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.
What We're Following See More »
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.