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Washington Week: McNamee's nomination to FERC hits speed bump

The Trump administration's push to quickly confirm another Republican member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hit a speed bump this week when the U.S. Senate decided to adjourn until after the November midterm elections.

The Senate voted Oct. 11 to confirm a wave of new judges for positions on federal courts and then said it would adjourn until Nov. 13 so lawmakers can focus on campaigning for the upcoming midterms. The decision effectively postponed a hearing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee had set for Oct. 16 to consider the nomination of Bernard McNamee to FERC. That hearing was rescheduled for Nov. 15, when the committee also will review the nominations of Rita Baranwal as assistant secretary of energy for nuclear energy and Raymond Vela as director of the National Park Service.

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The Trump administration nominated DOE official Bernard McNamee as the next GOP commissioner at FERC.

Source: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

McNamee currently heads the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Policy and was the agency's deputy general counsel when Energy Secretary Rick Perry in September 2017 proposed an ill-fated plan to aid financially struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants in the name of grid resilience.

Some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill were alarmed by Perry's proposal, fearing it could upend competitive power markets and disadvantage other sources of energy, including natural gas- and renewable-based generation. Although FERC unanimously rejected the request, the plan's critics fear McNamee could advocate for other market interventions to bolster coal and nuclear plants if he is confirmed to the commission.

Despite those concerns, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans have moved quickly to advance McNamee's nomination, presumably to minimize the possibility of partisan deadlocks at FERC. The commission currently has four members evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, creating the potential for split decisions on natural gas pipeline approvals and other key proceedings. In addition, installing McNamee at FERC could become more difficult if Republicans lose the majority in the Senate after the midterms and are unable to confirm him before the new Congress begins in early 2019.

Congress ready to help on storm response

Despite adjourning for the elections, lawmakers in Congress said they are ready to help with recovery efforts for Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the coast of Florida on Oct. 10 before moving up through Georgia, the Carolinas and other states.

The storm left over a million accounts in the southeastern U.S. without power as of late afternoon Oct. 11. Michael also shut in more than 42% of oil production and 31% of natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico, although production in the region has gradually resumed since then.

Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations, said although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sufficient funds for immediate disaster response, the committee "is prepared to act quickly" if more resources are needed.

Michael came less than a month after Hurricane Florence battered the east coast, knocking out power to nearly 2 million homes and businesses.

FERC to ponder supply chain reliability, New England transmission ROE

FERC has a light agenda for its next monthly meeting, which will take place at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18.

At the meeting, the commission likely will grant final approval of mandatory supply chain reliability standards (FERC docket RM17-13) crafted by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. In January, FERC proposed to sign off on the standards but also to direct that NERC make some changes to better address certain cybersecurity risks. FERC asked NERC to extend the scope of the standards to include electronic access control and monitoring systems related to a utility's electronic security perimeter and also to evaluate the risks presented by physical access control systems and protected cyber assets.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, FERC also will address several proceedings related to the ISO New England's base return on equity for transmission.

DOE tries protect US nuclear tech from China

On Oct. 11, the DOE announced measures to prevent China from using U.S. civil nuclear technology for unauthorized purposes, including military applications. The new policy stems from a U.S. government review of China's efforts to illegally obtain U.S. nuclear material, equipment and advanced technology.

"The United States cannot ignore the national security implications of China's efforts to obtain nuclear technology outside of established processes of U.S.-China civil nuclear cooperation," Perry said.

Among other directives, the policy includes a presumption of denial for new license applications or extensions to existing authorizations related to the China General Nuclear Power Corp., which is under indictment for conspiring to steal U.S. nuclear technology.

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Federal agencies

Oct. 18

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will hold its monthly meeting at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 17-18

The DOE's Electricity Advisory Committee will meet at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's office in Arlington, Va.

Industry events

Oct. 16-17

The American Wind Energy Association will host its annual Offshore WINDPOWER Conference in Washington, D.C.

Notable stories from last week

IEA: 'Expensive energy is back' as high prices threaten economic growth

PJM official tells lawmakers FERC should act now on resilience

US power industry largely backing GOP incumbents in 2018 midterms

Exelon makes last push to save Pa. nuclear plant as federal action stalls

Oil companies line up to fund fight against Washington carbon tax