Washington — Public Citizen is calling on the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to release any information it gave to the Department of Energy on which power plants are needed to keep hospitals running, arguing that such consideration could expand the scope of DOE's efforts to save coal and nuclear plants.
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"We are talking about the biggest proposed reform of electric power markets in history, and FERC has acknowledged that they are providing their support behind closed doors," Tyson Slocum, the energy program director at Public Citizen, said in an interview Monday.
The move comes after FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese reportedly said FERC is working with the Department of Defense, DOE and the National Security Council to identify the plants that are critical to ensuring that military bases, hospitals and other critical infrastructure can maintain operations in a disaster.
A memo leaked earlier this year shows DOE is considering using emergency authorities under Section 202 (c) of the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act to address baseload retirements and fuel security issues. The memo contended that resources with secure on-site fuel supplies "are essential to support the nation's defense facilities, critical energy infrastructure and other critical infrastructure."
UNIVERSE OF FACILITIES
But the consideration on hospitals is a new revelation, Slocum argued. "That's massive. You start adding civilian hospitals to the assessment, it vastly expands the universe of facilities that can fit into their analysis," he said. Since hospitals are scattered geographically, it could be easier for DOE to come to a "preconceived conclusion" to use national security to justify intervening in the markets, he claimed.
Regarding Pugliese's comments, "the Chief of Staff was simply stating that the federal government is working to ensure that important critical infrastructure, like hospitals, remains operational," according to FERC spokesman Craig Cano. "FERC is an independent agency and therefore has not assisted in the development of policy but provides technical assistance as subject matter experts," Cano said.
Public Citizen now alleges this statement confirms that FERC is engaged in non-public efforts to help with DOE's plan to prevent coal and nuclear plants from retiring. And while FERC says it is not assisting in the development of policy, providing technical assistant could help with implementation and promotion of policy, Slocum said.
"The confirmation that civilian facilities such as hospitals -- of which there are more than 5,500 across the United States -- are now part of commission assessment around national security justifications for bailouts raises considerable concern about the potential scope of these interventionist efforts," Public Citizen said in its filing (AD18-11). FERC should publicly disclose in a docketed filing all of its activities related to coordinating with DOE, DOD and the NSC on the issue of grid resilience, the group argued.
But William Scherman, a former general counsel at FERC and partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, backed the commission's potential coordination with DOE. "It is perfectly appropriate and lawful for FERC staff to respond to a request for information from other parts of the government, especially where national security issues are implicated and FERC is responding within its expertise," he said. "Indeed, it would be odd for FERC to be doing anything else," said Scherman, who has represented FirstEnergy, a proponent of the Trump administration's grid security efforts.
FERC declined to comment on Public Citizen's filing.
--Kate Winston, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Christopher Newkumet, email@example.com