Mr. JEFFORDS. Mr. President, I am pleased to be joining the Senator from Washington (Ms. CANTWELL) and the Senator from New York (Mrs. CLINTON) as an original cosponsor of legislation to ensure the reliable delivery of electric power in the United States. This bill is similar to Title I of S. 1754, the Electric Reliability Security Act of 2003, that I introduced last October in response to the Northeast blackout. Last night, in his State of the Union, the President urged Congress to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system, promote conservation, and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy. This bill, the Electric Reliability Act of 2004, addresses the President's request, and the Senate should pass it expeditiously. Our country needs the new, clear national rules of the road contained in this bill to ensure the reliable delivery of electric power. As the people in the Northeast will not soon forget, in August 2003 nearly 50 million people were affected by a massive power outage. But this is not an isolated incident. On January 16, 2004, Gov. James Douglas urged Vermonters to save power to help avert rolling blackouts because of electricity problems in southern New England. There was likely enough power to meet my state's demand, Mr. President, but we are part of a regional grid system. This system, as we learned last year, needs to operate in a coordinated fashion or the region faces blackouts. The Senator from New York (Mrs. CLINTON), whose state was so significantly effected during the Northeast blackouts, knows well the hardship long electricity outages cause. I am pleased that she and the Senator from Washington (Ms. CANTWELL) have joined in this effort. The Senator from Washington (Ms. CANTWELL) was alerted to the need for reliability legislation well before last year, as her state suffered during the massive multi-state Western blackout of 1996. Mr. President, be it 1996, 2003 or last week, these events emphasize the vulnerability of the U.S. electricity grid to human error, mechanical failure, and weather-related outages. Congress needs to do all that is necessary to protect the grid from devastating interruptions in the future. Those who know this issue well, say that reliability legislation is essential. On the first day of this year, Michehl Gent, President and Chief Executive of the North American Electric Reliability Council, said in the New York Times that all of the actions taken by industry and oversight organizations to respond to the Northeast blackout do not reduce the need for federal legislation that would provide authority to impose and enforce mandatory reliability standards. He continues, whether legislation is adopted on a stand alone basis or as part of a comprehensive energy bill, passage is essential. If reliability legislation had been enacted when first proposed, I believe that the blackout would not have occurred. Given that Congress has not passed grid reliability legislation, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided during its December 17, 2003 open meeting to have its staff develop an order over the next few weeks requiring utilities and other jurisdictional entities to report violations of voluntary reliability standards set by the North American Electric Reliability Council. The Commission also asked for comment on its legal authority under existing statutes to mandate compliance with those standards. Mr. President, why is Congress making FERC waste time trying to determine whether they have the legal authority to act to protect consumers and ensure electric reliability? We should simply make that statutory authority clear. Reliability legislation has passed the Senate twice, and this bill asks the Senate to act on those same provisions again. Congress should establish mandatory reliability standards and close other regulatory gaps left by state deregulation of the electricity sector. We should pass this bill now, and I pledge my support to the Senators from Washington and New York (Sens. CANTWELL and CLINTON) in doing so. Given the high costs of power outages to our country, Mr. President, we cannot afford to do otherwise. I invite my colleagues to join us in our efforts to advance energy security and reliability in the United States.