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Perspective

Congress should not impose a federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS).
Fortnightly Magazine - August 2004

electric competition bill was resurrected in the 106th Congress (1999-2000), where it was introduced in the Republican-controlled House by Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (H.R. 1828), and in the Republican-controlled Senate by Sen. Frank H. Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (S. 1047).

This time, however, some proposals would have established a green-power quota of 7.5 percent for 2010 through 2015. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that the RPS would result in a 35 percent increase in power generation from renewable resources by 2010. Both the House bill and the Senate bill advocating this died in committee.

Contributing to the momentum for consideration of comprehensive energy legislation in the 107th Congress were the May 2001 report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney; the December 2001 collapse of Enron Corp., theretofore the fair-haired child of the movement for electric competition and deregulation; and the California energy crisis, which in the summer of 2001 resulted in rolling electric blackouts.

In the House, W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, introduced a comprehensive bill (H.R. 4) that included no RPS. In the Senate, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the senior Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced the Energy Policy Act of 2002 (S. 517). The Bingaman bill would have required 2.5 percent of the electric power sold in 2005 to be green power.

Both bills were approved, but a conference committee convened to iron out the differences between the two legislative proposals was unable to agree on, for example, oil and gas exploration on the Arctic coastal plain, and, in particular, on a green-power quota. The bills died in conference committee.

It remains to be seen if the 108th Congress can enact a comprehensive energy bill. Last year, Rep. Tauzin introduced the Energy Policy Act of 2003 (H.R. 6), which the House approved (247-175) in April 2003. The bill included no green quota. Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, also introduced a comprehensive energy bill (S. 14), but in July 2003 the Senate approved a bill identical to the Energy Policy Act of 2002 in the 107th Congress (84-14).

Just about the time a conference committee was convened to reconcile the House and Senate bills, the August 2003 electric blackout left 50 million people in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan in the dark for up to 48 hours. Within nine seconds, an electric power surge caused 100 power plants and 61,800 MW of electric generation to trip offline.

The blackout accelerated the momentum for the enactment of an energy bill. Throughout the fall of 2003, however, the conference committee could not agree on, for example, a federal RPS. In September 2003, a bipartisan coalition of 53 senators urged the conference committee to include a green-power quota in a compromise bill. The request was denied.

In November 2003, the conference committee