Former FERC commissioners dispute Trump EPA claims

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Three former members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today challenged claims by U.S. EPA that the Clean Power Plan would interfere with FERC’s authority and would threaten electricity reliability and affordability.

Jon Wellinghoff, John Norris and Norman Bay, all Democrats, submitted to EPA a formal comment on the agency’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a landmark Obama-era policy to lower the carbon dioxide emissions of power generators.

President Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, formally initiated a lengthy process to repeal the rule last year. Currently, implementation of the CPP has been paused by a Supreme Court stay over pending litigation.

In their comment, one of 86,735 on the proposed repeal so far, the former FERC commissioners argued that two claims by Pruitt’s EPA are wrong: that the CPP could impede FERC’s authority and that it could raise electricity rates and threaten grid reliability.

“EPA’s suggestions to the contrary are incorrect and are not an adequate basis for its proposed repeal of this important measure to address climate change,” the three wrote.

The proposed repeal argues that “regulation of the nation’s generation mix itself is not within the [EPA’s] authority” but is overseen by FERC and states, suggesting that the CPP exceeded EPA’s “proper role and authority.”

But the former FERC commissioners wrote that the CPP does not affect the roles of EPA and FERC, and that just because the CPP may affect the “costs and competitiveness” of certain types of generation, that does not mean it interferes with FERC’s authority. The CPP “respects the boundaries” between the two agencies, they argued.

FERC also coordinated with EPA regularly as the latter was developing the CPP, they wrote, and many of the independent regulators’ suggestions were included in the final product.

The former commissioners also took aim at EPA’s proposed repeal, which says the CPP threatens “to impose massive costs in the power sector and consumers” and could affect “the national interest in affordable, reliable electricity.”

They wrote that multiple independent analyses have found that the plan would impose “modest” costs without threatening grid reliability. Many of the changes projected to occur under the CPP are already underway, they argued, and dozens of states could meet their targets with existing policies.

“The power sector will readily be able to plan for and adjust to the requirements of the CPP, with its lengthy implementation deadlines and extensive compliance flexibilities,” they wrote. “There is no basis for EPA to conclude that the CPP should be repealed because of concerns over its impacts on ratepayers or electric system reliability.”

Wellinghoff and Bay both chaired FERC during the Obama administration, Wellinghoff from 2009 to 2013 and Bay from 2014 to 2017.