FERC Commissioner predicts federal climate legislation at least 3 years away

FERC Commissioner predicts federal climate legislation at least 3 years away

June 8, 2008 11:24

BALTIMORE – As the U.S. Senate was voting Friday to defeat the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner legislation intended to combat global climate change, a federal energy regulator was telling a group of leading environmental lawyers assembled at a climate change conference here that he thinks it will be at least the year 2011 before the Congress passes, and the next president signs into law, a federal climate change bill.

The prediction of the Hon. Philip D. Moeller, one of five commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), surprised the environmental lawyers in attendance.  While many public policy and climate change experts and commentators have been predicting for months that climate change legislation will not pass this year especially during the presidential election season, forecasters have been predicting that such legislation would pass in 2009 after the next president’s administration settles in and the next Congress gets to work on the new president’s agenda.

That’s why Moeller’s observation seemed so surprising to those attending Friday’s conference of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Environmental Law, a policy-oriented group of leading environmental lawyers that holds a national conference each Spring on a major environmental issue confronting the nation.

“Even after the election,” Moeller explained, “Energy policy is still a regional issue in this country.”  He said that the issues presented in climate legislation will require a hard debate and it will be very difficult to resolve the regional issues and the “electricity industry is split on the issues” depending on the fuel sources used to generate electricity. 

Coal-burning power plant owners, he said, oppose climate legislation that imposes carbon dioxide emission limits especially if emissions allowances are to be auctioned off instead of given directly to incumbent power plant operators.  Nuclear power plant operators, however, tend to favor climate legislation, Moeller noted.  Therefore, he summarized, it will be very hard for the competing interests to reach legislative consensus anytime soon.

Moeller said that he wants his agency to focus on what FERC can do to address climate change absent a federal bill on the issue.  He discussed the increasing emphasis on renewable energy resources and the need for expanded electric transmission facilities and flexible transmission rate structures that, for example, help connect new wind generation installed in windy rural areas with load centers in urban and suburban areas.

“We can improve certainty for renewable resources to get onto the grid,” Moeller said, explaining that FERC understands the need for ratemaking approaches that are attractive to electric facility investors, especially be helping to take away the uncertainty to ensure rate recovery of expensive investments in electric transmission infrastructure. 

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