National electricity legislation delayed to February

The sweeping electricity reform legislation being considered in a US House of Representatives subcommittee has been shelved until February.

“It’s too close to the holidays to proceed with amending the bill,” said Arturo Silva, assistant press secretary to the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), was scheduled to be “marked up” or debated today, but subcommittee members were to make opening statements only.

Barton said in a statement that postponing the mark-up is the best thing to do, even though he claims to have the votes to pass the bill Wednesday. “We will have the votes to pass it in February, too,” he said.

But sources close to the subcommittee said Enron’s collapse caused some elected representatives to have second thoughts about electricity reform. They want to delay the sweeping legislation until the cause and impact of Enron’s bankruptcy can be more fully understood.

Enron, one of the largest energy marketer and traders, pushed Congress for national deregulation of the electricity industry. The company, once one of the nation’s top 10 in terms of revenue, spiraled down as accounting irregularities involving billions of dollars in off-balance sheet debt caused a crisis in confidence and a cash flow squeeze. Enron filed for bankruptcy protection Dec. 2.

Other energy traders are getting battered in the fallout from Enron’s problems. Besides the doubts about Enron, there still seemed to be strong disagreement over certain portions of the electricity bill. There is general criticism the bill is too prescriptive and would reduce the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s flexibility in dealing with such issues as regional transmission organizations, transmission rate-setting, and ability to review and approve mergers.

The subcommittee leadership also needs to negotiate compromises to get the bill moving, sources close to the committee said. Negotiation takes time and the week before the holidays is not a good time, sources said.

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