11 Questions for FERC Nominees

WASHINGTON DC (03/21/2024) – The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a confirmation hearing today on three new nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Given the usual glacial pace in which the Senate operates these days, it appears the Senator Joe Manchin, the Chairman of the Committee, is working with President Biden to rush these nominees through the process without much scrutiny. While we know little about two of the nominees, David Rosner and Lindsay See, the third nominee, Judy Chang, has made vocal her opposition to the construction of new natural gas pipelines, the permitting of which is a key function of the FERC.

Given the importance of FERC’s role in shaping U.S. electricity and energy infrastructure markets, senators from both parties should ask some important questions in today’s hearing. More importantly, the Senate should refrain from rushing these nominees through the process until a full and transparent vetting of their qualifications and their views on these important issues has been conducted.

Here are some suggested questions for the nominees:

  1. The alleged purpose of the Natural Gas Act is to promote natural gas delivery to consumers. A major policy change was the redefinition of the term “public interest” to reflect the climate focus of the chairman at the time. Do you believe that the definition of “public interest” should affirm the need for FERC to ensure affordable and reliable energy?
  2.  Pipelines are the primary mode of transportation for crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas. America has 190,000 miles of onshore and offshore petroleum pipeline and 2.4 million miles of natural gas gathering and distribution pipelines.  Approximately 80 percent of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline on a ton-mile basis.  Will you commit to ensuring a speedier permitting process for oil and natural gas pipelines?
  3.  Should NEPA apply to transmission projects made necessary by political decisions to add intermittent renewable energy to the grid?
  4.  Will you affirm FERC’s responsibility to ensure the reliability of the energy grid as a priority over net zero and Paris Agreement targets? Should ordinary ratepayers be required to pay for the additional costs for adding the transmission necessary for these targets. 
  5.  In late January, the Department of Energy announced a pause on pending and future LNG export applications to countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the United States. Do you view infrastructure supporting LNG as an essential component of affordable and reliable energy in the U.S.? 
  6.  In November 2023, FERC Chairman Willie Phillips and NERC CEO Jim Robb issued a statement on reliability in New England which stated: 

    “[w]ith respect to the natural gas system, the evidence raised what we view as serious concerns about certain local gas distribution systems’ ability to ensure reliability and affordability in the region without Everett.  And, although there was evidence that the retirement of Everett would be “manageable” for the electric system, at least in the near-term, given anticipated new resource deployments and transmission development, minimal load growth, limited resource retirements, and increased reliance on non-natural gas generators, the evidence indicates that, should those expectations not materialize as anticipated, ensuring reliability and affordability could become challenging in the face of a significant winter event.”  

    Do you support keeping the Everett Marine Terminal operational?  Do you think it would be beneficial for electric reliability? 
  7.  China controls the world’s supply chain for rare earth elements and strategic and critical minerals necessary for renewable energy like solar panels, windmills, and batteries.  Will the sourcing of these materials for renewable energy factor into your decision making at FERC?
  8.  To what extent do you believe that FERC should consider environmental impacts? Where is FERC authorized to be an environmental regulator?

Questions specifically for Judy Chang:

  1. As the former Undersecretary of Energy and Climate Solutions for Massachusetts, you were responsible for developing many of the policies surrounding energy in the state. At 28.85 cents per kWh, Massachusetts has the fourth highest residential electricity prices in the country behind Hawaii, Rhode Island, and California. If confirmed, why should we expect different results? Are you concerned by the precarious nature of natural gas supply in the New England region? Would you support more natural gas pipeline capacity into New England?
  2. In a 2016 report, you bemoaned the low price of natural gas saying it sends “exactly the wrong type of market signals,” and you went on to explain that Massachusetts should do more to raise the price of natural gas. Do you still believe you are more capable of determining the “correct” price of natural gas than the millions of decisions made by consumers and producers through the market process?
  3. In 2018, you made an inaccurate prediction that the state of Massachusetts would move away from natural gas. You went on to explain that, because of this, states should stop investing in “gas pipelines or gas plants.” You were quoted in an article discussing high electricity prices in Massachusetts: “If you have states already setting goals and policies to bring onto the grid more hydropower, offshore wind, plus other renewables and clean energy, does it make sense at the same time to build more gas pipelines or gas plants? To me, it doesn’t make sense, because all those costs will be paid by ratepayers in one way or another.” Do you still stand by this statement? Do the other nominees agree with Chang’s conclusion that we should stop investing in natural gas infrastructure?

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