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Security vs. States' Rights

Will Congress dare to put local wires under federal control?

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2009

divide between federal and state jurisdiction.

On this issue, the bright line has worn out its welcome, and it needs to move—and move quickly, so the industry can get on with the business of building the smart grid.

The downside, of course, is that handing regulatory control over to the feds opens a Pandora’s Box. Once the long arm of Washington begins touching local wires, can it refrain from grasping control of related regulation?

If the industry continues pretending the bright line is sacrosanct, then the answer might be “no.” Given the prevailing state of insecurity and desperation in America—and the mountains of hope being heaped on the smart grid—the industry cannot win a fight against this particular change. And in truth, we shouldn’t try to fight it, given the nation’s real interest in seeing the smart grid built in a secure and robust way. However, to prevent a federal power grab, utilities and state lawmakers must engage with Washington on defining the new federal authority, and on crafting regulatory protections to keep federal hands from interfering in legitimate local interests. If we can’t do that, then desperation will prevail, and the bright line could fade into history.


CORRECTION: In Fortnightly’s July 2009 issue, an error appeared in the article “ The Cost of Going Green ” by Steven Fine and Elliot Roseman. The central slope section of Figure 2 on page 45 should have been labeled “Gas Gets Built” instead of “Coal Gets Built.” We regret the error, and have corrected it on the PDF version of the article.