Senators, FERC Cast Doubt on Trump Coal and Nuclear Bailout Plans

Jun 15, 2018

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to conduct oversight of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this week. For the first time in almost a decade, all five FERC commissioners – Chairman Kevin McIntyre, Cheryl LaFleur, Neil Chatterjee, Robert Powelson, and Richard Glick – testified before the committee.

Committee Chairman Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) opened the hearing noting that there have been a number of significant changes in the energy sector since the last time the full Commission was before the committee, citing the shale gas revolution, the increasing role of renewables, and advances in energy storage innovation. Murkowski also highlighted the need for robust energy infrastructure. 

Questions surrounding the retirements of nuclear and coal-fueled electric generation were prominent in the hearing. Commenting on the President’s proposal to force grid operators to purchase electricity from coal and nuclear plants in order to address what the White House calls a national security threat to the stability of the electric grid, Murkowski offered that, “In my view, FERC should be pointing the way on policy improvements that address grid vulnerabilities, while reaffirming our commitment to competition in wholesale power markets. I have been concerned about this issue for years now, and find it unfortunate that prior Commissions did not lead more effectively.”  Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was more direct, noting that she viewed the President’s directives as an attack on the independence of FERC and a private sector led energy sector itself. 

In January, FERC unanimously rejected DOE’s initial proposed rule which would have provided special support for coal and nuclear power plants. Asked by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) whether they believed the U.S. faced a national security emergency in wholesale power markets because of the closures of coal and nuclear plants, none of the FERC Commissioners answered in the affirmative; four of the five members were appointed by President Trump. 

To view full witness testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing, visit:  https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/hearings-and-business-meetings?ID=4B7691CA-CA57-4742-B756-43897ABF55BE