Flashpoint Congress


This year, or next, legislators will close in on a national energy bill.

This year, or next, legislators will close in on a national energy bill.

Fortnightly Magazine - October 15 2002

Don't get too excited. We've been down this road before.

But be aware, all the same, that after these many years of little or no movement on comprehensive energy legislation, it seems that this year-this moment, this administration-might be just a bit different. Just the fact that there is a conference committee hashing out differences between the House and Senate energy bills makes this session stand out from past years.

Congressional sources told the Fortnightly not to get too worked up as the committee was running up against the Oct. 11 close of session. That was to be expected-insiders always bet against Congress taking action. But one source still expressed some hope that the committee would issue a conference report and beat the deadline. Meanwhile, at press time, the committee had less than a week to sort out disagreements on the Alaskan wildlife refuge, electricity market reforms, and a timetable on boosting ethanol production-not to mention all those "tier 2" R&D issues that our source said had delayed the process.

But whether an energy bill comes this year or next, some agreement already looks promising for several industry flashpoints:


  • Nuclear. Congress is going to encourage more nuclear development. The conference committee agreed on the reauthorization of the Price-Anderson nuclear liability act, which should allow for the development of a new generations of design for safer nuclear power plants.
  • Renewables. Congress is worried that relying too much on natural gas for power plants could send electricity prices on a roller-coaster ride-moving in tandem with the price spikes that frequently occur in gas commodity markets. So, to address greater fuel diversity, the conferees have agreed to provisions that would encourage renewables.
  • Climate Change. Despite concerns over price volatility, Congress will see to it that natural gas will come out ahead with respect to new climate legislation, as always. Of course, there is language in the legislation to fund research and development on clean coal technologies. Congress is talking about a national strategy on climate that would be coordinated out of the White House by "someone with authority and accountability." (Of course, many legislators want a national climate change strategy that makes room for economic growth and prosperity. To that end, the Senate bill would boost R&D funding both on climate studies and on the technology that in theory might master the problem.)
  • Oil & Gas Production. Congress wants to explore ways to stimulate production of domestic oil and gas by developing fiscal incentives in other parts of the country beyond Alaska, where there is heated debate over opening the Alaskan wildlife refuge to drilling.


Electricity Title Fight: A TKO?

Politicians so far have found agreement on topics like energy supply, the safety of energy transmission, and energy efficiency. But get into the ring on issues like electric deregulation, FERC authority, standard market design (SMD), and repeal of the Public Utility Holding Act (PUHCA), and you're certain to get a black eye.

Listen to the comments from a