President Obama, the Supreme Court, Congress and federal regulatory agencies all have big energy issues on their plate during the coming months.
Here are five energy policy developments worth keeping an eye on during the latter half of 2013:
** President Obama has put second-term focus on climate change.
Analysts say there wasn’t that much truly “new” in a major June 25 policy address on greenhouse gas policy. The administration has long touted its commitment to renewable energy; EPA had already proposed a set of carbon dioxide CO2 standards for new power plants and there was already talk of a CO2 rule for existing plants.
Nevertheless, observers say the speech was evidence that the Obama administration plans to give climate issues a high profile for the next three years, which could further affect the coal-versus-natural gas dynamic. Obama also criticized congressional Republicans for holding up EPA nominee Gina McCarthy for her willingness to champion the CO2 control agenda.
** The much-litigated issue of EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court said June 24 that it will review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals 2012 decision that effectively struck down Cross-State.
The D.C. Circuit in August 2012 threw out CSAPR and left the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) in its place until a new rule is drafted. CAIR was thrown out in an earlier appeals court ruling. Cross-state and the still-intact Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from EPA, are blamed by coal industry watchers with forcing the shutdown of dozens of coal-fired units nationally.
** Congressional support is growing for “consent-based” siting of a repository for spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power reactors.
Four senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, said June 27 they were introducing comprehensive nuclear waste legislation. The bill would implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to establish a Nuclear Waste Administration and create a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities.
The bill sets up a new agency, headed by a single administrator, confirmed by the Senate, to replace the Department of Energy in DOE’s role as manager of the nation’s spent fuel. It also establishes an Oversight Board—composed of five members with staggered terms, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate—to oversee the new agency’s administration of the program.
** NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane is starting a full five-year term with the nuclear watchdog agency.
Macfarlane was originally confirmed last summer to complete the final year of the term held by the previous chairman, Greg Jaczko. Jaczko resigned under pressure after alienating both congressional Republicans and fellow members of the commission.
Nuclear industry watchers generally credit Macfarlane with restoring a good working environment at the commission. But during the confirmation process Macfarlane drew fire from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Boxer disapproved of Macfarlane’s handling of issues surrounding the San Onofre nuclear complex.
Since then, however, Edison International (NYSE:EIX) subsidiary Southern California Edison (SCE) has taken the issue off the table by announcing retirement of the dual-reactor plant.
** A leadership change is underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). President Obama announced June 28 that he would nominate former Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman Ron Binz to become chair of FERC.
Binz is being nominated as a commissioner who would become chairman upon Senate confirmation. Binz would replace departing FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. Wellinghoff was first appointed as a commissioner in 2006 and was named chairman by President Obama in March 2009.
If no replacement is confirmed by June 30, 2013, the end of Chairman Wellinghoff’s term, he may hold-over until the end of the congressional term or until a replacement is confirmed.