WASHINGTON -- As power shortages and price spikes spread beyond California, congressional Republicans are beginning to worry that the Bush administration's reluctance to offer much immediate relief could hurt the party in 2002 elections.
A national energy plan to be unveiled by the White House next week will focus on long-term strategies. But with California and other states bracing for a summer of electricity turmoil and gasoline prices surging throughout the country, some GOP lawmakers are pressing for short-term solutions.
"We're in a crisis situation (that) is only going to get worse if we don't act very aggressively," Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said Wednesday. Gallegly is one of four congressional Republicans from California to break with the administration by supporting temporary price controls on wholesale electricity.
For many Californians, fear of high electricity bills is a biggest threat
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Ray Marquez wonders whether he'll have to cut back on food or gas in order to pay his electricity bill.
The 34-year-old Orange County maintenance man usually pays $80 a month for power during summer months. Now, he's trying to figure out how to pay an electricity bill that could push $130 come June 1.
"Since I got married and had children, you know, I've been dealing with balancing bills," he said Wednesday. "But if I now have to pay more for electricity, I'm not going to have money for gas or food for the kids."
As Californians coped with rolling blackouts that darkened thousands of businesses and homes Monday and Tuesday, many struggled with an even bigger worry: how to pay for soaring energy costs.
In March, the state Public Utilities Commission approved the biggest rate increase in California history, up to 46 percent for customers of Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. Those rate hikes start hitting customers in next month's bill.
Even before the state utilities commission raised rates, residents were paying 26 percent more for electricity than the nationwide average.
The rising anxiety underscores how much has changed since California declared its first Stage 3 power emergency last December. At that time, Congress' response was largely: That's Gov. Gray Davis' problem.
Thirty-nine Stage 3 alerts later, a House committee on Thursday will take up a GOP-drafted emergency bill that would, among other things, allow Davis to temporarily waive certain emission standards for power plants during an emergency and provide federal aid to relieve a notorious bottleneck in the California power grid.
But some GOP lawmakers say it doesn't go far enough, and they plan to offer amendments containing their own ideas.
"House leaders recognize that they could lose the House in California if there's not an action plan that members can campaign on," said Scott Reed, a GOP strategist.
As lawmakers search for ways to provide immediate relief, the White House continued to cite California's troubles as evidence of the need to upgrade an aging and overburdened electricity transmission system.
Responding to reports that the administration would propose legislation to give the federal government eminent domain authority in siting power lines, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush wants to ensure that the distribution infrastructure can move electricity from regions that have a surplus to regions that need more power.
"That's one of the reasons that California is going through the difficulties it's going through," Fleischer said. "There is energy available in other parts of the country, but it can't be shipped to California as easily as you would hope, because of infrastructure problems."
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