December 14, 2009

Analysis: Right? Left? All bets are off on re-regualtion

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When Sen. Rob Garagiola stood up to speak during a panel on energy policy hosted by the Greater Baltimore Committee last week, the Montgomery County Democrat said what many in the crowd were thinking. After all, he was there to debate Sen. E.J. Pipkin on the wisdom of staying with Maryland’s deregulated electricity market.

Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, is a proponent of re-regulation, an initiative that passed the Senate last year but died in the House.

“Today’s a bit of an irony,” Garagiola said.”We have on one hand a Republican wanting more regulation, and you’ve got a Democrat from Montgomery County, essentially saying less regulation of this particular industry”.

Pipkin believes his stance is consistent with his free market ideology. He said he doesn’t believe that Maryland’s energy market is free to begin with, since the electric market was originally built by regulated utilities.

“What we have here, in my opinion, is a monopoly situation,” said Pipkin.”In my opinion, even being a markets person, when you have a monopoly position, the government has to step in and make sure that it’s regulated properly.”

The two lawmakers’ very different, and apparently ideologically puzzling stances are part of a broader split among members of the General Assembly that is at times unpredictable. Of course, we have a better read on the Senate because there was no final vote in the House of Delegates last year. The bill failed in the Economic Matters Committee in that chamber.

In general, most Democrats voted for the bill, and most Republicans opposed it. However, it’s unusual that a Democrat would be among the most outspoken opponents, while a Republican would be one of the key supporters.