On March 20, 2012, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources held a hearing to consider the nominations of four individuals: Adam Sieminski, to be the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration, Marcilynn Burke to be an Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Anthony Clark to be a member of FERC, and John Norris to be a member of FERC. All four nominees appeared on a panel together, and gave short opening statements before the Committee. The nominees then answered questions from various Senators.
In opening remarks, Chairman of the Committee Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), stated that he supported all four nominations. Ranking Member of the Committee Senator Lisa Murkowski (R- AK) stated that she had not yet made up her mind on these nominees and still had issues outstanding concerning electric reliability and environmental regulations.
Commissioner Norris and nominee Clark answered questions from Senators on a variety of topics: FERC transmission siting authority, LNG terminals; and the cumulative impact of the EPA regulations. Overall, Commissioner Norris and nominee Clark moved through the hearing with little difficulty.
Senator Bingaman opened questions to the nominees and asked the FERC nominees if it would be advisable to grant FERC additional transmission siting authority. Commissioner Norris stated that there was not a need to change the law yet, and noted that the biggest hurdle to transmission development has been the inability to reach consensus on cost allocation. In response to the same question, nominee Clark responded that he supports federal back-stop authority, but also recognized the importance of state and local participation in siting and the value of local contact.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) questioned the FERC nominees on issues concerning LNG terminals and whether FERC has an obligation to make a finding that an export terminal is in the public interest. Commissioner Norris noted that the Commission currently has a matter before it on rehearing but he generally commented that export policy nationally is outdated and that the policy must be examined. Nominee Clark indicated his limited exposure to the LNG terminal issue; however he noted he would bring a “fresh set of eyes” to the issues surrounding a public interest standard determination.
Outside LNG and siting issues, two Senators on the panel focused on the cumulative impact of the EPA regulations. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) asked Commissioner Norris if he discussed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard Rule with anyone in the Administration. Senator Murkowski expressed concern regarding the adequacy of tools in place to deal with reliability concerns from the impact of EPA regulations. Senator Murkowski asked Commissioner Norris if he agreed that the cumulative impact of EPA’s regulations has the potential to be “quite serious” in terms of reliability. Commissioner Norris stated that the regulations do impact reliability, but at this time, he thinks there are sufficient tools in place to address the reliability of the grid. Senator Murkowski asked Commissioner Norris if he stands by his statement that “reliability of the electric grid can be maintained as compliance with the EPA’s regulations is achieved” given the recent announcements of retirements. Commissioner Norris responded that “we have the tools in place” and that localized reliability issues are a concern, but there are processes in place to deal with these issues.
Senator Bingaman concluded the hearing by thanking the nominees and stating that the Committee would try to move forward with their nominations “sometime in the near future.”
Copies of Commissioner Norris’ and Nominee Clark’s prepared testimony are available on the Committee’s website and here.