Electricity-Reform Bill Due In Congress As Critics Line Up

The Clinton Administration will send its long-awaited electricity restructuring bill to Congress shortly after lawmakers return from their two-week Easter recess on Apr. 5, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson revealed at an electricity-deregulation conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The measure, he said, will "facilitate" efforts underway in states to open up the electricity market to retail competition. Broader than the Administration's reform legislation that died in Congress last year, the bill, if enacted, will save consumers an estimated $20 billion in electricity costs, Richardson said. He indicated it will include strong emphasis on use of renewable energy for electricity generation, yet "will not be a back door" for Administration support of the controversial Kyoto protocol on global warming. However, another conference speaker, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R, Alaska), chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, expressed fear that widespread movement away from conventional coal-fired and oil-fired generating plants will prove costly. "The present system is not broken," he emphasized. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.Mex.), the committee's ranking Democrat, said a broad, comprehensive bill has little chance of passing Congress this year. He urged legislators to aim for a "modest" bill that "deals with a short list of provisions." Rep. Joe Barton (R, Tex.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy & Commerce, revealed that his panel plans to mark up a bill late this summer or early fall. "But there is no absolute necessity to move a bill," he said. Rep. John Dingell (D, Mich.), the powerful ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, expressed fear that the impending Administration bill will result in more regulation, not less.

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