FERC Meeting Emphasizes Work During Lack of Quorum, Grid Reliability

At its first open meeting in eight months, FERC staff and commissioners highlighted the work tackled by staff during the period when FERC was without a quorum. The agenda for the meeting was heavy on electricity issues, including two final rules and a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) involving power grid reliability standards.

Several big-ticket policy and infrastructure items were not on the agenda, and Chairman Neil Chatterjee explained at a press briefing after the meeting that the reason is a combination of commissioners working through the backlog of decisions built up during the six months or so without a quorum and his preference to have a full complement of five commissioners for major decisions.

The policy items include rulemaking proceedings, while a few large natural gas pipelines – such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline, PennEast Pipeline Co., and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC – have their applications pending and are seeking prompt decisions from the Commission.

“We’re prepared to move on some of these major issues,” Chatterjee said at the briefing. But the focus now is getting through the backlog of cases while a full Senate vote on White House nominees Kevin McIntyre and Richard Glick is up in the air.

“FERC speaks loudest when it speaks with one voice,” Chatterjee said in expressing his preference to have five commissioners on board for major rulings. He said he is optimistic that McIntyre and Glick will be approved by the Senate and join FERC soon, adding a caveat that “we can’t suspend the commission’s work while the Senate considers them.” If the Senate vote is delayed too long, FERC could make some rulings on the major issues, he said.

Among the orders approved at the meeting were two final rules and a NOPR (RM17-12) on grid reliability standards. The NOPR seeks comments within 60 days on proposed standards covering system restoration from blackstart resources and the provision of accurate reporting to the North American Electric Reliability Corp. event analysis group for grid events, among other steps.

In broad terms, Chatterjee said FERC staff is working on an analysis of how it may carry out an executive order from the White House calling for the elimination of two unneeded regulations for every new regulation an agency approves. He vowed to ensure FERC’s role as an independent agency while also seeing if there are steps FERC can take to aid the Trump administration’s goals of streamlining the permitting process for infrastructure facilities.

Chatterjee and Commissioner Robert Powelson thanked Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur for leading the Commission during the unprecedented time when it was without a quorum of commissioners to vote on items. LaFleur deflected the praise and credited FERC staff, joking that so much was accomplished during the lack of a quorum she wondered whether commissioners are needed.

In the staff presentation at the meeting, Jette Gebhart of FERC’s Office of Energy Market Regulation (OEMR) described some of the activities accomplished among the various FERC divisions while the Commission was without a quorum. OEMR issued 200 orders under the authority of a 2/3/17 order delegating FERC staff to take actions under certain statutory requirements, with 68 of those orders subject to further action from FERC.

The Office of Energy Projects addressed environmental impact statements for facilities, responded to the Oroville Spillway incident at a hydropower dam in California, and performed more than 1,300 inspections of hydropower projects and natural gas pipelines, Gebhart said.

The Office of Energy Infrastructure Security, which was praised by Powelson for its work on cyber threats to the power grid, provided seven threat briefings to various federal and state agencies, and participated in cyber and physical security exercises, she noted.

With the Commission meetings resuming after it regained a quorum, the practice of protestors also resumed, with a demonstration and speeches outside the FERC building before the meeting and an interruption during the meeting before several individuals opposed to FERC’s approval of pipelines were escorted out of the meeting room by security.

When asked about the protestors during the press briefing, Chatterjee said one of the great things about the United States is the freedom of expression. He added, however, that FERC regulations have a process where voices can be heard without the meeting interruptions, and he stressed that FERC does not promote pipeline projects, it evaluates applications that are filed with the Commission.

New faces at the meeting room table were introduced, in the offices of the chairman and commissioners and at senior positions where some changes have taken place. Those included new Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese, new General Counsel James Danly, and OEMR Director Anna Cochrane.

David Morenoff, who served as general counsel during the lack of a quorum and previously served as acting general counsel and general counsel in other stints during his service, has resumed duties as deputy general counsel. He was singled out by LaFleur and received the chairman’s executive leadership award during the meeting.

By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com

 

This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3166, issued September 22, 2017

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