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Bipartisan Energy Politics? 105th Congress Takes on Electric Restructuring in Earnest

Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1997

and Power Subcommittee, Schaefer has long shown an interest in energy issues. He also played a role in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That deregulation effort helped him learn how he could set the parameters of the electric restructuring debate. Having come off nine electric restructuring hearings last year, it's uncertain where he'll head this year. But it could be on visits to a cabinet office to brief the new energy secretary on what "choice" is about. Federico Peña, secretary, Department of Transportation and Schaefer served in the Colorado Legislature together in the late 1980s.

Power Brokers in the Senate

Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.)

Replacing the retired J. Bennett Johnston as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bumpers was among the first to introduce a comprehensive restructuring bill this year. He's not expecting Republican Frank H. Murkowski to co-sponsor the bill, although the two are friends. Murkowski's desire to take time on the issue won't stop Bumpers from forging ahead. Bumpers expects to take part in Murkowski's hearings. He was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and has become known for deficit-control measures on defense and science projects, including the $12-billion "supercollider." His interests lie in rural America, which could figure in the restructuring debate when it comes to electric cooperatives. He also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski also serves on the Finance Committee. He says his goal is to assure consumers low-priced, reliable electricity through deregulation, regulatory streamlining and state promotion of retail competition. Two years ago, Charles B. Curtis, then the DOE's deputy secretary, was one of the first people to brief Murkowski on the issue. Not surprisingly, the two share some restructuring philosophy. The senator has said he won't legislate until he has seen what the states are up to: "We will not proceed like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: 'Verdict first, trial afterwards.'" Murkowski's energy state roots may push his leanings toward energy suppliers.

Don Nickles (R-Okla.)

Nickles, like Bliley, brings a small businessman's perspective to Congress. Among his assignments are seats on the Senate Budget Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He comes from an energy state, and has always been interested in natural gas and oil, along with utility deregulation. His perspective on deregulation, however, has been "one piece at a time." On stranded costs, Nickles leans toward letting the states step in. This year, he plans to listen to those testifying at Murkowski's hearings to come up with a bill that increases competition and lowers cost. If he introduces new legislation, it's uncertain whether his bill would borrow from last year's measure, S. 708.

Key House Committees

Appropriations (33-25)*

Bob Livingston, Chairman

James W. Dyer (La.), majority staff director

David Obey (Wis.), ranking Democrat

Scott Lilly, minority staff director

Key Subcommittee chairmen

Joseph M. McDade (Pa.), Energy and Water Development

Ralph Regula (Ohio), Department of Interior

Budget (24-18)

John R. Kasich (Ohio), chairman

Richard E. May, majority staff director

Martin Olay