Sep
04
2017

D.C. Update: Energy Playbook and Rosters

The Texas and Louisiana coasts continue to suffer post-Harvey. Donations to the Salvation Army to support relief efforts can be made:

·       Online at helpsalvationarmy.org.

·       By calling 1-800- SAL-ARMY.

·       By texting STORM to 51555.

Congress returns today, facing a bevy of high-profile issues, now potentially even more complicated by the need to assemble a massive federal aid package (Texas Governor Greg Abbott has floated $180 billion) in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Still, we can report some energy developments, and look at more coming down the field. As many of us welcome the return of fall weather and college football season, PACE asks: will consumers emerge with a winning record?

After several months of running key federal agencies with skeleton crews and too many “players to be named later,” federal agencies are beginning to get senior personnel needed to shape the new Administration’s approach to energy and environmental regulations that impact consumers’ access to affordable, reliable energy. Personnel at the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are critical players, and PACE is glad to see some new team members taking the field. 

On August 3rd, the Senate confirmed Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. Mr. Brouillette has a deep Capitol Hill background and energy chops, having served in senior roles with Rep. Billy Tauzin and the House Energy and Commerce Committee as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 formed up. He was also a member of Louisiana’s State Mineral and Energy Board from 2013 to 2016.

On September 1, the White House released a few dozen names of agency nominees. At DOE, we should see Bruce Walker as Assistant Secretary of Energy, Electricity Delivery and Reliability and Steven Winberg as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy. Both have utility experience. Joining the Environmental Protection Agency will be Matthew Leopold as Assistant Administrator and General Counsel, and David Ross, as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Each brings a state policy perspective to EPA.

PACE hopes the White House will continue to name key personnel, including the Rural Utilities Service Administrator at the Department of Agriculture. Especially as Harvey re-construction begins, the Department of Homeland Security needs a new leader, a role vacated when General Kelly moved over to become White House Chief of Staff. DHS works closely with the utility industry, DOE, FERC and the White House on electric grid reliability. Rumors that Energy Secretary Rick Perry might transition to DHS continue, but that scenario doesn’t seem likely, especially post-Harvey.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now operating with a quorum, since the Senate confirmed Rob Powelson, a Pennsylvania energy regulator, and Neil Chatterjee, longtime congressional staff, in early August. Chatterjee, acting Chairman at this time, announced a full complement of staff earlier this month. On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a nomination hearing on another pair of Commissioners. Rich Glick is a longtime Democratic energy staff person and formerly a lobbyist for Iberdrola. Kevin McIntyre, a leading energy lawyer, will take the FERC chairman slot after the Senate confirms the pair. 

Even though prospects for Congress debating and passing a comprehensive energy bill have dimmed significantly for this year, the House Energy & Commerce Committee continues to examine critical issues via its “Powering America” hearing series. Tomorrow, the Energy Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), will look at PURPA (the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978). As related by the hearing background memo, “PURPA … required electric utilities to begin to purchase additional output from a new class of generating facilities that receive special rate and regulatory treatment under the law. These facilities are designated “non-utility generators” or more commonly known as “qualifying facilities” (QFs).”

The hearing will examine PURPA’s “current effects on consumers, and consider whether reforms … are appropriate due to changes in the power generation sector. As the recent PACE net metering report noted, state interpretations of PURPA led to many diverse approaches to net metering compensation. If the Energy & Commerce Committee can help highlight that retail net metering costs consumers millions of dollars, and encourages states to adopt policies that are fair to all consumers, PACE will call it a field goal.

Next month, we’ll return to the D.C. field, provide more complete rosters and organizational charts, and ask how these special teams at key agencies and legislative committees are delivering for consumers as we get closer to halftime for the 115th Congress and end of the first quarter for the new Administration.