Senators Aim to Divide Obama Appointees Over Global-Warming Plan

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2.1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
May 20, 2014, 10:48 a.m.

A new front has opened up in the fight over fossil fuels.

A bi­par­tis­an pair of law­makers is hop­ing to pit one fed­er­al agency against an­oth­er in a bid to soften the blow of up­com­ing reg­u­la­tions to curb air pol­lu­tion from power plants. And if they get their way, the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion — the ex­ec­ut­ive-branch agency with over­sight of the na­tion’s elec­tric grid — could act as a check on the au­thor­ity of the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia and Rob Port­man of Ohio voiced con­cerns over the EPA’s power-plant rule at a Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Tues­day to con­sider Nor­man Bay’s nom­in­a­tion to head FERC. The sen­at­ors ex­pressed fears that the reg­u­la­tions could dis­rupt the sup­ply of elec­tri­city by caus­ing coal plants to shut down. And they asked Bay — the cur­rent dir­ect­or of the agency’s Of­fice of En­force­ment — if he would stand up to the EPA if the rules threaten grid re­li­ab­il­ity.

Bay said yes. “I very much re­spect the work of the EPA. They have an im­port­ant job to do,” he said dur­ing the hear­ing. “But FERC has an im­port­ant job to do as well, and for FERC, two of our key re­spons­ib­il­it­ies are re­li­ab­il­ity and en­sur­ing that rates are just and reas­on­able.”

The con­firm­a­tion con­tender said that FERC would weigh in on the draft reg­u­la­tion after it’s re­leased early next month. He also pledged to put EPA on no­tice if the rules look like they would im­pact the flow of elec­trons across the na­tion’s grid. His as­sur­ances could win over coal-state sym­path­izers who have long ar­gued that the reg­u­la­tions will hinder safe power sup­ply.

For Bay, mak­ing friends with fossil-fuel back­ers is a cru­cial step to se­cur­ing con­firm­a­tion. The pres­id­ent’s pre­vi­ous pick to lead FERC — former util­ity reg­u­lat­or Ron Binz — with­drew his nom­in­a­tion last fall in the face of in­tense op­pos­i­tion from sen­at­ors such as Manchin and rank­ing mem­ber Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who claimed that he favored clean en­ergy over fossil fuels.

In the end, however, Bay’s abil­ity to shape the rule is lim­ited. The cur­rent act­ing chair­wo­man of the agency, Cheryl LaFleur, threw cold wa­ter on the idea that FERC could upend the rule al­to­geth­er. Re­fer­ring to EPA, LaFleur said, “I don’t have con­trol over what they ul­ti­mately rule, but I would al­ways speak hon­estly if there were a re­li­ab­il­ity is­sue.”

That an­swer won’t sit well with friends of fossil fuels — but, for now, it may be the most they can get.

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