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Lawmakers Looking Into FERC, EPA Clean Power Plant Consultations

A trio of powerful congressional Republicans, citing "an apparent pattern of limited substantive FERC input" in the development of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan and rulemakings bearing on electric reliability, have asked individual commissioners to provide details of any such collaboration between the agencies.

In letters dated Dec. 22, each Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member was asked to respond to a series of questions probing FERC staff's participation in development of the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, the subject matter of any previous interagency meetings related to EPA regulations, and their conclusions about "the quality and impact of FERC's interaction with EPA as it relates to ensuring that EPA rules do not unduly burden electric reliability."

The letters, which were signed by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, also asked commissioners for details about any upcoming interagency meetings bearing on electric reliability.

In late November the three lawmakers sent a similar request to FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, seeking "clarification regarding the extent of consultation and coordination" between FERC and EPA on the Clean Power Act and electric reliability rulemakings. In a Dec. 3 response, LaFleur wrote that "FERC can and should help EPA understand the implications that such regulations may have on electric reliability and support utility compliance with those regulations where necessary and to what extent possible. To this end, Commission staff has communicated regularly with staff from EPA, the Department of Energy and industry participants during the past few years to track utility efforts to comply with EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS)." FERC has also commented to EPA on the first request by a utility for an extension to comply with MATS, according to LaFleur, who went on to detail a May 2013 memorandum jointly developed by FERC, EPA and the Department of Energy to coordinate work to address the potential effects of EPA's regulations and reliability.

On Dec. 9, FERC announced a series of technical conferences to discuss implications of compliance approaches to EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan rule. The conferences, which will focus on issues related to electric reliability, wholesale electric markets and operations, and energy infrastructure, will begin with a national overview session at FERC headquarters in Washington, DC, on Feb. 19. Subsequent staff-led regional technical conferences are scheduled to be held in Washington, St. Louis and Denver on dates yet to be announced.

Regulators said earlier this month that they received more than 1.6 million comments on their plan to limit power plants emissions (see Daily GPI, Dec. 4; June 2). Industry organizations called the proposed rules an economic burden, while environmental groups urged their implementation to help prevent climate change. The proposed rules aim to cut carbon emissions from the power generation sector 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, a move that has been cautiously embraced by the natural gas industry, characterized as a "coal killer" by some critics, and hailed by environmental groups as a major effort to address climate change.

The lawmakers' November letter was penned just hours after EPA released a proposal to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone, raising the ire of industry, regulators and Republicans poised to take control of Congress, for both the tighter standard and the timing of the announcement (see Daily GPI, Nov. 26). The ozone proposal came one day after the EPA suffered a setback when the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear an appeal to MATS. Last April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of MATS, which is aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants (see Daily GPI, March 20).

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