Energy and power subcommittee examines bipartisan energy bills

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), continued its American Energy Initiative series today with a hearing to discuss two pieces of bipartisan legislation to improve America’s power generation.

Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) co-authored the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, to promote the expanded development and use of hydropower. The bill will help facilitate new hydropower projects across the country by reducing red tape and streamlining the regulatory process.

“While there are a vast array of renewable energies – including solar, wind, and nuclear power – in my opinion, the facts are clear: the future of American energy independence depends on the development of an ‘all of the above’ energy approach – including hydro,” said McMorris Rodgers. “That’s why Congresswoman Diana DeGette and I have been working to expand hydropower production. Our bill is timely and targeted, and it will create jobs and bolster America’s competitiveness in the energy sector.”

Jeff Wright, Director at the Office of Energy Projects at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, welcomed the legislation as a commonsense way to expand America’s hydropower capacity. “There is a great deal of potential for the development of additional hydropower projects throughout the country, including small projects and marine and hydrokinetic projects,” said Wright. “The legislation under consideration will assist in realizing that potential.”

Andrew Munro, testifying on behalf of the National Hydropower Association, touted the economic and environmental benefits of U.S. hydropower generation, explaining that the legislation would allow industry to increase production of this valuable energy resource. He said, “The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act is good policy that appropriately recognizes the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source that has much more to contribute to our nation’s electricity supply.”

Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX), Lee Terry (R-NE), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Gene Green (D-TX), Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) introduced the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act, H.R. 4273, which amends the Federal Power Act to ensure America’s power companies are able to comply with Department of Energy emergency orders to maintain grid reliability without facing penalties for violating potentially conflicting environmental laws. The increasing number of major regulations coming out of President Obama’s EPA may soon result in greater occurrences of emergency reliability situations. This bill ensures generators will not be caught in the crossfire between conflicting mandates.

“H.R. 4273 is a bipartisan solution to resolve the conflict between the authority of the Department of Energy (DOE) to direct emergency operation of electric generating facilities to maintain the reliability of the bulk power system and environmental laws,” said Olson. “These conflicting legal mandates threaten the reliability of the grid and place the owners of power plants in the untenable position of having to choose between compliance with one law over another. In an emergency, residents need peace of mind that power will stay on. My legislation achieves this common sense goal with minimal impact on environmental protections.”

FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller voiced his support for H.R. 4273, stating, “While the Commissioners at FERC sometimes disagree on the extent to which electricity reliability can be threatened by mandates of the Environmental Protection Agency, all of the FERC Commissioners support the concept that the law should not require a generator to decide whether to violate the Clean Air Act or Federal Power Act.”

In recent years, conflicting federal laws have resulted in lawsuits and heavy fines for electricity providers. Debra Raggio, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for GenOn Energy, described the uncertainty this liability risk creates for U.S power generators. GenOn’s predecessor company, Mirant Corporation, previously faced a dilemma when it was fined for an environmental violation resulting from the company’s compliance with a DOE emergency order. She explained that the legislation creates a responsible pathway forward so that companies can balance reliability needs with binding environmental regulations. Raggio said, “H.R. 4273 offers a clear way to conclusively ensure that the tools needed to maintain the reliability of the grid are available in the face of conflicting environmental requirements.”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) commended their colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to develop these important bipartisan energy bills.