On Tuesday, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee plan to try again to put a wide-ranging energy bill on the road to becoming law. After a string of failures in past years, promises of a new bill have the ring of the Lucy-yanks-the-football trick in the Peanuts comic, and this year won't be much easier, given sharp regional and ideological quarrels surrounding the energy debate.
But the need is great, says Energy Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) . The bill he will offer the panel is a very big, very mixed bag of measures. It covers energy conservation, nuclear-power-plant safety and insurance coverage, research on cleaner-burning coal and proposed hydrogen-fueled vehicles, $1.5 billion to expand government oil stockpiles in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and authority for federal energy regulators to approve rights-of-way for critical electric transmission lines if states can't or won't do the job.
A determined push by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to create super-regional electric power grids to increase long-distance sales of cheaper power has blown political circuits all over the South and West. Utilities and regulators whose regions fear the result would be the diversion of their cheaper power to other parts of the nation, at their consumers' expense aren't buying FERC's pitch that everyone will benefit from lower-cost electricity. A year of disclosures about price gouging and power-trading scams hasn't made lawmakers feel easier about deregulation. Southern and western utilities may try to add an amendment blocking FERC's transmission campaign, in what would be a battle over the future of deregulated markets. Those utilities have friends on the committee. It's a showdown.