Legislative Announcements

Senate Confirms FERC Nominees

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

The Senate has confirmed President Joe Biden’s three nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The confirmed nominees are Democrat David Rosner, a FERC staffer who was detailed to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Democrat Judy Chang, former undersecretary of energy and climate for Massachusetts; and Republican Lindsay See, solicitor general for West Virginia. On June 12, the Senate confirmed Rosner by a vote of 68-26 and See by a vote of 83-12. Rosner’s term is set to run through June 30, 2027, and See’s term expires June 30, 2028. Chang’s nomination was confirmed the following day, June 13, by a vote of 63-33. Chang’s term will run through June 30, 2029. Now all three nominees are confirmed, FERC has its full panel of five commissioners for the first time in months, with FERC Chair Willie Phillips leading the commission with a 3-2 split favoring Democrats.

Department of Transportation Releases Final Corporate Average Fuel Economy Rule

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 7, the Department of Transportation released its final Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule. The rule mandates new vehicle fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles, SUVs, light trucks, and heavy trucks. It also requires carmakers to meet a fleetwide average of about 50 miles per gallon by 2031—down from the proposed rule’s standard of nearly 58 mpg by 2032.

DOT officials were reportedly swayed by carmakers’ arguments that the more stringent standards in the proposed rule would be too challenging to comply with considering the amount carmakers are spending to develop electric vehicles. The CAFE rules complement recent rules finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency on tailpipes and by the Department of Energy on how electric vehicles are counted toward the CAFE standard. The rule received mixed reactions from environmental groups, some of whom had hoped for a more stringent standard. The rule is expected to face challenges from congressional Republicans and Republican-controlled states as they push back on the administration’s EV adoption policies.

Department of Energy Announces Grant Agreements for Nuclear Fusion Pilot Plants

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 6, the Department of Energy announced grant agreements had been reached with eight fusion technology companies in the first round of awards under the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program. The companies will share an initial $46 million award to support competing campaigns to develop pilot plants demonstrating the commercial viability of fusion reactors to produce carbon-free power. DOE also announced a new $180 million funding opportunity, the Fusion Innovation Research Engine, aimed at forming information hubs to bridge the gap between laboratory breakthroughs and commercial fusion development, as well as to bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains.

DOE made the announcements at a White House conference on the administration’s commitment to developing fusion power. The announcements come amid a bipartisan swell of support for boosting nuclear energy in the U.S.

Multiple Organizations Challenge FERC Order 1920 on Transmission

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 12, several organizations and trade associations filed challenges to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 1920 on long-term regional transmission planning and cost allocation. In the challenge, a group of state regulators—including the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; Virginia’s attorney general; and Montana and Wyoming public service commissions—argued the order would socialize costs associated with a state’s policy decision that mandate adoption of renewable resources.

The challenge calls for the elimination of a provision that would charge consumers for costs incurred during the lengthy lead times for new transmission projects and seeks additional ratepayer protections in cost allocation negotiations, among other things. The American Public Power Association has also sought a rehearing, specifically on the commission’s exclusion of public power from the definition of “relevant state entities” that are required under the order to participate in regional transmission planning processes and cost allocation methodology negotiations. APPA is urging the commission to broaden its definition to include any municipal entity responsible for electric utility regulation or siting electric transmission facilities.

House Rules Committee Advances FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 11, the House Rules Committee advanced the House version of the FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act to begin floor debate on 350 of over 1,300 proposed amendments to the legislation.

Several energy- and environmental-related amendments were advanced. Among other things, these included measures to exempt “defense-related activities” from Endangered Species Act compliance; require the Department of Defense to consult with the Department of the Interior on environmental reviews for projects that would increase critical mineral availability; prohibit defense funds from being used for EVs or EV infrastructure; and block the implementation of various Biden administration executive orders on climate change.

The House is set to vote on the amendments as well as the full FY 2025 NDAA this week. The Senate will mark up its own version of the FY25 NDAA this week and will vote on the full bill this summer. The two chambers will likely conference their respective bills, with lawmakers hoping to reach a compromise before the end of the year.

Senate Republicans Release Proposed Farm Bill Framework

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 11, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) released his Farm Bill framework. The bill sets up a clash with Senate Democrats for its proposal to reallocate billions in Inflation Reduction Act conservation program funds while removing requirements targeting climate change.

Of interest to electric utilities, the framework includes proposals to increase Rural Energy for America program funding. It boosts the federal cost share to 50% and increases the eligible project size to $50 million; adds categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act for forest projects that reduce potential wildfire fuel (e.g., vegetation management in electric utility rights of way); and limits the Secretary of Agriculture’s discretion over the Commodity Credit Corporation, which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has used to fund programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who released her framework in May but has yet to release bill text, criticized some of the cuts proposed in Boozman’s framework. However, she stated his proposal was a “welcome development” in putting ideas to paper as negotiations continue.

House Agriculture Subcommittee Approves Its FY 2025 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On June 11, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of the FY 2025 agriculture appropriations bill, as the House continues efforts to pass its version of each appropriations bill before the August recess.

The spending bill, sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Andy Harris (R-Md.), funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies. It includes modest cuts from current year funding compared to steeper cuts last year. Republicans estimate the proposed cuts will amount to as little as a 1.4% reduction in spending, while Democrats estimate a 4% reduction, depending on each side’s reading of the bill.

Regarding energy and environmental issues, the bill would reduce the Natural Resources Conservation Service budget by $11.9 million, cut funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (the USDA’s main research grant program) by $5 million, and reject the Biden administration’s request for the USDA’s climate hubs program.

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