Commissioners to testify before House panel — sans Wellinghoff

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

House members are on tap to quiz the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s new acting chairwoman about the agency’s role in a changing energy landscape, marked by a dive into cheap natural gas and renewables, new environmental regulations, and LNG exports.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold an oversight hearing with Massachusetts native Cheryl LaFleur, whom the White House selected as acting chairwoman late last month.

FERC Commissioners John Norris, a Democrat, and Philip Moeller and Tony Clark, both Republicans, are also scheduled to testify.

The hearing marks the first without Jon Wellinghoff, FERC’s longest-serving chairman, who stepped down at the end of November.

House Republicans may dig in to find out whether pending U.S. EPA regulations could trigger reliability issues in light of numerous coal plant retirements across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the subcommittee’s chairman, has in the past accused FERC of not meeting its responsibilities for protecting the country’s electric grid, saying the agency instead acquiesced to EPA when it came to new mercury and air toxics standards for coal- and oil-burning power plants (E&E Daily, Feb. 10, 2012).

Then-EPA air chief Gina McCarthy at the time emphasized that flexibility was built into the rule, and that generators — in addition to the standard three-year deadline for Clean Air Act rules — had a fourth year widely available, as well as a fifth-year option for which a power company may apply if it believes electric reliability will be threatened.

Whitfield met those assurances by accusing FERC and other agencies of “catering” to EPA.

Attention at the hearing could also turn to concerns some state regulators, utilities and grid operators have in relation to the EPA’s looming carbon emissions limits (Greenwire, Nov. 20).

The subcommittee is also likely to dig into natural gas issues, namely whether FERC is moving fast enough to approve pipelines tapping into newly discovered vast shale plays.

The House earlier this month approved legislation 252-165 that would fast-track natural gas pipeline permitting approvals at FERC, even after the legislation drew a veto threat from the White House.

Twenty-six Democrats, including Reps. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, joined a united GOP conference in support of H.R. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.). Pompeo’s legislation would give FERC one year in which to approve new gas pipeline applications to help accommodate sweeping industry expansion in shale plays from the Marcellus to the Permian.

Environmental groups and most Democrats have joined the Obama administration in opposing the bill, warning that it could trample local air and water quality safeguards. Proponents, including the American Chemistry Council, have said the bill would more efficiently connect the nation’s growing shale gas haul to manufacturers and consumers (E&E Daily, Nov. 20).