The US Congress may tinker with the electricity market this year but is not expected to pass legislation to break up utility monopolies similar to its 1996 move on the communications industry, analysts now believe.

In a year of Congressional elections most legislators steer clear of controversial issues. As there is no clamour from constituents for changes, and facing a platter of other issues, Congress is not expected to pass a comprehensive bill to open the more than US$200bn-a-year electric power market to competition.

President Clinton has touted electricity market restructuring as a way to save consumers and the economy billions of dollars, and as a tool to make power plants cut emissions But the Clinton administration is still preparing its plan to revamp federal utilities laws.

Linking global warming to electricity restructuring makes crafting a bill more difficult as it pits midwestern and southern states that rely on coal-fired power plants against northeastern states where much of the pollution is received. The bill also could meet resistance from Republicans, who have vowed to kill a treaty the White House approved for industrialized nations to cut emissions.

The Senate may vote this year on repealing the Public Utilities Holding Company Act which oversees how monopoly utilities are structured, but it may not be passed, as opponents say it should wait until utilities face true competition.