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News Digest

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1999

if it provided "affordable and reasonably priced" telephone service. Office of People's Counsel v. Md. PSC, No. 120 (Sept. Term 1997), 1999 WL 540195, July 27, 1999 (Md.App.).

Property Tax Refunds. A New York appellate court allowed the Long Island Power Authority to recover property tax overcharges on the defunct Shoreham nuclear plant in Suffolk County that it acquired in 1989 for $1 from Long Island Lighting Co., but only those taxes accrued after 1986 (when the state created LIPA), as the law had exempted Suffolk County from refunding Shoreham property taxes accrued to that date.

The court said that the legislature must have intended that the power authority collect on tax refund judgments in order to produce the "ratepayer savings" envisioned at the time of the plant takeover. Suffolk County v. LIPA, 1999 WL 540852, July 26, 1999 (N.Y.App.Div.).

Telephone Universal Service. On review of funding support for universal telephone service, a federal appeals court upheld a rule by the Federal Communications Commission offering assistance to schools and libraries for Internet access provided by firms other than telephone carriers, but said the FCC could not assess intrastate services for such subsidies.

It also struck down FCC rules that (1) barred local telephone carriers from disconnecting low-income callers for unpaid toll charges if they received support from the high-cost fund, and (2) barred state PUCs from service quality rules on those same telcos. Texas Office of Pub. Util. Counsel v. FCC, No. 97-60421, 1999 WL 556461, July 30, 1999 (5th Cir.).

Nuclear Power

Y2K Policies. An interim enforcement policy issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows for "enforcement discretion" during three delineated Y2K transition periods, allowing a nuclear power plant to continue operating without being in compliance with its license conditions if continued plant operation is deemed necessary to help maintain a stable electrical grid and there is minimal potential impact on safety.

The three transition periods cover Dec. 31, 1999 through Jan. 3, 2000; Feb. 28 to March 1, 2000; and Dec. 30, 2000 to Jan. 1, 2001.

Nuclear Decommissioning Fees. A federal claims court ruled that the fee imposed under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 for cleanup and decommissioning at federal uranium enrichment facilities was not an unconstitutional taking of property, saying it was not excessively retroactive or burdensome in comparison to the potential liability, and could not have come as a surprise to utilities. The decision contrasts a 1998 high court ruling (Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel) that struck down a retroactive surcharge to cover health benefits for coal industry workers. Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co v. U.S., No. 97-28 C., 1999 WL 54524, July 26, 1999 (Fed.Cl.Ct.).

State Legislatures

Electric Retail Choice. On July 23 Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber signed state senate bill 1149, which introduces retail electric competition for industrial and commercial customers no later than Oct. 1, 2001, and requires the state PUC to report to the legislature by 2003 on whether retail electric competition would benefit residential customers. However, no later than the 2001 commercial customer start date, residential customers would be able to