AT HIS 21ST HEARING ON FEDERAL ELECTRIC Restructuring, Rep. Dan Schaefer (R-Colo.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, said the two-day proceedings were the "beginning" of developing consensus on legislation.
Fellow subcommittee members spoke out on competitive issues at the Oct. 21 hearing, which highlighted their lack of consensus. The Clinton Administration was represented by the Department of Energy's Deputy Secretary, Elizabeth Moler, who said nothing about its restructuring plans.
Schaefer said 10 major electric restructuring bills had been introduced in the House and the Senate in 1997 and more were expected. He prodded the Clinton Administration to finalize its position, stating that while the administration has a role to play, "it has to get on the stage in order to play that role."
Undermining State Efforts?
Subcommittee members showed no cohesion. While some members supported federal legislation, several others said the states should have more control over how choice is implemented.
Some feared federal legislation would crush any state action taken so far. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said he is concerned federal restructuring efforts could wipe out his state's plan to allow choice for all customers by 2002. Rep. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) said the Pacific Northwest is "blessed" with the lowest electric rates in the nation, and that it would be "intolerable" for a federal bill to affect state sovereignty over water management issues.
Others didn't think federal legislation was necessary. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, questioned the need for a federal bill, noting that the U.S. already has the safest and best electric system in the world. He pointed to a Commerce Committee study of electric stakeholders, in which the 83 respondents lacked consensus on a congressional mandate for retail competition by a date certain.
Clifford Stearns (R-Fla.) said he believes in state rights and suggested Congress should move carefully before issuing a federal mandate.
Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the main problem in fashioning a bill is due to the federal government's involvement in the power business.
Others were more optimistic about federal involvement. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said that while it may be impossible to mark-up a bill by the end of the year, he expressed optimism over passing legislation in the present Congress. But he warned Schaefer that the day he announces a bill markup, "the shotguns will come out to much political bloodshed."
Richard White (R-Wash.) said, "We have nothing to fear from competition." If done right, competition could bring many benefits, he added.
No Administration Proposal
Meanwhile, in a question-and-answer session, DOE's Moler, stood pat with her stand that she could not say when the Clinton Administration would come forward with a restructuring proposal.
"President has not had the opportunity to consider a proposal from his Cabinet yet," she said.
One frustrated Congressman who had tried extracting any type of information on the Administration's plan, finally queried in an exasperated tone as whether Moler had a "clue."
Moler did respond when questioned by Rep. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) about a recent Energy Information Administration report. That report, Electricity Prices in a Competitive Environment: Marginal Cost Pricing of Generation Services and Financial Status of Electric Utilities; A Preliminary Analysis Through 2015, found that federal restructuring could cause short-term price increases for some areas. Moler replied that she believed that a "properly structured restructuring" could avoid those problems.
Lori A. Burkhart is a contributing legal editor to Public Utilities Fortnightly.
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