Agency’s reviews key to implementing Clean Power Plan — LaFleur 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur today said her agency’s reviews of natural gas infrastructure, transmission and evolving markets will underpin implementation of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, despite drawing unparalleled pushback.”Pipelines are facing unprecedented opposition, from local and national groups, including environmental activists,” LaFleur told attendees at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C. “We’ve got a situation here.”

Landowners and environmental activists in recent weeks have aired their criticism via FERC dockets and Twitter and have staged sit-ins and protests to shut down the agency’s headquarters in D.C. Protesters are focused on FERC’s approval of gas infrastructure, which they say is tied to expanded gas production — and the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Despite that opposition, FERC’s job of reviewing gas infrastructure and new power lines — projects needed to tap into remote pockets of wind and solar and bolster reliability — is critical to complying with the EPA plan, LaFleur said. New pipelines and compressor stations will be needed to support an expected uptick in gas generation, and new power lines must be built to reach renewables, she said. Changes to the operation of competitive energy markets may also be required to accommodate a host of varying state compliance programs.

“That’s going to be more than just tinkering around the edges,” she said.

LaFleur, a Harvard University-educated former utility executive from the Northeast, also made clear what doesn’t fall under the commission’s jurisdiction. FERC, she said, is not an “environmental regulator” like EPA but instead a “creature of Congress” that is set up to approve projects that meet certain regulatory and environmental standards.

And states, not FERC, oversee hydraulic fracturing — a point of contention among many activists angry over the agency’s approval of gas pipelines and compressor stations. Instead, FERC is legally required under the Natural Gas Act to consider and act on pipeline applications, ensuring they are built safely and with limited environmental effects.

FERC, she said, will continue to be in the national spotlight as the country grapples with the energy sector’s effect on climate, which she called “the most challenging environmental issue we’ve yet faced together.”

“For better or for worse, little ol’ FERC has been thrust into the position of being a forum for these discussions. … Whether they’re in our jurisdiction a little bit or a lot, they’re at our doorstep,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur also said she plans to stay on as a commissioner long after her successor — FERC Commissioner Norman Bay — takes the agency’s helm in three months. President Obama first appointed her to the commission in 2010, and she was recently confirmed by the Senate for another five-year term.

“I’m only going to be chairman for three more months, but I expect to be a commissioner for five more years,” she said.