The race for the vacant Republican seat at FERC is gettingawfully crowded as a third candidate from Capitol Hill has signaledhis interest in the post.

Joseph T. Kelliher, majority counsel for the House CommerceCommittee, has said he wants to be considered for the Commissionspot, according to Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the energy andpower subcommittee. The Texas Republican said he plans to form acoalition 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 andlegal counsel on energy issues for Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), both ofwhom 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 yesterday during a day-longconference sponsored by The Energy Daily and The Hill publicationsthat addressed “The Outlook for Energy Legislation.”

Kelliher’s energy background — both on Capitol Hill and in theenergy industry — dates back to 1985. He has served in hiscurrent job for the past five years and was the lead counsel on theelectricity restructuring bill that was voted out by the energy andpower subcommittee last year.

Prior to that, Kelliher was manager of federal affairs forPublic Service Electric & Gas Co. He also worked for theAmerican Nuclear Energy Council and served as a legislativeassistant to Rep. Barton, where he drafted amendments to the OuterContinental Shelf Lands Act.

Starting in 1985, Kelliher was director of the House RepublicanEnergy and Environment Task Force, spearheading a drive to overturnthe legislative moratoria on offshore oil and gas development. Hereceived his law degree from American University in 1994, and hisbachelor of science degree from Georgetown University.

Separately, Barton still is clinging to the hope thatcomprehensive legislation to restructure the electricity industrywill make it out of the House and Senate, and land on thepresident’s desk this year. On the House side, “I happen to thinkthe electricity bill [which came out of his subcommittee] is apossible do” in 2000, he said at the conference.

“If you take what we [did] and massage it some,” Barton said hebelieves it’s possible to move a House bill as early as thisspring. “The fixings are there. We just have to put it in the ovenand cook it a little.” He said he was to meet with CommerceCommittee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-VA) Tuesday afternoon todiscuss restructuring legislation. “My assumption is that he wantsto move a bill,” Barton said, adding that Bliley hadn’t indicatedotherwise.

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

Rep. Charles Pickering Jr. (R-MS) said it’s too early to tell.He believes that in the “next few weeks [the] smoke should clear alittle bit,” and then “[we’ll] know what is clear and possible thisyear.”

If it turns out that a broad electricity bill isn’t in the cards, Pickering floated the idea of a stand-alone measure that wouldaddress the reliability issue by possibly offering tax incentivesfor generation and transmission.

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

For Barton, grid reliability has become “kind of the sleeperissue.” He doesn’t believe stripping the issue out in a piecemealfashion would be the best route to go, saying the result would be”consequences that tend to be bad.”

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