Moniz heads to Hill as push for bipartisanship grows 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will address House members this week as the chamber takes up far-reaching energy language to ensure the U.S. electric grid remains stable as new environmental rules take effect.

Moniz is slated to address the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee on Thursday about the department’s high-profile energy policy blueprint, the Quadrennial Energy Review, as well as a number of draft bills the lower chamber has generated in recent days.

The hearing is likely to highlight a growing sense of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as both chambers craft energy legislation.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) in a statement applauded the QER for identifying the need for more infrastructure and expressed a willingness to work with the Obama administration.

“Many of the recommendations included in the administration’s report are in step with the committee’s efforts,” Upton and Whitfield said. “We said we want to work together, and we are seeking meaningful feedback on our proposals as we continue to advance the Architecture of Abundance and bring our energy policy into the 21st Century.”

The same subcommittee is slated to hear from a slew of federal grid experts, utility executives and environmental groups tomorrow when taking up far-reaching energy language to ensure the U.S. electric grid remains stable as new environmental rules take effect.

Among the most high-profile attendees weighing in on the House draft language will be Michael Bardee, the director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Electric Reliability, and Gerry Cauley, the president and CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corp.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee will be asked to weigh in on the proposal, which includes provisions that have attracted support from both sides of the aisle and language that aligns with suggestions in the Senate.

Also testifying will be the president and CEO of Southern Co.; executives from wind companies; Joseph Dominguez, Exelon Corp.’s executive vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs and public policy; and senior officials from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund who focus on grid issues.

First on tap is a proposal in the draft language that lays out a path of relief for utilities caught between DOE orders to continue operating — for reliability reasons — and potentially violating environmental regulations.

Similar language moved through the lower chamber in 2013. Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson’s “Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2013” (H.R. 271) would have ensured power plants complying with DOE emergency orders did not face lawsuits if they violated state, federal or local environmental laws (Greenwire, May 13, 2013). Sponsoring Olson’s bill were Democratic Reps. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania and Gene Green of Texas.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) this month dropped a similar bill, S. 1222, which would ensure generators operating under DOE orders are not made vulnerable to environmental lawsuits.

Discussion may turn to the role of federal agencies. Former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in the past opposed Olson’s measure after U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy warned it could deter utilities from complying with new mercury and toxins standards. Waxman warmed to the measure after Olson tweaked the language to give environmental regulators a larger oversight role (E&E Daily, May 15, 2013).

The draft language would also require FERC and NERC to conduct reliability reviews of “major rules,” those which would have a $1 billion or more impact on the economy.

The House proposal would also hand federal energy regulators something they’ve asked for: more authority. The draft would allow federal regulators to take swift action to protect the grid from rare solar flares and storms, and cyber or physical attacks.

In the past, FERC officials have faulted the current regulatory process that calls on utilities to act in emergencies and protect the grid as sluggish and inefficient.

FERC and Energy Department officials have expressed support for legislation that would grant the agencies authority over critical distribution networks, including generation, transmission or distribution equipment affecting interstate commerce that regulators consider vital to U.S. security and safety (Greenwire, May 5, 2011).

Schedule: The reliability hearing is Tuesday, May 19, at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.