H.R. 4273, the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act, introduced by Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX, Mike Doyle (D-PA), Lee Terry (R-NE), Gene Green (D-TX), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), passed the House by voice vote on August 1, 2012.
This bipartisan legislation will ensure America’s power companies are able to comply with Department of Energy emergency orders to maintain grid reliability without facing penalties for violating potentially conflicting environmental laws.
During emergencies affecting electricity supply or delivery, the DOE has the authority under the Federal Power Act to order electric generators to operate. However, compliance with such an emergency order could trigger a subsequent violation of environmental laws and regulations, potentially exposing the generator to penalties and lawsuits.
EPA’s new and proposed power sector regulations could trigger reliability-related emergencies. Interruptions could be expected given the operational challenges associated with maintaining reliability when thousands of megawatts of generation will retire or require retrofits over the next 3 to 4 years.
Currently, a DOE-issued emergency order does not trump environmental laws or regulations, meaning generators complying with such a federal order are not protected from violating environmental laws. Astonishingly, companies could be fined or sued for non-compliance with an environmental regulation even though the generator would not have violated the regulation but for following the DOE emergency order.
This commonsense, bipartisan legislation makes an important clarification to the Federal Power Act so that utilities will not be subject to penalties when working with DOE to keep the lights on.