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Mark-up of Electric Bill Delayed

Mark-up of Electric Bill Delayed

The odds of Congress passing electric restructuring legislation during this session were reduced to next to nothing as the House Commerce Committee --- which has been beset by infighting --- postponed the long-awaited mark-up that was scheduled for last week. The committee could give "no firm date" for when it would be rescheduled.

With this delay and the holdup in the Senate, the likelihood of both chambers passing a bill during the 106th Congress and forwarding it to President Clinton for his signature is "less than 10%," said a Capitol Hill observer. "It's very unlikely there will be a Rose Garden [signing] ceremony" this year. The best this Congress, which plans to adjourn in early October, can do is put together a proposal that would enable the 107th Congress to move quickly on electricity restructuring, he said.

House Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley (R-VA) has drawn the wrath of his committee colleagues by failing to negotiate the restructuring issues. "He's kind of been like [Moses] bringing down the tablets" with respect to the electricity bill, the observer noted. "He's told the committee members 'this is what you're going to do or else.' The committee members are balking. You can't order members of Congress to just obey you."

There's "serious disagreement" between Bliley and members of the Energy and Power Subcommittee on the issue of the extent of FERC jurisdiction over electric transmission. Bliley floated a proposal recently that would give the Commission almost carte blanche authority over the entire interstate transmission grid (bundled and unbundled service), but subcommittee members aren't willing to go to that extreme.

In a speech in St. Louis, MO, last week, FERC Chairman James Hoecker called the congressional debate over who should have jurisdiction over bundled and/or unbundled transmission a "troubling side show that saps out energies and diverts our attention away" from the important issues.

Nevertheless, ".....I still think that the FERC will only be able to promote real competition to the extent that all uses of the grid and all transmission facilities are subject to the same non-discriminatory rules," he told Mid-America Regulatory Commissioners at their annual meeting.

"Many state regulators view the restructuring bills being debated on [Capitol] Hill --- especially those which give the FERC jurisdiction over all transmission, authority to correct market power abuses and order RTOs, and greater reliability responsibilities --- as intrusive and contrary to state interests. That is both an unfortunate and an inaccurate characterization," Hoecker noted. "Under virtually every scenario I can imagine, states will retain jurisdiction over most of the industry, its assets and its costs."

As for restructuring legislation, he believes the chances of a bill this year are "still slim," but he added that he senses a "degree of focus and understanding" that wasn't present previously in the debate.

In the House, "it would be a serious mistake for Bliley to bring up the bill now. Bliley would get rolled."

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