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Washington Week: McIntyre absences raise questions at FERC

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Kevin McIntyre's absence from another FERC monthly meeting has raised questions about whether his health issues could result in a leadership change at the agency.

McIntyre, who was sworn in to lead FERC in December 2017, did not attend the commission's latest monthly meeting Oct. 18 or vote on any items on the meeting's consent agenda. In their opening remarks, McIntyre's fellow commissioners sent him wishes for a quick recovery but did not give details on the chairman's absence. McIntyre also did not attend the agency's prior monthly meeting Sept. 20 although he did have his vote recorded on all agenda items for which he was eligible to participate.

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FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre.

Source: FERC

In March, McIntyre revealed that he had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor the previous summer. He also has suffered recently from compression fractures in two of his vertebrae and an arm injury related to a fall around the Independence Day holiday that prompted him to take time off after FERC's July 19 monthly meeting.

McIntyre's absence at the October monthly meeting spurred speculation that FERC might provide an update on the commission's leadership late last week, but the agency has yet to do so.

Despite the chairman's health challenges, FERC has made moves lately on some weighty power market issues. The commission on Oct. 16 proposed a new methodology for determining the appropriate rate of return on equity for transmission owners in New England, and comments made by Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur during the agency's Oct. 18 meeting suggested that the policy could be applied beyond that region.

And the PJM Interconnection recently submitted a proposal to FERC on how it could mitigate the impacts of state-subsidized resources on its capacity market. The filing came after the commission rejected two prior proposals from PJM on the issue and directed the grid operator to adopt several changes to its capacity market, including requiring nearly all energy resources in the region to submit capacity bids that do not reflect cost savings from subsidies such as zero-emissions credits.

Supreme Court places climate suit on hold

On Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted trial proceedings in a lawsuit brought by a group of youths who want the government to do more on climate change.

The order stayed discovery and trial proceedings that were set to begin Oct. 29 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division.

If a federal court ultimately rules that the government must take action on climate change, it could have wide-reaching implications for U.S. energy policy, particularly as the Trump administration moves to unwind existing climate regulations.

Trump touts big savings from rule cuts

The Trump administration said it has far exceeded its goal of cutting two regulations for every new one the federal government creates and "will continue its bold reforms to roll back burdensome red tape" in fiscal year 2019.

The administration rolled out federal agencies' fall regulatory agendas Oct. 17. Alongside the release, the White House said President Donald Trump's regulatory agenda saved the economy over $23 billion in fiscal year 2018 through 176 deregulatory actions, eliminating 12 rules for every new one. More savings could be coming, the White House said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that it expects to issue its final Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE, rule in March 2019. The proposed rule aims to cut power sector carbon dioxide emissions by requiring states to form their own programs for improving the efficiency of existing coal-fired plants. The regulation would replace the Obama administration's more expansive Clean Power Plan, which the U.S. Supreme Court stayed in February 2016.

The White House said the ACE rule would reduce compliance costs by up to $6.4 billion compared with the Clean Power Plan, assuming a 4.5% coal unit heat rate improvement at $50/kW. But if the cost of heat rate improvements under the ACE rule is higher, the new rule could end up being up to $3.0 billion more expensive than the Clean Power Plan, according to the EPA's own internal analysis of the proposal.

Turning to other EPA regulations, the agency plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in November on its reconsideration of the Obama administration's "appropriate and necessary" finding for the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. Although U.S. utilities already have largely complied with the rule, the EPA is reconsidering how the prior administration calculated the MATS rule's "co-benefits" associated with reducing fine particular matter emissions, which accounted for much of the regulation's total benefits.

The U.S. Department of Interior also has some energy-focused rules in the pipeline. The Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement expects to finalize a rule in December simplifying blowout preventer regulations for offshore oil and gas rigs. The department also is planning to release a notice of proposed rulemaking in early 2019 on exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea Planning Areas on the Outer Continental Shelf of Alaska.

Election fever rises

With the U.S. Congress adjourned until mid-November, lawmakers have turned their attention to the upcoming Nov. 6 midterm elections.

The midterms could be particularly pivotal for the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats have a strong chance of winning control from the GOP. If Democrats reclaim the House, they could conduct greater oversight of the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda, pipeline safety and other big policy matters for the energy industry.

House Democrats also may make a push to introduce infrastructure legislation that could include support for grid modernization and clean energy development.

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Industry events

Oct. 22

Exelon Corp. CEO Chris Crane will speak at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on "The new dynamics of global energy and climate."

Oct. 23-25

The Shale Insight 2018 conference will take place in Pittsburgh.

Oct. 24

The Natural Gas Roundtable will host a panel discussion on the 2018 midterm elections at the American Gas Association's office in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 25

The Inter-American Dialogue will host its second annual Latin America Energy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Oct. 25

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies will hold a forum on the release of the International Energy Agency's "Renewables 2018" market report.

Other notable stories from last week

FERC approves supply chain reliability standards, directs work on remaining risk

Conflicting outlooks emerge on action to save at-risk US coal, nuclear plants

Trump says climate change not a hoax, economic adviser downplays climate report

Proposal to export gas, coal from US military bases faces major obstacles

Interior aims to finalize new endangered species rules in November

Coal industry PACs raise $2.8M in 2017-18 cycle, boost GOP candidates