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Washington Week: Wheeler to face Congress; EPA prepares new clean car standards

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Washington Week: Wheeler to face Congress; EPA prepares new clean car standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a busy week ahead, with Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler set to testify before the U.S. Senate and the EPA potentially releasing new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks.

Wheeler will appear Aug. 1 before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to discuss the agency's agenda. The hearing will be Wheeler's first appearance before Congress since taking over as head of the EPA following Administrator Scott Pruitt's resignation in early July amid heavy criticism of his alleged spending and management practices.

Committee members will likely seek insights on major EPA rulemakings underway, including the agency's planned replacement for the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. The EPA had been aiming to release a replacement rule for the carbon dioxide emissions-cutting rule in June but missed that target. The agency told a federal appeals court July 26 that it now plans to issue the proposal by early fall and finalize the regulation by early 2019.

Although the proposed rule is yet to be released, the power industry generally expects a less stringent regulation than the Clean Power Plan that will allow coal-fired plant owners to achieve emissions reductions without relying more on generation from lower-emitting energy resources such as natural gas-fueled units.

In addition to that rule, Wheeler could field questions on potential changes to the EPA's renewable fuel standard program, New Source Review permitting program for major modifications at existing facilities, and a range of other policies affecting the energy sector.

New car standards on tap

The hearing could also coincide with the Trump administration's expected release of new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks. In April, Pruitt said the EPA planned to revise corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards for model years 2022-2025, saying the Obama-era targets were too tough and did not reflect consumer preferences.

The formal roll-out of the plan could happen as early as this week, Wheeler told USA Today in a July 26 interview.

The energy industry is also wondering whether the EPA will revoke California's waiver to set its own, more aggressive vehicle standards. Such a move would set up a fight between the federal government and several states, including California, that have opted for higher CAFE standards.

The push to ease the standards has alarmed electric utility trade groups, whose members hope to benefit from increased use of electric vehicles. In May, a coalition of power industry groups urged the Trump administration to ensure that any future fuel economy standards recognize electric cars as a compliance option.

FERC to discuss reliability

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has set a July 31 technical conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss bulk power system reliability. The one-day event will bring together industry and government leaders including North American Electric Reliability Corp. CEO Jim Robb and representatives of the New York ISO and ISO New England.

Although the conference will center on reliability the event will also touch the hot-button issue of grid resilience. FERC is still reviewing feedback from grid operators and other market participants on what constitutes resilience, a proceeding the commission launched after rejecting the U.S. Department of Energy's request to ensure full cost recovery for certain coal-fired and nuclear plants in wholesale markets as a means to ensure resilience.

Although the industry generally agrees resilience is the ability to recover from an adverse event on the bulk power system, it is less unified on what resources, market rules and investments are needed to guarantee it. Industry members are also divided on whether certain types of generation, such as coal-based and nuclear power, are more resilient than other resources.

House is adjourned but Senate still in

The U.S. House of Representatives is out of session until early September for its summer break, but the Senate will remain active during that time, aside from a one-week recess in early August.

During the week of July 30, the Senate will resume consideration of its fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill for the EPA, U.S. Department of Interior and related agencies. The legislation differs from the House's proposal in several ways, including by keeping EPA funding steady rather than trimming it and avoiding controversial policy riders, including the House bill's proposed full repeal of the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule.

After the Senate approves the legislation the bill will head to a bicameral conference where House and Senate lawmakers will work out differences between the two bills and form final compromise legislation.

SNL Image

US Congress

Aug. 1

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the agency's agenda; beforehand, the committee will hold a business meeting to vote on the nominations of Mary Neumayr as director of the Council on Environmental Quality, William Charles McIntosh as assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and John Fleming as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.

Federal agencies

July 31

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will hold a technical conference at its Washington, D.C., office to discuss bulk power system reliability.

Other notable stories from last week

At hearing, Plains COO urges Congress to exempt pipelines from steel tariffs

Trump fills out ranks at DOE, but holes remain at Interior, top of EPA

Pipeline policy review comments divide into Republican, Democratic camps at FERC

Russia breached US utility control rooms, Homeland Security warns

New US House bill would create $24/tonne tax on carbon emissions

US EPA gearing up to tweak carbon standards for new power plants