On September 19, 2011, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) wrote a letter to Federal Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or the “Commission”) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff requesting that he clarify the Commission’s plans to address threats to the nation’s bulk power system as a result of the pending Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) regulations.  Senator Murkowski’s September 19th letter builds upon the issues identified in her May 17, 2011 letter, and addresses the August 1, 2011 response of Chairman Wellinghoff.

In her September 19th letter, Senator Murkowski states that FERC has not gone beyond an October 2010 recommendation by reliability staff to undertake or request further analysis of reliability impacts.  Senator Murkowski requests that the Commission work with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) to complete a six month formal process to address “vital reliability issues in a fair and transparent manner.”  Chairman Wellinghoff’s recent testimony before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power did not provide Senator Murkowski with information concerning how and when “tools” will be used by regulators to protect reliability when faced with retirement of electric generating capacity (see September 16, 2011 edition of the WER).  Senator Murkowski was “taken aback” by Chairman Wellinghoff’s “acknowledgment that, despite Staff’s projection that EPA’s current regulatory agenda would likely cause the widespread retirement of electric generating capacity, the Commission apparently has neither undertaken nor ordered any further study.”

Senator Murkowski points to the recent outage in San Diego, and the new joint inquiry by FERC and NERC and states “surely the cumulative impact of the EPA rulemaking agenda generally, or specifically Utility MACT or Cross State Air Pollution rules deserve no less attention from the Commission and the ERO.”  A past inquiry into service disruptions in Texas and the Southwest during the winter of 2011 brought about a comprehensive report in just six months, which Senator Murkowski cites in support of her requests for additional analysis.  The “wait and see” approach is “contrary to one of the Commission’s central obligations,” according to Senator Murkowski, and as such, she requests a reply to a series of questions by September 30, 2011. 

A copy of Senator Murkowski’s letter is available here.