Legislative Announcements

President Biden Takes Office, Announces Executive Actions

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Shortly before he was inaugurated, the Biden administration released a list of executive actions that it plans to implement on the first day in office. The executive orders focus on changing the course of pandemic response, extending economic relief, advancing racial equity and underserved communities, and reversing Trump-era immigration policies.

Specific to energy and environment, the executive orders set in motion:

  • Revoking the presidential permit of the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Revising emissions standards for cars, methane, and appliances.
  • Pausing oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Re-establishing the working group on the social cost of carbon.
  • Directing agency heads to review 104 environment and energy rules put in place by the Trump administration, including revisions to the Endangered Species Act Section 4 designating critical habitat and regulating listed species, the definition of habitat, and critical habitat 4(b)(2) exclusions.

 


D.C. Circuit Vacates Affordable Clean Energy Rule

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 19, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded to the Environmental Protection Agency its Affordable Clean Energy rule, which called on states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by requiring only improvements inside the fence line at the plant itself. EPA’s reversal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have required fuel switching and was itself the subject of a lawsuit before being withdrawn by the Trump administration, rested on an improper reading of the Clean Air Act, the court said. EPA had based the ACE rule on its interpretation that the Act required it to regulate inside the fence line exclusively. The court also ruled that the extended compliance timeline was arbitrary and capricious. While the ruling gives the incoming administration additional leeway to issue more stringent regulations, a partial dissent from one of the judges would have instead struck down the rule because Sec. 112 of the Act precludes regulation of power plants under Sec. 111, which may provide fodder for legal challenges to a future rule.


FERC Nixes Final Orders, Biden Selects Glick as Chairman

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission held its monthly meeting on January 19, the final meeting under Chairman James Danly before President Biden took office. The meeting also marked the first appearance of newly sworn in Commissioner Mark Christie. The agenda initially included action on the agency’s transmission incentives and a complaint requesting buyer-side mitigation in New York’s capacity market, but those items were stricken without explanation. In addition, actions on expansion of the minimum offer price rule (MOPR) in PJM Interconnection, categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and several natural gas dockets also failed due to lack of support. The Commission approved the bulk of proposed changes to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s rules of procedure with some additional requests, as well as several other items.

On January 21, President Biden designated Commissioner Richard Glick to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in one of his first moves in office. Glick has been a FERC commissioner since 2017, when he was appointed by President Trump. He has historically opposed minimum offer price rules and has even suggested that capacity markets on the whole need to be restructured. He is also a proponent of improving transmission incentives and building out the grid.


Senate Committees Hold Confirmation Hearings

Update provided by Meguire Whitney

On January 19, several Senate committees held hearings on Cabinet-level nominees to the incoming Biden administration. The nominees included Avril Haines for director of National Intelligence, Lloyd Austin for secretary of Defense, Alejandro Mayorkas for secretary of Homeland Security, and Janet Yellen for secretary of Treasury. Haines was confirmed by a broad bipartisan majority on January 20; Yellen’s nomination is anticipated to be taken up on the Senate floor shortly.

Austin’s hearing proved slightly more complex, as critics on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns over his background, particularly the fact that he has not been out of the military for the standard seven years typically required to hold this position. Because of this, a waiver will need to be passed along with the nomination, a move Senate Armed Services Committee Incoming Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) publicly supports. Tensions arose in Mayorkas’ hearing as well, with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announcing that he would block swift action on this confirmation over concerns with the Biden administration’s immigration policy. Biden has urged the Homeland Security Committee to pass this nomination through to the Senate floor quickly, citing the importance of having a DHS secretary in office on his first day. Pete Buttigieg, former presidential candidate and nominee for secretary of Transportation, also testified at a confirmation hearing on January 21.


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