Former PSC Chief-turned FERC Commissioner says Clean Power Plan stakeholders should remain engaged

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 136 views 

Former Arkansas Public Service Commission chair Colette Honorable, now a member of the powerful Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said Wednesday that federal energy regulators are still holding meetings with stakeholder groups involved in the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Honorable said those meetings are taking place despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Feb. 9 stay of the president’s landmark climate change regulations blocking the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by shutting down most of the nation’s coal-fired power plant fleet.

“It’s a stay, not a ruling on the ultimate merits of the case,” Honorable said in a brief speech at the monthly meeting of the state chapter of the America Association of Blacks in Energy, held at the Whole Hog Café in downtown Little Rock.

After the meeting, Honorable further explained to Talk Business & Politics that FERC commissioners have directed the federal agency’s staff to continue holding informal meetings and conversations with stakeholder groups across the U.S. well before the high’s court controversial ruling earlier this year.

“It may be having a conference call with people, or an in-person or electronic meeting, to hear from (stakeholders) any work that they are doing right now,” Honorable said. “We determined that we needed to go ahead and engage with stakeholders to hear where they are and what they are working on.”

The Arkansas native said the gathering of that information will be useful for “if and when the stay is lifted, or if and when the plan is upheld.”

Honorable did not specifically mention the fact the state Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and Arkansas Public Service Commission’s (PSC) on March 8 to halt ongoing stakeholder meetings to decide how Arkansas would comply with the federal mandate. However, she did say she believed that stakeholders should remain engaged in the process.

“I have been saying that it is certainly up to each and every state whether they continue to work or not … (but) that is within each state’s purview and I wouldn’t at all suggest that a state is being unreasonable as we wait to hear from the courts,” said the FERC Commissioner. “It is up to the court to interpret the law and determine the legality of the (Clean Power Plan), but the caveat that I lend there it is important to be prepared to act in the event that the plan is upheld.”

Honorable also commended the work ADEQ Director Becky Keogh and PSC Chair Ted Thomas, saying they have the difficult job of navigating the politically-sensitive debate surrounding the president’s landmark climate change regulations.

The FERC regulator said she is also glad to see the two state regulatory agencies will continue to assess and evaluate energy sector modeling on the Clean Power Plan so the state will be prepared for all possible outcomes on the high court’s ruling.

Legal analysts say the 5-4 decision to temporarily hold the EPA plan is the first time the nation’s highest court has prevented a federal regulation from taking place before a lower court had a chance to render a final decision.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia, who voted for the stay, has some supporters of the Clean Power Plan hopeful the high court will now uphold the EPA mandate once the lower court issues a final ruling.

The D.C. Circuit is expected to issue a decision on the Clean Power Plan this fall, which would put the rule in front of the Supreme Court in spring 2017. Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate have said they will not confirm a new justice before Obama leaves office in January.

Honorable, an Obama appointee, said the five-person FERC panel has attempted to remain nonpartisan concerning the president’s controversial “dirty air” rules and other issues that come before the powerful regulatory group.

In other comments to the audience of nearly 50 people, Honorable told members of the AABE to stay engaged in policymaking and the regulatory side of the energy industry. The former PSC chief, who was named to the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2014, said it was important for the energy sector to have the same diversity as the communities they serve in.

“I am proud of the importance that diversity plays in the energy industry,” she said. “It should reflect the communities we serve. That is when we do our jobs best.”