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Washington Week: FERC pick heads to Congress, EPA moves coal ash deadline


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Washington Week: FERC pick heads to Congress, EPA moves coal ash deadline

U.S. lawmakers will have an opportunity this week to question the Trump administration's latest nominee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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The U.S. Capitol building.
Source: AP Photo

FERC general counsel James Danly, Republicans' pick to fill an open seat at the commission, will appear Nov. 5 before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. During the hearing, the committee will also examine Katharine MacGregor's nomination to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Prior to joining FERC, Danly was a member of the energy regulation and litigation group at law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom LLP. He also previously clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and served as managing director of the Institute for the Study of War.

If confirmed, Danly would widen the GOP's majority at FERC and could allow the commission to move ahead on major regulatory proceedings. Currently, the commission has two Republican members and one Democrat. The agency needs three voting members to establish a quorum, a threshold it could fall short of if any commissioner must recuse himself over possible conflicts of interest.

In one example, Democratic commissioner Richard Glick is barred from working on proceedings involving former employer Avangrid Inc. until late November as part of a White House ethics pledge that prohibits appointees from involvement in such matters for two years after they join the administration. The ethics rule means Glick cannot participate in a pending FERC order on the PJM Interconnection's proposed capacity market overhaul until after Nov. 29.

Senate to consider energy spending measure

The U.S. House of Representatives is on recess the week of Nov. 4, but the Senate will move ahead on appropriations legislation.

Fresh off of passing a "minibus" spending bill on Oct. 31 for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, the Senate will consider another appropriations package that includes money for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Senate Committee on Appropriations proposed $39.03 billion for the DOE in fiscal year 2020, up by $3.35 billion from the prior year and $7.53 billion more than the White House sought for the department.

Within that total, the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would get $2.8 billion, up $421 million from the previous year and surpassing President Donald Trump's request by $2.46 billion. Fossil energy research and development would receive $800 million, climbing $60 million above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and $238 million above the president's request.

Hearings set on energy research, plant permitting bills

Along with considering Danly's FERC nomination, the Senate is holding a handful of other hearings in the coming days that will touch on energy.

The Senate energy committee on Nov. 6 will receive testimony on over 10 bills, including legislation to enhance wind and solar power research and development and to reauthorize the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E.

Also on Nov. 6, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will examine the Growing American Innovation Now Act, or GAIN Act, which would loosen permitting requirements under the EPA's New Source Review program for regulating upgrades at power plants and other industrial facilities.

EPA to set new deadline on coal ash storage

On Nov. 4, the EPA will move up the required time to begin the closure of all unlined surface impoundments managing coal ash and impoundments near aquifers or impacting groundwater, an EPA official told S&P Global Market Intelligence on a Nov. 1 conference call.

The new deadline to start those closures will now be Aug. 31, 2020, two months before a previous cutoff of Oct. 31, 2020. The agency moved up the deadline as part of court-ordered changes.

Also on Nov. 4, the EPA plans to roll out changes to its effluent limitation guidelines in response to a federal appeals court's finding that several provisions of the rule were illegal.

Report: Trump walking back auto standards freeze

The Trump administration is reportedly backing off plans to freeze federal tailpipe emissions targets for cars and light-duty trucks, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 31.

According to people familiar with the process, the administration is considering mandating a 1.5% annual increase in fleetwide fuel efficiency as part of its pending Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule. Previously, the administration had proposed to hold current standards in place through 2026. Under the existing Obama-era standards, fuel efficiency requirements were on track to ratchet up to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon for model years 2022 through 2025, representing about 5% annual gains, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The reported decision to back off on the fuel economy freeze comes as some major automakers, including Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Volkswagen AG, and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, have resisted the administration's push to rollback vehicle efficiency and emissions targets.

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US Congress
Nov. 5

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will consider the nomination of James Danly to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Nov. 6

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing to examine several energy-related bills, including S. 2556, the Protecting Resources on the Electric Grid with Cybersecurity Technology Act of 2019, and legislation to support research and development of wind and solar power technologies.

Nov. 6

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding a hearing on S. 2662, the Growing American Innovation Now (GAIN) Act, which would ease permitting requirements under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New Source Review program.

Nov. 7

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on energy development on federal lands.

Nov. 8

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will look at "Implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill: Rural Development and Energy Programs."

Industry events

Nov. 4

The Atlantic Council will host a panel discussion at its Washington, D.C., headquarters on Democratic U.S. presidential candidates' climate and energy plans.

Nov. 4

The Institute of World Politics will explore energy security risks in a global energy market, featuring Stephen Eule, vice president for climate and technology at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute. The talk will take place at the Institute of World Politics' Washington, D.C., office.

Nov. 6

The R Street Institute will host a discussion on "Understanding Carbon-Neutral and Carbon-Negative Technologies" at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

Nov. 7

The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Energy and National Security Program will host U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to discuss U.S. energy policy. The event will take place at CSIS's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Nov. 7

The U.S. Energy Association will host a briefing at its office in Washington, D.C., on carbon sequestration using brine fluids.

Nov. 8

CSIS will hold a panel discussion on "Electrification Pathways to 2050" at the center's Washington, D.C., office.

Notable stories from last week

166 Congress members urge for extension of renewable energy tax credits

Trump effort to clear path for gas pipelines triggers states' objections

Murkowski says FERC may need more resources to deal with complex energy issues

Murray Energy 'exhausted' alternatives, joined coal peers in bankruptcy filing

GOP lawmakers wary of Democrats' push to decarbonize US power sector

FERC gathers conflicting feedback on proposal to name cybersecurity violators