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Electric Restructuring Legislation: Handicapping the 106th Congress

Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 1999

of Schaefer and Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.). Paxon, up until he announced his retirement, was, with Steve Largent (R-Okla.), picking up where Schaefer left off, putting out discussion drafts of restructuring bills with Bliley's oversight.

"That approach did not invigorate the process," says Nipper. When Paxon announced his retirement, Bliley said he would look to Largent to pick up the effort in 1999, Nipper says.

"I don't have any reason to think that Chairman Bliley or his staff have backed away from their basic approach toward competition," says a Hill insider. "The one thing you saw that Congressman Schaefer was very adamant about was the renewable portfolio standard. I don't think you're going to find another Republican on the committee who felt as strongly about that going into the bill."

Largent has been telling those on the Hill that he doesn't plan to drop in a bill, but will wait and see what comes out. He'll try to work more behind the scenes.

"But has [Largent] lost some steam by losing Paxon?" Welsh asks. "Has the new leadership of the House had an impact on the priority? We know that Bliley is not buried in his commitment to [Schaefer's] bill, so we'll be watching that effort closely."

Barton, likewise, isn't expected to pick up where Schaefer left off.

"I don't think Barton is as strong a proponent of a federally mandated date certain," says an observer. "I think Congressman Barton is far more sensitive to what's going on in the states," especially in Texas, which is grappling with restructuring with opposition from its large cooperative contingent.

Other House bills worth watching include those introduced by Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.), Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Burr has grown more vocal on restructuring issues. His staff says "under discussion" is whether he will reintroduce H.R. 4715. The bill calls for repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act and the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act and also gives states authority to permit utilities to deny distribution and transmission access to non-reciprocal utilities.

DeLay and Markey introduced H.R. 4432 toward the end of the legislative session last year. Observers say Markey has been frustrated with the slow pace of the subcommittee.

H.R. 4432 is seen by public power proponents as having an excellent market power approach. It gives FERC authority to require ISOs, to require divestiture of generation facilities and to prohibit preferential transmission service.

In an earlier bill, H.R.1960, Markey takes on PUHCA and PURPA and adds changes to the Federal Power Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. H.R.1960 also gives states authority to certify competitors. It calls for charges to pay for low-income customers and other services, such as renewables (3 percent of total electricity in 1998, then higher in subsequent years). Markey's staff indicates it is "highly likely" that he'll drop in a new bill in the 106th Congress.

"Markey has good ideas, but again, he has a mandate," says a Hill observer. "He has strong consumer protections and market power provisions that are looked at positively from