by Jeff Kosseff
A 1993 appropriations law may make it more difficult for the Bush administration to require the Bonneville Power Administration to charge market-based rates.
For decades, members of the Northwest congressional delegation have done everything in their power to prevent administrations from privatizing or changing the rate structure of the BPA. Among the BPA's supporters was former Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., who served as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and retired in 1997.
The 1993 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act prohibits the use of federal funds "for the purposes of conducting any studies relating or leading to the possibility of changing from the currently required 'at cost' to a 'market rate' or any other noncost-based method for the pricing of hydroelectric power by the six federal public power authorities, or other agencies or authorities of the federal government, except as may be specifically authorized by act of Congress hereafter enacted."
Some members of the Northwest congressional delegation say that under this law, the Bush administration can't even study its own proposal.
"Given this provision of existing law, we are asking for your written assurance that the Department of Energy will cease development of this legislation and any sort of analysis that would support it," Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman this month.
The Energy Department said it has not violated that 1993 appropriations law because the U.S. Constitution calls for the president "from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
"We have not commissioned any study," said Bruce Carnes, associate deputy secretary of energy. "We have not begun any kind of implementation. We have just raised the issue."
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