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United States

United States

FROM CAPITOL HILL

Presidential politics is obscuring this year's budget-making process on Capitol Hill. In early February, Bill Clinton released his proposed $1.64 trillion budget for the so-called 1997 fiscal year, starting on October 1. But the usual details were missing from the 20 page outline, delayed by last year's budget stalemate as well as by the need for politicking in the turmoil of presidential campaigning. The 2000 pages of specifics normally issued in early February will not be out until March, it appears.

Even so, wind lobbyists say it will be a victory if Clinton's political budget includes a sum as high as his renewables proposal last year. In fiscal year 1996, Clinton proposed a wind budget nearing $50 million, although it was scaled back to $32.6 million by the end of the budgetary process, says Mike Marvin of the American Wind Energy Association. Renewables are important to the White House, he adds diplomatically, but the budget is shrinking. By all accounts, renewables and even energy has not been a priority at the White House for some time.

Meantime on Capitol Hill, a proposal in the US Congress relevant to a key part of the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) appears unlikely to be successful this political year. The proposed bill, to restructure the electricity industry, introduced on January 25 by Senator Bennett Johnston from the pro-oil state of Louisiana, will be considered in a Senate hearing in early March. It would repeal the provision that utilities purchase power from "qualifying facilities" such as wind farms. "It seems unlikely the Johnston bill will gather steam in the Senate this year," says Marvin.

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