After protests, Trump FERC picks tackle coal and grid reliability

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 8, 2017

After brief interruptions from a handful of protesters, it was smooth sailing for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominees Kevin McIntyre and Richard Glick during their Senate confirmation hearing yesterday.

Still, lawmakers were keen to get them on the record about energy policy and issues affecting electricity and power infrastructure.

In what has become a familiar scene for Hill meetings involving FERC as the debate over fossil fuel project permitting intensifies, a trio of men stood one after another during the first 10 minutes and broke through the quiet in the Dirksen Office Building room.

“FERC is a rubber-stamp, corrupt agency,” shouted one. “FERC promotes eminent domain. No eminent domain for private gain,” said another. The third yelled, “Find your conscience. FERC is destroying our atmosphere.”

Members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee were unfazed, and the protesters were quickly escorted out of the room.

Lawmakers gave McIntyre, an energy lawyer at Jones Day, and Glick, who is currently minority counsel for the committee, a generally friendly reception. Both are generally considered solid, knowledgeable picks.

If confirmed, they will join new Commissioners Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson, as well as Cheryl LaFleur, who has been in her position since 2010.

The president tapped McIntyre to lead the agency and he would take over from Chatterjee, who is leading the panel on an interim basis.

Grid reliability, coal

A central line of questioning was on the topic of electric grid reliability and how various forms of energy generation contribute.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) praised recent remarks by Chatterjee on an official agency podcast, in which he emphasized the role of coal in maintaining reliability (Greenwire, Aug. 15). Wyoming is the country’s top coal mining state.

Barrasso asked McIntyre and Glick, “Do you share the chairman’s views?”

McIntyre said he agrees coal is an important resource and has played a key role in electricity generation. “However, FERC is not an entity whose role includes choosing fuels for the generation of electricity,” he added.

Glick, a Democratic pick for the bipartisan commission, went a step further under questioning from Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who said he was worried about implications in the Department of Energy’s recently completed study of electric grid reliability that FERC should prop up or subsidize forms of generation — like coal or nuclear — that are no longer economical.

FERC “does not have the authority, nor should it, to prop up technologies that are uncompetitive,” Glick said.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked both nominees whether states have the authority to set policies related to their energy resource mixes. Both answered that they do.

“There’s no question that states have the absolute right to implement renewable portfolio standards,” said McIntyre.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) urged the two to “just go with the science” if they are confirmed. “I think that’s important that FERC not get tangled up in advertently or inadvertently favoring one technology over another and getting involved in the politics of generation,” he said.

With their confirmation hearing out of the way, the two nominees will next need the committee to vote on sending them to the Senate floor.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters after the hearing that she hopes to get that vote done by “late next week.”