Idahoan Considered for FERCby Ken Dey
Idaho Statesman, February 21, 2003
Lawmakers want to have a voice on key NW issues
The Northwest needs a voice on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and a growing group of politicians hope that voice will soon belong to Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Marsha Smith.
Smith, a Democrat who has served on the Idaho PUC since 1991, has gained bipartisan support from governors and U.S. senators from both Idaho and Washington who have urged President George Bush to nominate the fourth-generation Idahoan.
The elected officials hope their united lobbying efforts will persuade Bush to put Smith on the commission at a time when several issues key to the Northwest — dam relicensing, salmon recovery and control of electric transmission lines — are on the table.
"It's critical to have someone with a good understanding of Northwest energy issues on FERC," Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo said earlier this week. "I strongly support her and I'm hopeful she gets the nomination."
Crapo said Smith understands many of the key concerns facing the Northwest, such as salmon and steelhead recovery as they relate to hydropower and the management of the Columbia River Basin.
Smith also has the support of Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig and Idaho's Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as well as Washington state's Democratic senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. Washington's Democratic Gov. Gary Locke also supports Smith.
"The governor feels she's eminently qualified," said Mark Snider, a spokesman for Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. "She is obviously very knowledgeable on energy-related issues, and the Northwest is underrepresented on FERC."
Snider said Kempthorne has written a letter to President Bush supporting Smith's appointment.
There are currently two open seats for FERC commissioners, one for a Democrat and one for a Republican.
Smith's tenure on the Idaho PUC began in 1991 when she was appointed by Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus. Just last month Smith was appointed to a third, six-year term on the PUC by Gov. Kempthorne.
Andrus has also offered his support for Smith's nomination.
"I have been involved in responding to some Democratic friends to attest to her credentials," Andrus said.
"We need a Westerner on the FERC board, and particularly a Westerner that understands the industry."
Besides her experience on the PUC, Smith is also active in utility issues on a national level.
She chairs the Electricity Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners and also serves on that organization's board of directors and its ad hoc committee on Electric Industry Restructuring.
She chairs the Committee for Regional Electric Power Cooperation and last year was elected to the board of the Western Electricity Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group.
An attorney, Smith began her career as a deputy attorney general for the PUC in 1981.
Craig said Smith's longtime association with the PUC and her involvement with other high-profile energy organizations have given her a wealth of experience.
"I strongly support Marsha Smith going to FERC," Craig said. "She would be the only person on FERC with the kind of Northwest hydropower experience we find very valuable, especially as they move into the relicensing of hydro facilities around the region."
Craig said Smith is also one that understands the value of regional transmission control, an issue that is very important given FERC's proposed plan called Standard Market Design.
Under that proposal, FERC would change the nation's power grid to a competition and market-based system that would allow equal access to the grid. As part of the plan, FERC would also regulate the use of transmission lines nationwide.
Craig said opening up the grid is another move toward deregulation of the industry that would increase the danger of Idaho's inexpensive hydropower flowing out of the state to benefit others.
"I'm not an advocate of deregulation. I see nothing but our rates going up while others take advantage of our power to lower their rates," Craig said.
Smith said Wednesday she would be "honored" to serve as a FERC commissioner.
"I think my experience puts me in a position of having a lot to offer," she said.
Because she may be called on to rule on some of issues and concerns raised by Craig and Crapo, Smith declined to comment on what she thought the biggest issues facing Idaho were, but she did agree that a Western voice is needed at FERC.
"There is a need, I believe, for someone from the West who understands the issues and is engaged in them to bring that perspective to the FERC discussion," she said.
Smith said she's also a strong believer in keeping politics out of decision making.
"You have to base decisions on the evidence presented to you. It's disconnected from the political process, as it should be," she said.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs