Union Tribune

April 3, 2003

Boxer joins in effort to block FERC nominee


WASHINGTON A Republican nominee to the federal commission dealing with the aftermath of California's power crisis ran into more trouble yesterday when Sen. Barbara Boxer joined an effort to block his confirmation.

Boxer, D-Calif., said she would put a "hold" on Senate confirmation of Joseph Kelliher to a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission until the commission orders electricity refunds for California and the renegotiation of costly long-term power contracts the state bought at the height of the 2000-01 crisis.

"I will not accept business as usual at FERC, and I will do all I can to halt this nomination until FERC acts," Boxer said in a written statement. "Just last week, FERC released documents that provided absolute and indisputable proof of market manipulation by energy companies, yet still nothing has been done."

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who recently voted in committee to send Kelliher's nomination to the full Senate for consideration, continued to voice support for him.

"I will vote for Mr. Kelliher," she said in a separate statement. "My examination of his background indicates that he has a substantial knowledge and background on energy matters, and I hope to work with him to strengthen FERC's responsiveness to California's issues."

FERC said last week that it was moving toward granting California refunds for high-priced electricity, though probably far less than the $8.9 billion state officials have demanded. But it also signaled that it would reject the state's attempt to cancel long-term contracts or force a lowering of their cost.

Senate rules give individual senators wide latitude to stall or block nominations to federal panels. Two other Democrats, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell of Washington, have put holds on Kelliher's confirmation.

They questioned whether Kelliher was sympathetic enough to allegations of widespread price manipulation in the West during the power crisis and concerns in the region about FERC's plans to create a more standardized wholesale energy market.

Kelliher, a top policy adviser to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, was nominated for a vacancy on FERC by President Bush. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee cleared his nomination last month, after Bush said he would nominate Democrat Suedeen Kelly, a New Mexico attorney, for a second vacancy on the five-member commission.

Feinstein, a member of the energy committee, voted to send Kelliher's nomination to the Senate floor.

It was not clear whether the holds would doom Kelliher's nomination.

"It's hard to say at this point," said one Democratic staffer. "Certainly, there are some big obstacles when you have so many Western senators opposed to him."

The White House had no comment.