Subcommittee Moves Smith's Strict Liability Legislation

Jul 21, 1998

Subcommittee Moves Smith's Strict Liability Legislation: Current Agency Policy Threatens Rural Consumers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health discharged to the full committee legislation (H.R. 3187) introduced by Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR) to reform the strict liability policy applied to electric cooperatives, ensuring fairness for rural consumers.

In February, Smith introduced H.R. 3187 to amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, exempting not-for-profit entities that hold rights-of-way on public lands from certain strict liability requirements. Under strict liability, a utility is liable up to one million dollars for fire suppression costs even when it is not at fault. This bill would simply replace the standard of strict liability currently imposed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management with a normal standard of negligence to prevent a utility from being held liable when it is not at fault. The bill provides fairness for utilities, and prevents unnecessary costs from being passed on to electricity consumers.

"The federal government owns vast amounts of land in the West, with well over half of eastern Oregon publicly held. Federal rights-of-way are crucial to bringing electricity to rural communities. The cooperatives affected by my bill overwhelmingly represent rural areas adjacent to our public lands and in many cases they serve the electric needs of the Forest Service and BLM," Smith said.

"My bill replaces the strict liability standard and brings it into line with the normal negligence policy routinely used in private right-of-way contracts. It creates a standard of fairness for rural electric consumers while protecting the federal taxpayer from negligent operators. To ensure this fairness is enjoyed by all rural consumers equally, I plan to amend my bill when it goes to the Full Committee to include investor-owned utilities," Smith said.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — including most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives.