Protesters the only hiccup for Obama’s FERC pick at Senate hearing 

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 5, 2014

A Senate confirmation hearing for Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominee Colette Honorable opened today with chanting demonstrators protesting the commission’s approval of natural gas infrastructure.

Six Beyond Extreme Energy activists dressed in matching red shirts chanted, “FERC doesn’t work!” as senators entered the hearing room.

“We’re hoping this is new fresh blood, a new start,” activist Ellen Taylor told reporters before the hearing.

Taylor said her group is “cautiously optimistic” that Honorable, a former state regulator from Arkansas, will quickly come up to speed on activists’ concerns about hydraulic fracturing and climate change.

Despite the protest, Honorable appeared to face no political pushback at the hearing and is seen as a strong bipartisan pick, receiving approving nods today from both Republicans and Democrats on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including a letter of support from Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Landrieu — campaigning in Louisiana for the run-off election against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — didn’t attend the hearing.

Arkansas Sens. John Boozman (R) and Mark Pryor (D) offered support for Honorable in opening statements. Pryor, who is leaving the Senate and hoping to capitalize on Honorable’s confirmation, she said is honest, hard-working and has “across-the-board support” in Arkansas among a variety of sectors.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who’s slated to take the committee’s gavel next year, said she supports Honorable and is also eager for the upper chamber to confirm a host of pending nominations for spots at the Energy Department that have been waiting since January.

Murkowski said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “deserves to have his team in place.”

Honorable faced a number of tough questions on liquefied natural gas exports, fast-tracking transmission siting, policing new markets for renewables and her views on U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Murkowski highlighted concerns that Honorable had raised with EPA’s proposal for curbing carbon emissions at existing power plants. She asked the nominee for assurances that she would keep the grid reliable as the rule is implemented.

Honorable said she would support any effort to gather stakeholders, adding that grid operators have raised reliability concerns, but stopped short of calling for a formal role for the commission as it collaborates with EPA.

“Senator, certainly the chairman of FERC would set the course,” Honorable said, adding that FERC Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur is already contemplating ways of collaborating with EPA. “If the chairman was to decide to move forward with a technical conference, I would support that.”

Honorable also appeased senators from the Pacific Northwest who pushed for assurances she would support only voluntary market constructs, highlighting the development — and hiccups — of a new “energy imbalance market” that’s been set up in the region to accommodate rising amounts of renewable energy (Greenwire, Feb. 24).

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, pushed Honorable to promise to protect states’ rights and called for a slower, voluntary “energy imbalance market.” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) followed by questioning whether Honorable would ensure hydroelectric power rates remain just and reasonable — even in a voluntary market.

Honorable also appeared to appease Republicans and Democrats from fossil fuel-heavy states.

When asked by Republican John Hoeven of North Dakota about LNG exports, Honorable said she has “generally supported” the notion and said it’s critical for DOE to conduct economic studies. Hoeven is currently crafting a bill to fast-track export approvals.

Democrat Joe Manchin of coal-heavy West Virginia said Honorable appears to be a rare FERC nominee that “truly has the experience to do the job you’re expected to do.”