Transcript: Michigan Rep. John Dingell on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from "Fox News Sunday," Aug. 17, 2003

SNOW: Politicians waited, oh, about a nanosecond before pointing fingers about Thursday's blackout. The House Energy Committee says it will hold investigations. The president wants Congress to pass an energy bill.

Joining us with his views on the matter, Michigan Congressman John Dingell, top Democrat on the House Energy Committee.

Congressman Dingell, it appears that, although nobody knows the exact cause of what happened last week, there is now an energized debate over transmission lines. Your state was hobbled by the blackout.

Do you think it's time for the federal government to step in, with all these squabbling states and jurisdictions, and say, all right, we will use, if necessary, our power of eminent domain to make sure that new transmission lines get built, so people can get electricity not only generated, but in wires to their homes?

DINGELL: We're going to have to address that problem, Tony. But before we do that, we're going to have to find out what caused this situation, and then we're going to have to take intelligent steps to address it. We're not going to have time to build a whole huge energy bill, and so what we're going to have to do is to address it in a very focused fashion.

I have some ideas on that. For example, giving teeth to the NERC, the North American Energy Reliability Council, is a good way to do it.

SNOW: OK, let's stop here. That is a group that was founded by federal law. Its job, essentially, is to assess what's going on.

By "giving teeth," do you mean give it the ability to levy fines to utilities that do not provide — do not meet certain criteria for reliability?

DINGELL: No, set up a system like you have with the securities industry, where the stock markets are essentially self-regulatory entities functioning under the authority of the SEC. I think that's the model we want to do. Have FERC provide the authority, and the self-regulatory actions for the industry would take place under the NERC.

SNOW: One of the problems right now in getting any bill through is that utilities kind of like things the way they are, especially those who are generating electrical power. Do you believe that it will be possible to get through Congress the kind of reform you've just outlined?

DINGELL: I think we can — well, first of all, energy is going to continue to be a problem for this country for as long as you and I are around, and long after that.

SNOW: Why is that?

DINGELL: Well, simply because we are short of energy. We use a huge amount of it. It's probably the most important single commodity in the country. And once you have that situation, everybody's going to be fighting over it, its price, its availability and the conditions under which they get their service.

But having said that, yes, we can address this problem if we're smart enough to know that what we have to do is to see to it that we solve the immediate problem, and then we move on to other questions, like drilling in Alaska, or drilling in the Western public lands, offshore drilling, ethanol, or automobile efficiency and the other questions.

Those are questions which will still be there. This is a very immediate concern.

SNOW: Your proposal, therefore, or your belief is that the White House needs to take out alternative-fuels language, or Republicans or whoever, need to take out alternative-fuels language, need to take out language about alternative drilling within the United States and focus simply on, what, electricity?

DINGELL: Tony, you've got an emergency. The problem is, let's address the emergency. Let's go to the other things which are more difficult later. My old daddy used to say, kill the closest snake first, and that's what it is I think we have to do.

Right now we have a crisis, and which we saw at work. That could be back at any time. So let us commence the addressing of it, and to do so quickly. The larger bill will take longer, much longer.

SNOW: Your old daddy, of course, spent a fair amount of time in Congress, so he also knows how this process works.

There are competing House and Senate energy bills. They are going to a conference, where the differences are going to be hashed out.

What do you think your party can offer the president in the way of a deal?

DINGELL: Well, we can offer him support for an intelligent policy. We can't offer him support for a policy that is not intelligent or a policy that is unduly complicated.

SNOW: Those are all generalizations. Help me here...

DINGELL: No, they're not generalizations, my friend. A legislator understands what I say, and what I mean when I say.

SNOW: Well, what — I don't. I'm not a legislator.


DINGELL: Yes, you do.

SNOW: Let's — what you're talking about, well, let's try to break out some of the reform ideas.

Number one, this idea for regional transmission organizations, so that there would be some authority within the regions to say, this is how we're going to transmit electricity from point A to point B, here's how we're going to get the current flowing.

Do you think that ought to be part of a bill right now, or that's not one of those essentials?

DINGELL: It should be considered, but my thesis is the North American Energy Reliability Council is the tool that should be used, at least initially.

Remember, we have an immediate situation where we've just seen one of the most massive blackouts that we've had in the history of the country. Let's address the problems that caused that, and deal with the longer-term problems in a more intelligent, longer-term way.

SNOW: The Department of Energy says that it will take $56 billion simply to get the transmission wires that we need to meet energy needs through this decade without the kinds of interruptions we have just suffered through.

As we have mentioned earlier on the show, and as you well know, people don't do it because they can't make any money on it; the federal government has placed a limit on the profits. Do you think it is time for the federal...

DINGELL: Well, I'm not sure so much it's the federal government that's placed a limit on the profits. Two other things have happened. One, there's been a deregulation, so people are tending to put money where they can get the greatest return.

Two, the process is largely a state regulatory process, and they are all undergoing a deregulatory process which is moving money from the transmission to the generation.

SNOW: But what has not been deregulated is precisely transmission, which you have where people who are unable to make a significant return on transmitting electricity, on getting it into the wires to our homes.

Isn't it time to create incentives, so that taxpayers are not going to get fleeced for this but, in fact, people are going to have an incentive to build the wires and make money that way?

DINGELL: Well, we're going to have to address that. And that's one of the things that I favored. I think you favor it.

We can get into some arguments about language and quibble on that matter, but what we've really got to do is to sit down and function in a way which produces the quickest, best answer, while we then address the longer-term problems later.

SNOW: Do you have confidence in the White House on this one?

DINGELL: I have always tried to work with the White House. I've worked with every White House, going back to Eisenhower, on energy matters, and I would like to work with this one.

By the way, I have written two major energy bills. If you want to write a major energy bill, you'd better understand that the conference can take 18 months. That's what it took us to write those.

SNOW: So, you say, skip the conference, do a quick bill, do it now?

DINGELL: No, I'm not saying skip the conference. Go to conference. But come up with something that you can do quickly, rather than have a long quibble and a long wrangle.

SNOW: And do you expect to see energy legislation passed and signed this year?

DINGELL: I'm not a prophet, I'm a legislator. I intend to try and get it.

SNOW: All right. John Dingell, thanks for joining us.