Getting a head start on resuming the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) sent a shot across the bow of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with a letter to Chairman Joseph P. Kelliher saying the committee would be reviewing FERC’s progress in carrying out directives in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct).

In the Dec. 15 letter Dingell listed questions regarding (1) the recent ex parte memorandum, (2) the Commission’s rule for siting power transmission lines, (3) FERC’s pre-filing process, (4) FERC procedures for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act in connection with its transmission siting authorities under EPAct, and (5) requesting a list of all the Commission’s actions or planned actions for the electric industry to comply with EPAct. The chairman-to-be asked for a response by Jan. 5, 2007.

Questions No. 1 and 3 appeared to be related since the ex parte memorandum addressed FERC commissioners’ meetings with parties prior to their entering the pre-filing process. The memorandum submitted at FERC’s request by an outside legal expert found the Commission’s practices involving ex parte communications to be “fully consistent” with existing law, and in fact are “more stringent” than the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (see NGI, Dec. 4).

The requested memorandum was produced after complaints from advocate groups about communications in several merger cases prior to pre-filing petitions being submitted. A pre-filing meeting is “almost like a courtesy visit, where an applicant gives the Commission the heads up about what they are about to file,” a FERC spokesman noted.

Dingell’s letter questioned why the Commission sought outside counsel and asked for details about meetings that sparked the memorandum. It asked the chairman to outline the rules governing contacts between Commission personnel, including the commissioners, and prospective applicants, and questioned whether those contacts would or should be made public. It also questioned whether the contacts conformed with the Commission’s need to avoid even “the appearance of impropriety.”

Regarding FERC’s rule on siting transmission lines, the congressman questioned why FERC referred to its authority as a “supplement” to state authority. He also asked whether FERC believed it had the authority, in certain instances, to preempt state determinations on siting.

With Democrat Dingell, the nemesis of the Republican-led FERC, returning to the chairmanship of the energy oversight committee, the current letter could signal just the beginning of FERC reviews.

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