FERC’s LaFleur, U.S. Rep. Shuster discuss federal outlook for regulation, infrastructure

Published on February 15, 2017 by Debra Flax

Cheryl LaFleur

Cheryl LaFleur, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said on Tuesday her top regulatory priorities continue to be facilitating reliability and grid security, transmission, and building a diverse energy mix.

Speaking at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) winter conference in Washington, D.C. this week, LaFleur urged the appointment of FERC commissioners to fill three vacancies the committee is trying to work around. She also said that returning to a full five-member commission would help continue the necessary communication and cooperation between government agencies.

“The top priority is to keep all the important work of the 1,300 people or so that work for the agency moving forward during a time of uncertainty and transition,” LaFleur said. “That’s even more true now, because I think the transition and uncertainty is heightened as we wait for who is going to be in the future of FERC. But the work that we do has to move forward.”

President Donald Trump named LaFleur acting chairman last month, and former chairman Norman Bay announced his resignation.

To help address FERC’s critical issue of how the wholesale competitive markets can adjust or adapt to various state initiatives to choose resources, LaFleur said she is working to organize a staff-led tech conference. The goal will be to bring people in before the committee, hearing from the states, the environmental community, the generators and others to discuss those issues.

LaFleur said cooperation with other government agencies that have oversight of various aspects of the energy market will be key.

“When the new people are sworn in, I look forward to meeting them and continuing that relationship,” LaFleur said. “I think we have to have a relationship with PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration), the Environmental Protection Agency, with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, because they all regulate aspects of the same thing we regulate. Just like we need to have a relationship with state regulators. Government is complicated so we all have to work together in that relationship.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also addressed the NARUC meeting and praised Trump for his focus on the need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Shuster, who has been on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 2001, said a functional infrastructure was the backbone of the economy in allowing people and resources to move across the country safely and efficiently.

“Our committee, in the last several years, became somewhat partisan,” Shuster said. “But when it comes to infrastructure there’s not Republican roads and Democrat bridges or Republican pipelines and Democrat pipelines, they’re American. This is American infrastructure. It’s something we can and should all come together on.”

A major point Shuster made was the committee’s success in passage last year of the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act, which had recently seen pushback during the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Pipelines are extremely safe,” Shuster said. “It is the safest way to move energy products and hazardous materials. You’ve got some people out in the world that just want to fight us on it and all of us just need to be aware that this is an extremely safe mode of transportation.”

The United States has the largest pipeline network in the world, Shuster said, with more than 60 percent of the country’s energy commodities traveling through it.

Shuster said that the next steps for the committee are working with the Trump Administration on the president’s infrastructure package, which broadly includes transportation, as well as with the Energy and Commerce Committee on the development of electric grids and broadband expansion.

Fixing the nation’s infrastructure, Shuster said, can only be accomplished if state representatives are in the discussion. Giving information and power back to the states, not only makes the process run more smoothly, he said, but it allows for citizens to fully understand how the package will positively affect their lives on a state-by-state basis.

“If this doesn’t get done and if it doesn’t get done well, then we’ve done nothing for the American people,” Shuster said. “So you’re not going to see the infrastructure package in the next month or two. This will take work.”