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House Democrats introduced a stand-alone electricity reliability bill Thursday that would keep in place restrictions on mergers and acquisitions among utility companies. With a failed comprehensive energy bill from the last Congress being used as a jumping-off point for new wide-ranging legislation, lawmakers said targeted legislation offers the nation its best chance for upgrading and improving the U.S. electricity grid and preventing another major blackout. “A year and a half after a blackout that left much of the Northeast and Midwest dark, the Republican leadership still hasn’t considered electricity reliability legislation,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the bill’s chief sponsor. He added that reliability legislation needs to be passed before another blackout disrupts … the lives and security of millions of Americans.” Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Dingell said the bill is identical to legislation the congressman introduced just weeks after the September 2003 blackout. Now, as then, absent from the bill is an item repealing the Public Utility Holding Company Act, which restricts the types of businesses in which utilities can invest, places strict capital controls on their debt structure and limits their geographic reach. A broader bill, which has already passed in the House twice and is supported by the Republican leadership, would eliminate PUHCA, in addition to improving grid reliability. Dingell and a number of other Democrats oppose the move to retire PUHCA, arguing that it would weaken consumer and shareholder protections. Consumer groups concur, saying electricity industry consolidation would give excessive control to a handful of companies. Republicans have refused to consider the provisions as separate legislation, insisting it be passed as part of a broader energy bill or not at all. The Democrats argue that because there are a number of controversial items in the comprehensive energy legislation it has repeatedly failed to pass. “The recent history of energy legislation in Congress is proof that this bill should be considered separately and not held hostage to a flawed and outdated energy bill,” said Dingell. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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