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FERC Preparing for Possible Government Shutdown

With congressional budget talks at an apparent standstill and a government shutdown looming, FERC and other federal agencies are preparing to operate in an essential operations-only scenario.

In the event of a government shutdown, a number of people in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) reliability and market monitoring offices are likely to be designated as essential employees, "and there would be some level of continuing oversight," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told reporters in Washington, DC, Wednesday. "It certainly wouldn't be to the level or extent that we're capable of with a full staff, but to the extent that those are essential functions, there will be personnel there."

While Wellinghoff doesn't have "a detailed plan per se," FERC Executive Director Charles Schneider is discussing contingency plans with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "and those plans will be worked through," Wellinghoff said.

"We're working with OMB, we're developing the plan and we're ensuring that we'll have a plan that will comport with the law and comport with OMB."

The timelines of issues before FERC would be suspended for the duration of a government shutdown.

"My understanding is that there is an ability to suspend things with a timeline, so that just kind of stops," Wellinghoff said.

The Interior Department has indicated that a government shutdown would freeze its permitting actions, but inspections of oil and gas rigs would continue.

But Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said Interior, which has about 500 employees involved in inspections and safety decisions for offshore drilling operations, was only able to retain six inspectors during the government shutdown in 1995.

The federal government is due to run out of money and shut down most nonessential services if a budget agreement isn't reached by 12:01 a.m. EDT Saturday. Approximately 800,000 federal employees would be furloughed for the duration of a shutdown, according to the White House.

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