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Regulatory agency OKs

proposed sale of PGE

NW Natural has received one of several regulatory approvals it needs in its proposed $1.8 billion purchase of Portland General Electric.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the proposal Wednesday; however, it's only one of several entities making decisions on the PGE takeover.

NW Natural spokesman Steve Sechrist said the regulatory agency considers whether potential sales would hurt competition and if they would be in the public interest.

'In their opinion, it would not harm the competitive market here for customers,' he said.

The sale also hinges on approval by the Oregon Public Utility Commission, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The federal bankruptcy court also must OK it because of the collapse of Enron Corp., PGE's parent company.

A representative of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could not be reached for comment by deadline. Consumer activist Lloyd Marbet said he wasn't surprised by the agency's decision, though he calls the commisson a minor player in the proceedings.

Marbet said activists are most concerned that the bankruptcy court might break PGE into pieces to pay Enron's creditors.

Qwest will pay $575,000

in customer coercion case

Qwest Corp. and its affiliate, Qwest Wireless LLC, have agreed to pay $575,000 to settle legal action over allegations that the telephone giant pushed customers into signing up for more extensive Ñ and expensive Ñ service than they wanted.

The company also pledged to revise the instructions it gives to its sales and customer service staff to make the cheapest option clear to consumers.

Qwest admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, announced Tuesday.

The Oregon attorney general's office said the agreement concludes four combined investigations of alleged 'cramming' and other violations of telemarketing laws.

Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said in a statement that Qwest's 'unethical practices railroaded new customers into paying increased fees for services they did not need.'

But Qwest spokeswoman Mary Healy said that the company has strict rules against cramming and that cases of it are 'few and far between.'

Qwest also pledged to refund the difference paid during six months of service to customers who were talked into features they didn't want. Those customers must apply to the attorney general's office by June 12.

Arthur Andersen ends

relationship with PGE

A 62-year business relationship that led accounting firm Arthur Andersen to open an office in Portland has come to an end.

The local Arthur Andersen office has terminated its relationship with Portland General Electric as part of the fallout from Enron Corp.'s bankruptcy and ensuing scandal. Houston-based Enron, which owns PGE, dropped Andersen as its auditor and asked its subsidiaries to do the same.

Jack Wilborn, managing partner in Arthur Andersen's Portland office, said the issue was not PGE's management but Enron's.

PGE spokesman Kregg Arntson said the decision shouldn't reflect on the work that Arthur Andersen did locally.

'Through the years, we've been pleased with their professionalism and integrity,' Arntson said.

Wilborn said Arthur Andersen's Seattle office started doing work for PGE in 1940, and by 1961 the utility had grown large enough that the auditor opened a Portland office.

PGE said it hopes to name a new auditor in the near future.

Nationwide, at least three other Arthur Andersen offices also have terminated their relationship with Enron subsidiaries.

Venture capitalists invest

$12.5 million in Inovise

Inovise Medical Inc. in Newberg has received $12.5 million in venture capital to market its Cardiovise DEC system, a device that diagnoses heart disease.

Leading the latest round of investment are MDS Capital Corp. and TAT Capital Partners Ltd., a San Jose, Calif.-based firm.

The DEC (digital electroacoustic cardiography) system is a low-cost technology designed to yield more detailed information than electrocardiograms and offer results similar to those obtained from more expensive procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging or catheterization, the company said.

Ñ Nevill Eschen and

Mary Bellotti