WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) Wednesday questioned whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is adequately meeting its statutory responsibility to provide “just and reasonable” rates for electricity consumers in California and the West.
At the second in a series of hearings into the federal government?s response to problems caused by deregulation of U.S. energy industries, Lieberman explored the scope and strength of FERC?s Monday order setting limits on the price of electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 11 western states.
“I?m relieved the Commission has asserted itself more aggressively to address the severe problems in Western power markets,” Lieberman said. “Although, I am also concerned that even at this late date it has not done all that it could. The price limits established by FERC may still be too high. And ratepayers — in California and in other states — may still deserve refunds for overcharges that have been imposed on them.
“Monday?s order will constrain some price spikes and close some loopholes in the previous FERC order. But will it ensure that electricity prices in the West are just and reasonable? That is not only the bottom line question, it is the law.”
Lieberman also expressed concern about FERC?s commitment to enforcing its order.
“In my opinion, the Commission?s record in this matter raises serious doubts about whether it will adequately oversee newly deregulated energy markets,” Lieberman said. “It has been very slow in responding to a very real and painful crisis. While the Commission, by its own admission, has had the authority to intervene to ensure just and reasonable rates, it has been surprisingly reluctant to do so.
“It did not initiate a formal investigation of the Western market, outside of California, until April. In the past, when it has intervened in response to California?s problem, the result has fallen short of what the public interest required.
“I hope that Monday?s order will be more successful, but I continue to have substantial concerns. I believe the order addressed the matter of refunds for electricity in an unsatisfactory and unconvincing manner, and it did nothing for customers elsewhere in the West. “
Testifying before the Committee were many of the key players in the Western energy crisis, including Governor Gray Davis (D-Ca.) and the five FERC Commissioners. Other witnesses included Senators Patty Murray (D-Wa.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.), and Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska); Governors Judy Martz (R-Mont.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.); Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire; and Oregon Public Utilities Commission Chairman Roy Hemmingway.