To get an energy bill through the Senate, Louisiana Democrat J. Bennett Johnston was forced to abandon two hotly contested amendments -- one to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and another to stiffen fuel-efficiency standards for autos. On the way, he and co-sponsor Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyoming, managed to overcome opposition to easing the licensing procedure for nuclear plants and to finesse opposition to loosening regulation of electric power markets.
That doesn't get the proposals out of the woods, however. The House bill contains no such one-stop licensure proposals for nuclear plants. Expect vociferous lobbying against efforts to keep it in any conference settlement. And divisions in the utility industry mean provisions to slacken the reins on wholesale electricity sales and on utilities building plants outside their local transmission areas will be met by a chorus of conflicting voices.
One immediate objection consumer groups will raise is over how to keep regulated monopolies from using ratepayers' dollars to build plants for unregulated sales in other areas. The present system, which was loosened to allow non-utilities to sell power to utility grids, has already permitted some utility investments in such out-of-area plants. Can strong protections be built into a final bill to protect captive ratepayers? Especially when President Bush is pushing relaxation of regulations that hamper industrial expansion?