San Diego Union-Tribune

May 10, 2001

House tries to help California cope


WASHINGTON -- A key House lawmaker has stripped some of the most controversial provisions from legislation designed to help California cope with its summer power crunch.

In the latest version of a bill that may come up for a subcommittee vote today, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, dropped provisions that would have allowed broad waivers of clean-air laws and endangered-species protections to boost power generation in states experiencing an "electricity

The California governor could still waive emission limits on ozone- forming pollutants at power plants when blackouts are imminent, but would have to ensure there is no net increase in regional air pollution.

Barton also shed a proposal to give the energy secretary sweeping authority to site power transmission corridors on federal lands and watered down a plan to allow small independent power generators to
sell electricity to parties other than cash-strapped utilities.

It is uncertain whether the moves will attract more support for the legislation from Democrats, who savaged the environmental provisions in two days of hearings last week. They are expected to try to put an amendment on the bill that would slap price controls on wholesale power sold in the West.

"The thing we need the most is a limit on the wholesale prices, and that (Barton) does not address at all," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D- Los Angeles.

Barton, who chairs the House energy and air quality subcommittee, maintains that price controls would drive power producers away from California. Barton is confident he has enough votes to pass the bill
and to fend off a price-control amendment, a spokeswoman said.

The maneuvering over the bill comes amid signs that congressional Republicans are facing increased pressure to address the power woes roiling California and threatening other states.

Barton's proposal has gone through several drafts. All of them have drawn criticism from Gov. Gray Davis as well as other California officials, who say the ideas would provide little immediate relief to the state and could even aggravate electricity price spikes and shortages.

But California Republicans have applauded many of the provisions.

Key components of Barton's latest bill include:

Allowing retail power customers to resell electricity they do not consume.

Allowing small power generators known as "qualifying facilities" to opt out of their exclusive contracts with utilities if, after the bill is enacted, they are not paid by the utilities.

Authorizing $220 million in federal funds to fix a bottleneck in a crucial power-transmission corridor in the Central Valley known as "Path 15."

Allowing California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington to adjust daylight savings time as a power saving move.

Requiring federal facilities in states experiencing electricity shortages to reduce power consumption by at least 10 percent. President Bush ordered similar conservation measures last week.