FERC studies Trump’s proposed ‘regulatory streamlining’

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is working on analyzing President Trump’s infrastructure package, Chairman Kevin McIntyre said this morning.

McIntyre, speaking at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter policy meeting, said “work is commencing as we speak” on the White House framework.

“There is a lot there … focus on regulatory streamlining and attempts to avoid delays in permitting, etc.,” said the agency chairman.

“We will be looking at it from the standpoint of the framework of law, what is required and permitted by us, and then, within that framework, looking at what opportunities the plan gives us to overall improve infrastructure,” McIntyre said.

The infrastructure plan points to FERC specifically at least once (Greenwire, Feb. 12).

Currently, if agencies cooperate with FERC’s preparation of environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, they cannot then intervene in the rest of the licensing process for a certain project.

That policy effectively forces agencies to choose between the two, and if they decide not to participate in the NEPA work, FERC loses expertise on important environmental issues.

The Trump plan would change the law to require agencies to participate in NEPA reviews if requested. Those agencies would still be able to comment on the FERC docket.

The proposal also contains provisions that would generally change the way agencies operate, with the goal of streamlining project permitting.

It is unclear whether some of the biggest changes, including setting a two-year deadline for NEPA reviews, would apply to FERC.

McIntyre did not comment on specifics. “We’re looking forward to the challenge that it presents, and looking forward to the positive results that come out of it for our industry and consumers,” he said.

The presidential plan, which requires congressional approval, faces long political odds (E&E Daily, Feb. 13).

FERC-DOE relations

The new FERC chairman, who joined the agency in December, also spoke about his relationship with the Department of Energy and Secretary Rick Perry following FERC’s rejection of a controversial proposal from DOE.

The most notable moment in McIntyre’s short time at the agency so far was when FERC turned down a DOE directive to compensate certain coal and nuclear plants in the name of preserving electric grid resilience (Energywire, Jan. 9).

“Some of the items that we work on are actually of our choosing,” McIntyre said. “Others are foisted upon us.”

Despite FERC’s decision that it could not accept the rulemaking, McIntyre said his agency was motivated by “the long-term resilience of our electric grid. Who can argue with that as a valid concern?”

In rejecting the plan, FERC kicked off a new proceeding to ask grid operators about resilience in their regions.

“Tell us what needs to happen and why, with an eye toward shoring up the resilience of our grid. Let’s try not to get hung up on the notion of bailouts … for particular fuels. I don’t think that advances the ball at all,” he said.

McIntyre said FERC’s relationship with DOE is “strong and robust” and a collaboration that he would like to continue to build.

“I’m a very big fan of Secretary Rick Perry. I think he’s a true public servant, I think he has absolutely hit the ground running in his role there at DOE. I salute him for that,” McIntyre said.