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Industry News

SoCal Ed Vows to Fight Bankruptcy

LCG, Sept. 24, 2001--A lawyer for Southern California Edison Co. said on Friday that the utility will contest efforts by creditors to force the company into involuntary bankruptcy and could buy time which California legislators might use to pass an acceptable "rescue" package.

"We believe there are significant grounds for opposing any such petition," Tom Walper of the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson told a conference call of SoCal Ed creditors.

Walper said that if three or more creditors filed a petition seeking bankruptcy for the utility, SoCal Ed would have 20 days to respond and its response would include pleadings on its own behalf, which would further delay the proceedings.

"It could be a few weeks or months depending on what is necessary for discovery," he said.

Last week it was reported that Mirant Corp. of Atlanta and Houston-based Reliant Energy Inc. were sounding out other creditors, seeking a third party to join them in filing a bankruptcy petition.

Ted Craver, chief financial officer of SoCal Ed's parent holding company Edison International Inc. said "It's clear that the generators as a group remain the most skittish about how things have gone on here even in the context of the legislation that was discussed several days ago."

California Gov. Gray Davis and SoCal Ed had worked out a deal in April for the state to purchase the company's transmission assets for $2.76 billion, which would have provided funds for the utility to pay about three-quarter of the debt it ran up subsidizing low rates for its electric customers.

By the time the state Senate passed enabling legislation in July, the arrangement had been amended beyond recognition and was no longer acceptable to SoCal Ed. The measure then went to the Assembly, the state's lower chamber, where additional amendments made in unacceptable to everybody.

Passed by the Assembly and returned to the state Senate, the bill was languishing in committee when the legislature adjourned for the year on September 15. Davis said he would call a special session of the legislature in an attempt to get a workable bailout measure passed.

Craver admitted "The failure of the legislature to act in the regular session certainly has increased the risk of an involuntary bankruptcy filing."

On hearing of the special session, state Sen. John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat who is president pro tem of the chamber, said "We should have killed this baby once and for all."

Those words left little doubt that the SoCal Ed rescue package would have tough sledding, special session or no, and some creditors began circling their wagons.

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