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Red, White, and Ready: The Patriotic Push for Energy Legislation

After 10 years of waiting, some experts say a Republican-controlled Congress and a patriotic mood will make the difference in passing energy legislation this year.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 1 2003

Bush. Do you expect a comprehensive bill with an electricity title to make it to his desk this Congress?

I am more prepared to take congressional and executive office leadership at their word, that both the issues have matured more and the conditions have matured more. We worked very hard in that 107th Congress to gain understandings-be those state versus federal [or] one region with a different regional view. Those kinds of things we worked real hard to understand. Also, the new technological possibilities and the underlying investment climate. Those are all good and valuable kinds of lessons learned, and with them learned as a foundation, I think there is a good possibility it will actually get done this year.

Is repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act a priority in this Congress?

That is probably more appropriately answered by the members of Congress. But let me tell you the position of NARUC. This has been a fairly consistent position. We think that current and recent lessons have demonstrated how good and solid our thinking is in this regard. And our thinking is that some conditions have changed since that law was enacted, and so it does need to be reviewed and altered-in particular, the aspects of the act that prevent what are today good investment decisions. Those provisions should be modified so that we are not blocking good due diligent, open investment from occurring.

We have also learned very recent lessons from the headline-grabbing issues in the energy sector and with problems in the accounting business that say we should not throw out all pieces of PUHCA, we should do it selectively, we should correct the things that are really problematic for investment. But we should retain the ability of states and regional organizations and entities, such as FERC, to have full and free and open access to the books and records of the companies that are affected by the provisions of the act.

As large dividend producers, utilities generally back repeal of the dividend tax. Where do you stand on this and what are the chances of repeal?

NARUC has not developed a position with regard to this or any other provisions being discussed with regard to tax reform.

Personally, I am in favor of any of the tools that can be brought out that would induce investment in this country's critical infrastructure. Even if it doesn't apply across the board, those industries, in my opinion, that are invested in our critical infrastructure, whether electric, gas, or water, should be structured in such a way that they incent investor confidence, and that they incent the move to infrastructure investment. I think it is important today from a homeland security perspective, I think it is important today as well from a concern for the economy.

Maybe even more importantly, with the economy slowed down and demand down in a lot of sectors. We are limping along OK with the infrastructure that we have in place, but when the economy turns-and we all know the economy will turn and will recover