DC UPDATE: EPA Floats Power Plant Rule; Shaheen-Portman Bumped

Posted by Christian Termyn on Sep 25, 2013 3:12:00 PM

Flag_Shaheen_PortmanCongress fails again to act on bipartisan energy legislation and puts a promising White House nominee in limbo. Meanwhile, the Administration takes a big step toward greenhouse gas emissions limits for the power sector.

In the Agencies

The news of the week has been the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed emissions standard for new power plants, referred to as the New Source Performance Standard under the Clean Air Act. The Agency issued a much-anticipated new version of the proposed rule on Friday reflecting several major changes from its original proposal issued March 2012. Whereas the original version set a 1,100 lb/MWh cap on carbon dioxide emissions from all generators regardless of technology, the new proposal differentiates between “source categories,” now applying a 1,000 lb/MWh standard to most natural gas plants and keeping the standard for coal at 1,100 lb/MWh.

The implication is still that any new coal plant would need to employ carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology to achieve compliance. This has generated an outcry from pockets of industry and their allies among lawmakers, who accuse EPA of waging a “war on coal” and complain that the agency can’t apply a standard that depends on unproven technology. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, with the backing of Energy Secretary Moniz, has refuted concerns about the viability of CCS technologies and insisted that EPA’s rule will “provide certainty for the future of new coal.”

EPA’s revised proposal kicks off a new public comment period in advance of the expected June 2014 release of a final standard. The agency will also begin work on a carbon emissions standard for existing sources, expected June 2014 as well. McCarthy has indicated that stakeholders shouldn’t look too closely at the new source standard for hints of what’s coming for existing sources. Namely, while the agency sees CCS as an “effective as a tool to reduce emissions when it is designed with the facility itself… it is not seen, at least at this stage, as an add-on that could be used to put on an existing unconventional coal facility.”

On the Hill

The movement on the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill we reported in our last update was short lived. All told, the bill received about a day’s worth of debate on the Senate floor before foundering among Republican requests for votes on several non-germane amendments. Majority Leader Reid even agreed to a vote on Sen. Vitter’s (R-LA) Obamacare amendment despite calling such an extraneous vote “senseless.” Reid offered a path forward before threatening to pull the bill if Senators didn’t back down from unrelated amendments. At this point, the Senate has turned its focus to funding issues in order to prevent a government shutdown, with no sign of when we might see Shaheen-Portman again.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee also considered the nomination of Ron Binz for the FERC chairmanship in a hearing on Tuesday of last week, with AEE weighing in with a letter supporting the nomination signed by more than 50 advanced energy companies and state partner organizations. Unfortunately, from lawmakers’ statements following the hearing, the Binz nomination is in trouble. A chorus of opposition from committee members has included several moderate voices on energy issues, originally expected to be open to supporting the nomination: Republican Senators Rob Portman (OH), Lamar Alexander (TN), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Democrat Joe Manchin (WV). The Democrats have a two-vote majority in the Committee, meaning Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) could have the deciding vote. Binz continues to have the support of the White House as well as Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who said that “he continues to feel Mr. Binz’s years of service in Colorado and views on respecting FERC’s role make him well-qualified to serve on the commission.” As of today, a committee vote has not been scheduled.

The reasons for opposition are varied, but mostly Binz is accused of demonizing coal and even natural gas. These claims are baseless. We stand by our letter, which cites Binz’s moderation as a regulator and energy expert, and praises his leadership on advanced energy legislation that gained broad support from energy companies, NGOs and the state’s major utility. He oversaw regulations for a smooth transition to a more efficient energy system with more diverse energy technologies, while minimizing rate impacts to consumers - which makes him fully qualified to lead FERC.

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Topics: Federal Policy Update