Springtime in D.C. – Cold, Sunny, Chance of Hearings and Orders

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April 18, 2018
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April 24, 2018

PACE got a taste of warm weather, sunshine and BBQ last week, visiting with Cobb EMC, a progressive urban/suburban electric cooperative just outside Atlanta that serves over 200,000 meters. Cobb’s board and leadership team are responding adeptly to consumer demand for renewable energy by making significant investments in utility-scale solar. PACE also visited the Southern States Energy Board (we joined SSEB earlier this year) to discuss energy and environmental issues that are top-of mind to the elected officials in SSEB’s sixteen state, two territory membership.

Returning to D.C., I found that with Easter recess in the rearview mirror, the springtime D.C. sprint is on to accomplish something before the 4th of July recess and mid-term elections take over. Only one thing is missing – the spring. Many of us are still wearing coats and gloves. So, the federal policy community is keeping warm here by staying busy, as this short overview of activity will reveal.

Last week, the White House released its long-awaited “One Federal Decision” Executive Order. This followed on an August 2017 Executive Order with the same nickname. The new order streamlines federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and permitting of significant infrastructure projects. For energy projects, FERC is now the lead.

The House Energy and Commerce Energy Subcommittee hosted all five FERC Commissioners; for four, it marked their first appearance at the annual hearing used to explain agency priorities. Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton praised the Commission for quickly getting back to full speed after losing its quorum last fall. The range of topics covered in this hearing serves as a solid reminder of how much is at stake in energy policy decisions at the federal and state levels over the next decade.

Two days later, FERC released a Notice of Inquiry into updating a 1999 policy that governs certifying natural gas pipelines. The NOI is a recognition of the substantial and long-lasting shift in the electric generation mix toward natural gas and of the thorny environmental and eminent domain questions that surround each project. “Resilience” of the energy delivery system and the relationship to natural gas pipeline capacity and geography is a particular focus of the NOI and expected public comments.

Telecommunications access is just as important as fuels for driving our economy and energy innovation. That’s one reason U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is passionate about bringing broadband to rural America. This week at USDA, he kicked off listening sessions to explore how best to use the $600 million in broadband investment funding included in the FY 2018 omnibus.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committeealso focused on rural America this week, where as Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) noted, “too many people are living on the edge of what Senator Tim Scott and I call energy insecurity.” PACE couldn’t agree more and applauds the Committee for shining a spotlight on this issue and federal efforts to address and overcome it.

What will these April showers bring in May?  Stay tuned …