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House Democrats failed Wednesday to keep intact the Public Utility Holding Company Act, a 70-year old law which restricts mergers and acquisitions in the utility sector. During the second day of a marathon markup session on the House version of a wide-ranging energy bill Republicans rebuffed an effort by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., to amend the electricity portion of the bill. Dingell proposed substituting the entire electricity portion of the bill with a draft that did not include PUHCA repeal. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 27 to 22. The New Deal era law bans nonutility companies from buying or taking a controlling stake in utilities. It also restricts utility holding companies from owning companies in unrelated industries. Republican lawmakers contend that voiding PUHCA will breathe new life into the ailing energy sector by boosting investment. But Congressional Democrats complain that the legislation favors energy companies over consumers. “This energy bill will be an historic failure for our nation’s energy security, American consumers and our environment,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., on Wednesday. Dingell, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking member said that while he was open to reforming and modernizing PUHCA he was opposed to its outright repeal. The amendment, he said, was offered to prevent the types of abuses that were wrought on consumers and investors by Enron and he did not believe that the consumer protections in the current bill were strong enough. “The protections in the committee print [draft bill] although good are not adequate or sufficient to address the problems that we find could occur,” Dingell said. The outlook for the energy bill still remains uncertain. The Republican leadership expects to take the bill to the entire House for a vote early next week. The Senate is expected to have its version of the bill prepared in May and then both chambers will still have to reconcile their differences. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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