The U.S. government lies dormant on this 10th day of a partial government shutdown, paralyzed by lawmakers’ failure to agree on a continuing resolution that would fund the government for FY 2014. President Obama, who has been on the fringe of the fight, met yesterday with Republican and Democratic Representatives and will with meet today with their Senate colleagues in an attempt to intervene. Republican leaders, having conditioned their support for a spending bill on gutting funding for Obamacare, yesterday signaled a willingness to compromise. One stage over, the clock is ticking for lawmakers to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and keep the government paying its bills. There were reports early Thursday that House Republicans may be open to a short-term debt limit increase with no added policy changes.
Meanwhile, the shutdown is having real impact across the energy industry, including advanced energy. The Environmental Protection Agency has postponed the first two public listening sessions around its regulation of greenhouse gases from existing power plants. Any delays risk the agency overshooting its June 2014 deadline to issue proposed emissions guidelines, as well as promulgate a final standard for GHG emissions from new power plants. With most EPA employees sent home, not only are federal rulemakings on hold, but also the activities of state and local counterparts which depend on EPA for guidance and, in many cases, direct funding.
Key federal agencies have also put the brakes on permitting for oil and gas leasing and renewable energy. Several southwestern US solar projects might have to temper aggressive timelines with the closure of regional Bureau of Land Management offices. BLM also cancelled an October 16 auction of oil and gas leases in New Mexico. The effects of the shutdown on oil and gas companies and contractors have been small but will compound over time, according to analysts and industry representatives. With potential impacts on the power sector, carryover funds at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission are running out, meaning furlough for thousands of workers and a halt to many important, if not technically “critical,” activities. Business groups across the political spectrum are saying enough is enough.
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Unrelated to the shutdown but equally up in the air is the FERC chairmanship. The Administration's nominee, Ron Binz, withdrew his name from consideration for the post last Monday after one of the most bitter and highly publicized FERC confirmation battles in recent memory. Critics rose up to tag Binz as anti-coal and unfitting of a quasi-judicial role. Many groups, including AEE, countered these claims, pointing to Binz’s record of moderation and even-handedness as a state regulator in Colorado. The White House will be looking to reset the scales when floating the next nominee, with E&E reporting that Colette Honorable, chairwoman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, is a possible frontrunner, and that current FERC commissioners Cheryl Lafleur and John Norris are also potential candidates for the chairman’s seat.
Considering the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill was stalled by partisan politics even before the shutdown, it’s no surprise that there has been little progress in the last two weeks. Politico did pick up on a meeting held by Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to discuss a path forward. Portman and Murkowski were joined by Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). The group is reportedly committed to pushing for passage of the bill.News also broke this week that another top administration post will open up with the departure of Heather Zichal, who has been the President’s chief energy and climate advisor since 2011.