WASHINGTON - Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood on Wednesday urged lawmakers to renew their efforts to pass a comprehensive bill that guarantees a steady supply of natural gas and energy.
Wood said that although it is important for Congress to address the issue of electric utility reliability, he did not want that portion of the energy bill to be pulled and passed by itself.
"The electric reliability section is important, but we also have to make sure we have energy in the future," Wood told a gathering of energy reporters. "The bill before Congress would guarantee that natural gas is going to be accessible and people will be able to drill for it in an environmentally sensitive way."
The energy bill, HR 6, stalled last year because a coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans opposed the inclusion of a liability waiver for producers of MTBE. The pungent chemical used in certain gasolines has been found in drinking water in several states. The House passed the bill. A bill must be passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president to become law.
The 108th session of Congress began in January 2003 and does not end until Congress finishes its business this year. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has promised that passing the energy bill is at the top of his agenda.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., has called on Republican leaders to pass the electric reliability section of the bill by itself. Dingell, who was elected in 1955 to the House seat that his father had held, is the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Michigan suffered from last summer's blackout.
"As you know, the economy and welfare of my home state of Michigan, seven other states, and parts of Ontario were severely jeopardized by the electricity blackout that began on August 14, 2003," Dingell wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
"Public safety was compromised and businesses alone suffered millions of dollars in losses. Regardless of what happens with H.R. 6, there is no justification for continuing to hold reliability reform hostage to comprehensive energy legislation."
Despite acknowledging there is ambiguity over whether FERC has authority under existing laws to enforce reliability standards, Wood said the agency plans to begin work on electricity regulations by summer. The electric reliability provisions in the energy bill explicitly give the FERC authority to enforce reliability standards.
"Our objective is to get (standards) in place by this summer," Wood said. "In the coming weeks and months you will see FERC go from zero to sixty."
Wood said he did not oppose passing the electric reliability portion by itself, but hoped that it would not need to be stripped from the overall bill.
The former head of the Public Utility Commission of Texas said he was concerned that if the energy bill is not passed there would be natural gas shortages in the future.
He noted that the energy bill includes provisions that would increase domestic natural gas production, while also encourage the building of liquefied natural gas import facilities and a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48 states. He referred to the three issues as "big bullets in a three chamber gun."
Wood rejected Western lawmakers criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's calls for improving liquefied natural gas import facilities.
"When he said that at the hearing I was watching, which is strange because I rarely watch TV, and I said 'Yes, he's right. Yoda spoke and he got it right."'