The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Thursday that lawmakers should not rush to enact laws to weaken federal pollution regulations because of fears about electricity shortages.
FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff contended that “relief valve” bills being contemplated by Republicans may not be necessary because of flexibility already available under the Environmental Protection Agency regulations and FERC processes.
“I think people need to carefully review what already exists and determine if what already exists is sufficient or not. I personally think it’s sufficient,” he said.
He said regional power markets and utilities can be given more time to comply if regulations would impair the reliable delivery of electricity.
FERC took comments earlier this year on a proposal outlining its advisory role if utilities ask for more time to comply with EPA’s recently-completed mercury and air toxics rule. No changes have yet been formally considered by the commission, however.
Wellinghoff added he does not expect serious limitations in the ability of the natural gas market to supply power plants, though regional issues may require attention.
“People ought to look very carefully at the processes that are already in place,” he told reporters at a news briefing. “I think there are adequate safety valves in place from both our side of it, that is, the electrical reliability side, in respect to the reliability rules that we have in place.”
“And, with respect to the planning processes that we have in place under (FERC) Order 1000, those two things will adequately address retirements and have for many years,” Wellinghoff added.
Earlier Thursday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was still planning to write her own bill to ensure EPA regulations don’t lead to electricity shortages as utilities transition from coal to natural gas.
Republicans have contended FERC is not doing enough to determine whether EPA’s air pollution regulations will cause shortages of power as plants are retired or taken out of service for upgrades or retrofitting.
At a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on grid reliability and severe storms, Murkowski, the top Republican on the panel, said she is not convinced the existing flexibility is adequate.
“I’ve spent considerable time this Congress asking both FERC and EPA to balance electric reliability needs with the suite of new federal rules regulating power plant emissions. I’m now working on safety valve legislation so that the cumulative effect of these federal regulations does not threaten electric reliability,” she said.
Her spokesman, Robert Dillon, said Murkowski has no set timetable for the bill, but is set on putting her concerns into legislative language. “It’s the role of Congress to make the laws, and Sen. Murkowski believes there needs to be specific authority to intervene to protect the electric grid when the twin goals of reliability and environmental regulations conflict,” he said.
A House bill by Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, would hold utilities harmless if the are ordered by the Energy Department to generate power to meet demand that violates EPA regulations. Dillon said Murkowski’s bill would be more comprehensive, mandating that FERC and potentially the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation would have a formal say rather than an advisory role.
House Republicans last year challenged Wellinghoff to say whether FERC had advised EPA on the impact of its regulations on electric reliability, and to defend a staff assessment that up to 81 gigawatts of capacity could be lost because of EPA-related retirements.
He said at the time that FERC advises EPA but called the assessment preliminary and based on incomplete information.
FERC earlier this year created a process with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners to examine the connection between reliability and environmental regulations, with its meetings planned for the association’s three annual meetings.