The fallout from FERC’s decision earlier this week that placedthe future of the proposed Northeast-bound Independence Pipeline injeopardy continued yesterday, with the criticism this time comingfrom Capitol Hill.

Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) of the Senate Energy and NaturalResources Committee took the Commissioners to task for issuing anultimatum to the sponsors of Independence and the associatedSupplyLink expansion — to either produce long-term, non-affiliatecontracts for 35% of the firm capacity of each project within 60days or face dismissal of the projects. The decision, which wassupported by the FERC majority (Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr.dissented), all but kills the chances of either gas pipelineproject being built.

“He was pretty rough” on the FERC Commissioners, who came to thecommittee’s hearing to discuss electricity restructuring, acommittee spokeswoman said. Murkowski demanded an explanation fromeach as to “why you are not doing everything you can to get thispipeline built as fast and as cheaply as possible” to alleviate theNortheast’s dependence on high-priced oil.

“The Commission’s actions in the Independence pipeline case seemto indicate that you really don’t want this pipeline built,” hechided the Commissioners. He believes FERC should be going theextra mile “to make this happen, not standing in the way of it,”the committee spokeswoman told NGI.

“Perhaps the single most significant action to help consumerswould be to bring new natural gas supplies to the Northeast. Notonly would this pipeline reduce home heating costs, it would alsohelp lower the cost of electricity — particularly this summerduring times of peak demand,” Murkowski said. He anticipateselectricity prices in the Northeast will double this summer if oilprices remain between $22 and $28 a barrel.

The Clinton administration continually says it favors naturalgas as a substitute for home heating oil and oil-fired generationin the Northeast, he said. “Yet they refuse to provide the neededinfrastructure to promulgate natural gas in this country, includingthe Independence gas pipeline,” he said during the panel’s thirdand final hearing on electric restructuring.

When power brownouts occur this summer, Murkowski warned theadministration not to blame Congress, but rather to look to its ownhouse. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on several occasions haspointed to Congress — specifically its slow progress onelectricity restructuring — as the culprit for brownouts andblackouts.

“I’ve been known to throw that criticism back at them. They haveno energy policy,” Murkowski quipped, pointing to FERC’s decisionto impose stringent requirements on the proposed Independence gaspipeline — an action that, he believes, will prevent much-needednew gas supplies from reaching the Northeast.

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