Regarding the Feb. 17 front-page article "In Energy Conservation, Calif. Sees Light; Progressive Policy Makes It a Model in Global Warming Fight":

There is more to the story.

At the end of the Clinton administration, California had an electricity crisis. The state was experiencing rolling blackouts and suffering significant economic and social hardship as a result.

In December 2000, then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson -- using never-before-exercised authority under the Federal Power Act -- took the unprecedented step of ordering emergency power sales into California, literally to keep its lights on. Mr. Richardson extended the initial order several times.

Under the order, Washington and Oregon -- states with significant energy conservation programs -- were required to direct their excess power to California, which was not enforcing a similarly robust conservation program. The governors of those states told Mr. Richardson that they were willing to comply, but they also noted that it was fundamentally unfair that their energy conservation programs were, in effect, subsidizing California's energy habit.

Mr. Richardson agreed. He informed California Gov. Gray Davis (D) that he would not extend the emergency order in the absence of an agreement from the state to immediately certify that it was enforcing a stringent energy conservation program. Just before the emergency order's expiration, California blinked and agreed to do so.

State action is important, but federal leadership can make a difference.


Falls Church

The writer was director of the Office of Policy at the Energy Department in the Clinton administration. In the 1980s she was chief of staff to then-Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.).