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United States

Federal deregulation no closer

As California struggles to jump-start deregulation of its electricity market, reform of the national market is looking increasingly unlikely in 1998. The US Congress may tinker with deregulation this calendar year, but most experts do not expect anything final anytime soon. The $200-billion-a-year market would be the largest monopoly break-up in US history. President Bill Clinton has touted restructuring as a tool to reduce emissions and ease global warming. But consumers -- if not big businesses -- for the large part are ambivalent. Forging a consensus will also be tricky. Crafting a bill pits midwestern and southern states -- which rely upon coal power -- against New England, where much of the air pollution ends up, and against the more environmentally-conscious states in the west. Adding to the uncertainty, the White House has still to release its own plan on electricity restructuring. Even so, it seems to have reached a position that augers well for renewables: restructuring is happening, competition is good -- and it can also be good for the environment if climate change is an integral part of the issue. Release of Clinton's restructuring plan, under scrutiny at top levels, is awaited.

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