Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Lawmakers grill Perry over rule to help coal, nuke plants

Camille Fine

LAWMAKERS SLAM ENERGY GRID RULE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry faced criticism from lawmakers Thursday over his proposal to require higher payments for electricity from coal and nuclear plants.

Numerous Democrats and one Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subcommittee lobbed charges at Perry that his rule would be anti-competitive, help out uncompetitive power plants and destroy electricity markets.

“You are distorting the market, damaging the environment and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the full committee, told Perry.

“At the end of the day, killing off competitive electricity markets just to save generation assets that are no longer economical will lead to higher prices for consumers,” he said.


Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said the proposal doesn’t align with Perry’s free-market energy policies from his time as Texas’s governor.

“Attacks are coming saying that you prefer government control over the free markets. We both know that’s a pile of Bevo longhorn poo-poo,” Olson said, referring to the mascot of the University of Texas at Austin.

“You’ve spent your whole life supporting a diversified American portfolio for energy,” he said.

It was Perry’s first testimony on Capitol Hill in months, giving lawmakers an opportunity to grill him about his proposal to overhaul the nation’s energy markets to favor coal and nuclear.

Under the proposal he sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for review, certain regional grid operators would have to give higher payments to plants with 90 days of fuel on site, which applies only to coal and nuclear.

The proposal was made in the name of grid resiliency, under the argument that coal and nuclear plants closing is a threat to the grid.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said the committee and others have been discussing whether to change policies for resilience, but Perry’s proposal doesn’t fit into that process.

“There are many other levers to pull or smaller tweaks than what you’re directing FERC to do,” Doyle said.

“What you’re proposing … is rather extreme. You talk about putting fingers on the scale, you’re putting a heavy finger on the scale here,” he said.

Read more here.


PERRY RESPONDS TO TRAVEL CRITICISM: Perry also used the hearing to defend his travel spending, including the one charter and three government planes he has taken for official business.

His defense focused on a charter plane he took last month to tour a coal mine in Hazleton, Pa., and an Energy Department site in Ohio.

But he’s also taken three government planes. All of the non-commercial flights have cost taxpayers more than $56,000.

“The point is, it’s really difficult for us to have gotten there without taking that private aircraft to Hazleton,” Perry said.

“You can get there, I’m not going to tell you you can’t,” he said. “I think we’ve looked at this closely; we’ve been thoughtful about how we did it.”

Perry said he’s been careful about spending federal money, and he’ll continue to be so.

“I’m going to continue to do my job. I’m going to make the commitment to you that I’m going to try to do it in the most thoughtful and the most reasonable way to do that, but realizing that, from time to time, if I’m going to be in those places, and we’re going to be there in a timely fashion, we may have to do it in a way that does expend some taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

Read more here.


HOUSE PASSES MORE DISASTER AID: The House easily passed its second disaster relief package of the year on Thursday.

The $36.5 billion bill includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund — including $4.9 billion for a disaster relief loan account — $16 billion to address national flood insurance program debt and $576.5 million for wildfire recovery efforts. It also provided $1.27 billion for disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico.

The legislation passed on a 353-69 vote, with only Republicans opposed.

The bill advanced as wildfires that are expected to become the costliest in California history continue to rage in the state’s wine country. More than 80 percent of Puerto Rico also remains without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria while major cities in Texas, Florida and other gulf states continue rebuilding efforts following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The Senate still has to take up the bill, and Congress is likely to approve billions of dollars in additional disaster aid in the months to come.

The total amount of emergency relief funding passed since September is approaching $42 billion, which amounts to nearly 6 percent of the most recent annual deficit.

Read more here.

The Hill’s Cristina Marcos has more on the 69 Republicans voting no.


Trump: We can’t stay in Puerto Rico forever: The Trump administration was forced Thursday to walk back Trump’s early morning tweet that, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in [Puerto Rico] forever.”

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters the federal government “will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”

FEMA spokeswoman Eileen Lainez tweeted that the agency “will be w/Puerto Rico, [U.S. Virgin Islands], every state, territory impacted by a disaster every day, supporting throughout their response & recovery.”

Trump accused Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello of a “total lack of accountability” in his tweets, saying that “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend [on the island.]”


SNYDER DEFENDS FLINT TESTIMONY: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) said he stands by his congressional testimony about his knowledge of health problems stemming from the Flint drinking water crisis despite trial testimony that contradicts him.

Last week, a top aide to Snyder told a Michigan court that he informed the governor about health problems in Flint in December 2015, following a meeting with city health officials. By then, Flint was suffering through a health crisis after the city switched its drinking water source as a cost-saving measure.

Snyder told Congress in March 2016 that he “didn’t learn of that until 2016.”

“As soon as I became aware of it, we held a press conference the next day,” he said then. “That was clearly a case where the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services should have done more to escalate the issue, to get it visible to the public and me.”

Snyder replied to a letter from the House Oversight Committee on Thursday, writing in a letter of his own that, “my testimony was truthful and I stand by it.”

He added, “I have specifically reviewed the question and answer referenced in your letter. While you have offered for me to clarify my sworn testimony, I do not believe there is any reason do so.”

Read more here.


ON TAP FRIDAY: The House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on a draft onshore energy bill.



The death toll for California’s wildfires has reached 29, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The United Kingdom will phase out coal from its electricity sector by 2025, the Independent reports.

Solar power is booming in Trump states, Reuters reports.



Check out Thursday’s stories …

-House passes $36.5 billion disaster relief package

-Mich. governor stands by Flint health crisis testimony

-Dem introduces bill to boost clean vehicle technology

-Paris wants to ban gas-powered vehicles by 2030

-Lawmakers slam DOE’s proposal to help coal, nuclear power

-Perry defends non-commercial flights as necessary

-Oil giant Shell buys leading operator of electric vehicle charging stations

-Trump nominates AccuWeather CEO to run NOAA

-EPA tells Puerto Ricans not to drink water from hazardous waste sites


Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com and Devin Henry dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill

Tags John Kelly Rick Perry

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