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Wyden gets BPA Help, Ends Threat

by Jeff Kosseff
The Oregonian, March 17, 2005

President Bush's nominee for deputy energy secretary now has a clear path to confirmation

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., backed down from his threat to block President Bush's nominee for deputy energy secretary on Wednesday.

The move clears the path for Bush aide Jeffrey Clay Sell to become the second in command of the Energy Department. Wyden's announcement came after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman, Pete Domenici, R-N.M., assured Wyden he would fight to prevent Bush's plan to increase the Bonneville Power Administration's rates.

In his Feb. 7 budget proposal, Bush included a plan to require the BPA and the nation's three other power marketing administrations to raise their rates to market levels -- which Wyden and other Northwest members of Congress said would devastate the region's economy. Leaders in the House and Senate had assured them it would not be included in their budget resolutions.

However, Wyden and others feared the Bush administration could attempt the changes legislatively or administratively through annual rate setting.

Currently, the power marketing administrations are legally required to charge rates based on the costs of providing the electricity. The BPA provides nearly half of the Northwest's electricity.

"We have the pledge that we need for our region that the administrative approach would be blocked, the legislative approach would be blocked, and we're not going to see further economic hardship inflicted on our part of the country," Wyden said at the committee meeting.

Domenici, who had issued a statement opposing Bush's proposal when it was released in February, assured Wyden that he would do everything he could to prevent it from advancing, though he noted, "I'm only one person, chairman of this committee."

"We're finished with the issue, and I hope they're finished with it in the administration," Domenici, Sell's former boss, said at the meeting.

In the past month, Wyden had mentioned the possibility of placing a hold on Sell's nomination. At a hearing last week, Wyden said he did not think Sell had been "completely forthright" with his office about the BPA plans in January meetings.

With the assurance of Domenici on the BPA issue, Wyden removed the threat of placing a hold on the nomination.

"It is my intention to not object to the Sell nomination," Wyden said.

Later in the day, the committee approved the nomination by unanimous consent. It now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Jeff Kosseff
Wyden gets BPA Help, Ends Threat
The Oregonian, March 17, 2005

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