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Washington Week: FERC to host energy forum; Brouillette named to lead DOE

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is holding a one-day conference in Kentucky on Oct. 21 that will focus on the swift transformation of the U.S. electric grid away from coal-based generation toward more renewable and natural gas-fired capacity.

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FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee
Source: U.S. Senate

The inaugural EnVision Forum in Lexington, Ky., which FERC is co-hosting with the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research, will include panels on transmission investment, technological innovations for consumers, emerging issues for organized power markets, the outlook for the U.S. gas pipeline system, climate change, and the role of states in regulating carbon dioxide emissions.

Scheduled speakers include FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, Energy Storage Association CEO Kelly Speakes-Backman, American Electric Power Co. Inc. CEO Nick Akins, Murray Energy Corp. CEO Bob Murray and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. The 12 panels at the forum will also feature representatives from regional grid operators, environmental groups, universities and consumer advocates.

The event comes as Chatterjee's home state of Kentucky reels from a sharp drop in coal production as U.S. utilities boost reliance on gas- and renewable-based generation. Although FERC rejected a U.S. Department of Energy plan to support at-risk coal-fired and nuclear plants in the name of grid resilience, the commission has continued to examine policies to ease the power sector's fuel mix changes and facilitate the adoption of new and emerging technologies including battery storage and distributed generation.

Trump names Perry replacement at DOE

Tight on the heels of Energy Secretary Rick Perry's announcement that he will step down from the DOE later in 2019, President Donald Trump named U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette as the agency's next leader.

Trump announced the nomination of Brouillette as energy secretary on Oct. 18 via Twitter, calling him a "total professional" whose energy sector experience is "unparalleled."

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DOE Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette, the Trump administration's pick as the next energy secretary.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Brouillette is a former senior vice president and head of public policy for USAA Insurance Group and past vice president at Ford Motor Co., where he managed the automaker's domestic policy teams. He also previously served as chief of staff for the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee and was Assistant Secretary of Energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs under President George W. Bush.

Following weeks of speculation, Perry on Oct. 17 confirmed that he will resign on an undisclosed date later in 2019, ending a more than two-and-half-year run at the top of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"It's with profound emotion and gratitude that I'm announcing my resignation, effective later this year, as your energy secretary," Perry said in a video the DOE posted online. "There's much work to be done in these upcoming weeks, and I remain fully committed to accomplishing the goals that I set out to accomplish at the beginning of my tenure."

Perry said he has pursued a "truly all-of-the-above strategy" regarding U.S. energy during his time at the agency, with the country leading the world in oil and natural gas production and becoming a net gas exporter for the first time in 60 years. He also noted the DOE's development under his leadership of the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response.

In one of his more high-profile moves as energy secretary, Perry also spearheaded a September 2017 DOE proposal aimed at propping up financially struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. FERC ultimately rejected the proposal, saying the DOE did not demonstrate the need for the plan.

Danly nomination sent to Senate

The White House on Oct. 15 formally submitted James Danly's nomination as a FERC member to the Senate, a crucial step in advancing the confirmation process.

But the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which handles FERC nominations, did not include a confirmation hearing on its schedule for the week of Oct. 21. When asked when the panel will consider Danly's nomination, committee spokesperson Tonya Parish on Oct. 18 said only that she would "reach out if I have updates."

The Trump administration's decision to nominate Danly, a Republican, without also announcing a Democratic pick for FERC has angered Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups, who say the move upsets a long history of pairing Republican and Democratic candidates when vacancies exist on the commission for both parties.

ARPA-E reauthorization heads to House floor

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology voted Oct. 17 to advance a bill that would reauthorize the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E.

The bill, H.R. 4091, would provide a significant increase in ARPA-E’s authorization level, starting at $428 million for fiscal year 2020 and rising to $750 million in fiscal year 2024.

"We're pleased to support the reauthorization of ARPA-E, in addition to a substantial funding increase for this flagship program," said Dustin Meyer, the American Petroleum Institute's director of market development. "The U.S. currently leads the world in emissions reductions, and this program ensures that we will continue to introduce new solutions to the world's most pressing energy challenges for decades to come."

Top Senate lawmaker blasts efforts to extend EV tax credit

The head of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to oppose any legislation to extend or expand a federal tax credit for electric vehicle purchases.

In an Oct. 17 letter, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told McConnell the credit "is no longer necessary" and "is being exploited and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more."

Barrasso's letter comes as several congressional lawmakers are pushing to expand eligibility for the credit as some automakers approach their caps for the number of vehicles that can qualify for the incentive.

Currently, consumers who purchase electric vehicles can receive a maximum credit of $7,500, according to the Internal Revenue Service. This credit begins phasing out after an automaker sells 200,000 electric cars. The value of the credit to consumers decreases to 50%, then 25% over the next year before being phased out completely.

Energy left out of partial US-China trade deal

The U.S. and China reached a partial deal on Oct. 11 to pause a portion of their ongoing trade war.

The agreement promised relief to the U.S. agriculture sector and a delay to tariff increases that had been slated to go into effect in the week of Oct. 14. But the partial deal did not extend to energy products, with China earlier this year raising retaliatory tariffs on U.S. LNG to 25%.

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US Congress
Oct. 22

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on U.S. and international energy efficiency efforts.

Oct. 22

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will hold a hearing on "Natural Solutions to Cutting Pollution and Building Resilience."

Oct. 22

The House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation will hold a hearing on emerging cyber threats.

Oct. 23

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing entitled "Examining the Oil Industry's Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change."

Oct. 23

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change will hold a hearing on "Building a 100 Percent Clean Economy: Solutions for Planes, Trains and Everything Beyond Automobiles."

Federal agencies
Oct. 21

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research are co-hosting the EnVision Forum in Lexington, Ky.

Oct. 22

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will host a teleconference to gather public comments to consider for its peer review of the EPA's policy assessment for particulate matter.

Industry events

Oct. 22-23

The American Wind Energy Association will hold its annual Offshore WINDPOWER Conference and Exhibition in Boston.

Oct. 22

The U.S. Department of Energy and ClearPath will host the next Atomic Wings Lunch & Learn series entitled "Versatile Test Reactor: The Importance of Accelerating Nuclear Advanced Fuels and Materials in the United States." The event will take place at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 22

The Atlantic Council will host a discussion at its Washington, D.C., office on "China, Oil & Venezuela - Myths, Reality & Future."

Oct. 22

The Environmental Law Institute will host a forum in Washington, D.C., on "Renewable Energy: Corporate Obstacles & Opportunities."

Oct. 23

The BlueGreen Alliance and think tank Third Way, in partnership with ClimateWorks, will host a one-day summit on "Harnessing Government Purchasing Power to Close the Carbon Loophole." The summit will take place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

Notable stories from last week

FERC opens investigations into ISO-NE, PJM, SPP transmission practices

US Senate defeats effort to repeal new EPA power plant carbon rule

Calif. governor and regulators demand PG&E act to avoid future power disruptions

Disbanded scientists find US EPA's air standard for soot pollution inadequate

FERC orders Mountain Valley Pipeline to cease work after court order

High-profile push against gas infrastructure, exports adds fuel to anti-gas fire