for the American Nuclear Energy Council and served as a legislative assistant to Rep. Barton, where he drafted amendments to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

Starting in 1985, Kelliher was director of the House Republican Energy and Environment Task Force for two years, during which he spearheaded a drive to overturn the legislative moratoria on offshore oil and gas development. He received his law degree from American University in 1994, and his bachelor of science degree from Georgetown University in 1983.

Separately, Barton still is clinging to the hope that comprehensive legislation to restructure the electricity industry will make it to the president's desk this year. On the House side, "I happen to think the electricity bill [which came out of his subcommittee] is a possible do" in 2000, he said at the conference.

"If you take what we [did] and massage it some," Barton noted he believes it's possible to move a House bill as early as this spring. "The fixings are there. We just have to put it in the oven and cook it a little."

But some of Barton's House colleagues, who also spoke at the conference, weren't nearly as optimistic. "I don't see any bill this year because there are so many interest groups slugging it out," said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH). He believes it would "take a battle" to get a retail power bill on the House floor in 2000.

Rep. Charles Pickering Jr. (R-MS) believes that in the "next few weeks [the] smoke should clear a little bit," and then "[we'll] know what is clear and possible this year." If it turns out that a broad electricity bill isn't in the cards in 2000, Pickering floated the idea of a stand-alone measure that would address the reliability issue by possibly offering tax incentives for generation and transmission.

The "potential for a summer crisis" this year would make the argument for at least moving a reliability piece, he said. Other energy-related ornaments could be attached to the reliability measure, but it "cannot be very many [ornaments]," Pickering noted. "It will have to be a small tree" if it is to get through Congress.

If comprehensive electricity legislation fails this year, Barton --- who will be unopposed in next fall's elections --- pledged to take up the banner in the next Congress. In the event that Democrats gain control of the House he said he may be the "docile ranking" member of the subcommittee. However, if Republicans lead the House, he could be a "dark-horse candidate" for chairman of the Commerce Committee.

Although a big supporter of comprehensive legislation, FERC Commissioner William Massey said he had several concerns with the bill that came out of the subcommittee, H.R. 2944. Foremost, he criticized its decision to split transmission jurisdiction between the states and FERC, giving the states authority over transmission that's bundled with retail power transactions and the Commission authority over the transmission of unbundled wholesale transactions. Massey said the "same strand of [lines] should not have competing masters."

Also, he was concerned the measure would "weaken" the Commission's ability to form regional transmission organizations (RTOs). He doesn't believe leaving this responsibility up to transmission companies would be in the best judgment. Moreover, he said Congress shouldn't "chisel in stone" the standards for RTOs, but rather they should be allowed to evolve as the electric market grows.

Massey further said H.R. 2944 may interfere with "good decision-making involving [utility] mergers." Specifically, he cited the bill's 180-day deadline for FERC to act on utility mergers, which he believes could prevent the Commission from conducting thorough analyses of market-power issues. Lastly, he said the bill failed to give the Commission "direct authority" to order the mitigation of market-power concerns.

Susan Parker

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