Federal affairs update: Recap of recent energy-related news from Washington

ISO New England’s External Affairs team closely tracks federal energy policy, initiatives, and other changes. Here’s a quick summary of recent activity from FERC, US EPA, and US DOE.

Powelson Departs Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Commissioner Robert Powelson departed FERC earlier this month. The White House has not yet made a formal announcement on his replacement. Until the U.S. Senate confirms an eventual nominee, FERC will operate with four sitting commissioners. FERC traditionally does not hold an Open Meeting in August. The Commission’s next Open Meeting is scheduled for September 20.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Releases Proposed Rule Governing Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants

On August 21, the EPA released a proposed rule – called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule – to establish emissions guidelines for states to use when developing plans to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The proposal would serve as a substitute for the prior Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), the implementation of which is currently being stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the changes envisioned by the ACE proposal are revised standards for applicable electric generating units and lengthened timelines for state compliance. EPA materials accompanying the release of the proposal highlight that “approximately 600 coal-fired electric generating units at 300 facilities could be covered” by the ACE rule. The EPA will accept comments on the proposal for approximately two months.

Senate Judiciary Committee Explores Cybersecurity Threats to Critical Infrastructure

On August 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing exploring public and private sector preparations for and responses to cybersecurity threats to critical digital infrastructure. Topics of discussion included (but were not limited to) the importance of the electric industry’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standards; the absence of a lead federal agency when it comes to cybersecurity policy; the possibility of further declassification of threat information to better inform the American public as threats faced by critical infrastructure; and the merits of creating federal incentives for strong cybersecurity defenses as opposed to solely relying on penalties for non-compliance.

Annual Funding for Department of Energy Remains Unfinished

The timing of final passage for legislation providing Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) funding for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) remains unclear. The DOE funding bill (H.R. 5895, versions of which were passed by the House and Senate in June) also includes appropriations for other federal agencies whose funding levels are not yet agreed upon. Despite relatively optimistic public statements from key appropriators, it is difficult to predict if FY19 funding for DOE will be completed prior to the start of the new fiscal year on October 1 or if Congress will need to pass short-term, stop-gap funding to keep the department operating.

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