Ark. senators block DOE pick over transmission project

Source: Hannah Hess, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 4, 2015

A developer’s plan to build a wind energy line through the Midwest hit another snag this week, when Arkansas’ senators vowed to block a Department of Energy nominee until the agency answers their questions about the proposal.

Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton said they are placing a hold on the nomination of Victoria Wassmer, a longtime Obama administration official whom the president in July tapped for undersecretary for management and performance, a newly created post at DOE (E&E Daily, July 24).

The senators want a meeting with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who recently visited Capitol Hill (E&ENews PM, Dec. 1). They said DOE has insufficiently responded to the Arkansas congressional delegation’s letter related to the potential partnership with the Clean Line Energy Partners LLC project.

“We want to facilitate the consideration of this nomination by the full Senate as quickly as possible, but first we need adequate and complete responses to the questions we’ve asked,” Boozman and Cotton said Wednesday. “Responses received so far, while appreciated, have been partial and largely thematic, failing to address many of the specific questions raised in our September 14, 2015 bicameral letter.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, suggested in a June 11 letter to Moniz that the 770-mile line project proposes to fill a need that is not yet present in his state and “could force a comparatively expensive source of energy on Southeastern utilities that don’t need the generation.”

Boozman and Cotton cite those concerns and question financial arrangements between DOE and the company.

In response to questions from E&E Daily, a DOE spokesman said the department does not comment on discussions with members of Congress.

Clean Line said the Plains & Eastern Clean Line has been undergoing several rounds of review since the application was submitted to DOE 5 ½ years ago.

“The project is still undergoing comprehensive reviews by DOE which will address the concerns raised by the Arkansas delegation to DOE. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line project will move forward only after completing these reviews,” Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado said in a statement.

“DOE’s funding arrangement to cover the costs of its review process is fully consistent with the Federal policy supporting cost-based fees used for federal oversight of projects like natural gas pipelines, hydroelectric projects, and oil and gas drilling,” he added, emphasizing that Clean Line does not pay DOE employees, and rules prohibit DOE personnel “from participating in an official capacity in a regulatory review if they have a financial interest in the project under consideration.”

The plan hit a roadblock in July when Missouri regulators denied the company’s application for the $2.2 billion project (EnergyWire, July 2).