Noting that the advent of rolling blackouts constitute a threat to the state’s health and welfare, California’s two top legislative leaders Tuesday filed a suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, requesting the court to order the federal regulators to provide just and reasonable wholesale electricity rates.

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and Assembly Speaker Robert M. Hertzberg reiterated an ongoing contention of California officials that FERC has abdicated its responsibility to provide just and reasonable energy prices as mandated by Section 205 of the Federal Power Act.

“This suit is an emergency response to an emergency situation that could critically impact the health and welfare of millions of Californians including seniors, children and people with disabilities,” Burton said. “I am confident Californians are going to find relief in the courts that we haven’t gotten from the federal government and that we certainly haven’t gotten from the power pirates (merchant generators).”

“Given the crisis facing Californians, we must explore every alternative to protect the consumers of this state,” Hertzberg said. “We went to Idaho. We went to Washington, DC. The only place left to go now is a federal courtroom — and that’s where we are going.”

The suit urges the court to block FERC from extending current authorizations for market-based rates as requested by Williams and AES, and eventually do the same to other merchant generators in the state, such as Dynegy, Duke and Reliant Energy.

In the suit filed by some California-based private attorneys for the two legislative leaders, they contend that FERC not only failed to define what rates are just and reasonable, but “what constitutes market power that makes rates unreasonable with the kind of market-based rates that FERC regulates.”

The legislators acknowledge that FERC is entitled to pursue a “long-term, fundamental restructuring of the market to bring about just and reasonable prices at some time in the future.” However, it goes on to argue that in the meantime, it needs to take steps to assure just and reasonable rates in the present and near-term future.

Repeating the threat of “health, safety and welfare risks” to Californians, the suit says the state lawmakers could no longer “stand by and watch (the extra wholesale power charges mount) because FERC will not do the job that the law imposes on them.”

In another political move, Gov. Gray Davis, the state’s Democratic chief executive, Wednesday asked Bush for a private meeting to discuss the lingering energy situation in the West when the president visits the nation’s most populous state next week.

In a letter sent to Bush following a phone call to the White House earlier in the week, Davis offered the president “an open mind,” and said he was “fully prepared to work with (him) to do everything within our power to keep California’s lights on and our economy strong.”

Davis said that in addition to the private meeting he would like the president to meet with some business owners and citizens “who have been personally affected by this energy crisis.” The governor told the president in the letter that he agrees that the nation needs long-term energy solutions, but that California “can’t afford to wait four or five years for a permanent solution.”

©Copyright 2001 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.