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NARUC in Winter

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 1996

Resolutions generated heat (electricity) and warmth

(telecommunications, environment).

State utility commissioners have gone on record asking Congress to "call them first" before it legislatively restructures the electric industry.

That resolution prompted some of the liveliest debate at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners' (NARUC) Winter Committee meetings. About 1,000 people attended the 10-day event in Washington, DC, February 21 to March 1.

NARUC's carefully worded "straw man" resolution (em nicknamed by certain commissioners who believe it carries little weight (em notes that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has yet to act on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on open transmission access (Mega-NOPR). Some NARUC officials feel the Mega-NOPR could resolve as much as 90 percent of the policy Congress might tackle. The resolution's last paragraph was the most contentious:

"State experimentation and analysis of retail issues is ongoing, and because FERC's policies affecting wholesale markets have not been implemented, the 104th Congress should not enact legislation at this point which would impose a single approach that may ignore the differences in state and regional circumstances, or which preempts or interferes with state authority to adopt and implement policies for retail service."

The paragraph prompted this comment from Robert W. Gee of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, NARUC's Electricity Committee chair: "This language, obviously, was language we spent the most time on. . . . I think one can argue that we are attempting to send a positive message to Congress, with some caveats."

"We're not saying 'Don't enact or consider legislation.' We just don't want a single-state approach," said John Gawronski, NARUC's assistant director of congressional and public relations.

Others were more critical. Bob Anderson of the Montana Public Service Commission felt the resolution set a negative tone. Daniel Wm. Fessler of the California Public Utilities Commission called a draft version "a diplomatic flowergram." Commenting on the same draft, Duncan E. Kincheloe of the Missouri Public Service Commission complained, "I think this will be read as 'butt out.'"

NARUC also came out in favor of the FERC's tougher merger standards for electric utilities, and resolved to comment in the FERC's merger policy docket. Gawronski said he was uncertain what comments NARUC would file.

The NARUC Communications Committee proved the antithesis of the Electricity Committee. After little debate, commissioners pledged to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the new Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Susan Ness, an FCC Commissioner, championed the Act for creating a national structure with flexibility for states, the "laboratories of competition." She added that Congress took steps in telecommunications because of the groundwork performed by lead states. "We must not let the industries play us off each other to delay competition or to gain [their own] advantage," Ness cautioned.

"We eagerly intend to cut and paste from what you've done," Regina Keeney, FCC common carrier bureau chief, told regulators. Keeney, who said that half of the 80 rulemakings coming out of the Act will take place in the common carrier bureau, invited regulators to submit their suggestions "fast and furious."

One communications resolution passed by NARUC