NGA Meeting Ends With Fed-State Plan on Electric Ills

 
Providence , R.I. - The National Governors' Association Tuesday unveiled a plan to work with the Bush administration to identify and fix problems with the U.S. transmission grid, the nation's electric power distribution system.

At a news conference that concluded the 93rd annual summer meeting of the NGA, Michigan Gov. John Engler and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced the formation of a task force that will examine the current system and recommend improvements.

"We will look at opportunities to streamline siting policies consistent with our commitment to the environment. The task force will develop a series of recommendations to help states break siting logjams they confront," Abraham told reporters.

He said he hoped the blue ribbon panel would "also identify ways to strengthen regional electrical marketing and improve reliability."

Engler, the new chairman of the NGA, said the task force would include leaders and experts from state government, public utility commissions, the private sector and academia.

The initiative is an outgrowth of the electrical power problems plaguing California, which earlier this year confronted a series of rolling blackouts after electric supplies were insufficient to meet demand. Abraham told the governors Monday that the current U.S. demand for electricity nationwide would grow by 45 percent over the next two decades and that the current grid "is not prepared to meet the energy demands of the 21st century."He said a federal-state partnership would help address the problem.

The federal government currently has the power to create rights-of-way for oil and natural gas pipelines, but it has no such authority when it comes to electric transmission lines without the cooperation of the states. Raising a sensitive states rights issue, Abraham said a federal rule in transmission line siting is necessary "if there is a national interest involved." He said Washington would act "only in a rare instance, and certainly only as a last resort." But some of the governors, California Democrat Gray Davis among them, were cool to the idea of any expansion of federal authority in this area.

In addition to focusing on energy problems, the governors traded ideas on smart growth -- the signature issue of Maryland Democrat Parris Glendening, the outgoing NGA chairman -- and on how to make state government more efficient and responsive by using the internet and other electronic technology.

 
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