Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) today joined with his colleagues Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA), Lee Terry (R-NE), Gene Green (D-TX), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) to introduce bipartisan legislation that resolves a conflict in federal law, whereby a company or individual can be held liable for violating environmental laws when complying with a federal order to generate power to avoid blackouts. In recent years, these conflicting federal laws have resulted in lawsuits and heavy fines for electricity providers complying with orders.
The bill, H.R. 4273, clarifies that when a company is under an emergency directive to generate or transmit electricity pursuant to Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, it will not be considered in violation of environmental laws or regulations, or subject to civil or criminal liability or citizen suits, as a result of its actions to comply with the federal directive. The legislation also directs the Department of Energy to work to minimize adverse environmental impacts in its emergency order.
"This common sense legislation will give peace of mind to Texans facing the potential of rolling blackouts during the hot summer months," Congressman Olson said. "The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has already warned of rolling blackouts. Electricity providers asked to provide power during an emergency should no longer have to worry about being slapped with lawsuits and heavy fines. More importantly, Texans, especially those most affected by the heat, and residents should not face a loss of power."
"The federal government should never put an individual or an organization in a position where it has to decide which law to violate," Congressman Doyle stated. "The federal government shouldn't order companies to generate electricity to prevent a blackout, and then turn around and fine them for doing it. I'm sure most of my constituents would want to avoid the blackout. That's why I believe it's necessary to pass this bill protecting power companies from fines or law suits for complying with a federal government emergency directive to generate electricity."
"Drastic times call for drastic measures," Congressman Terry said. "During natural disasters, utilities are sometimes ordered to increase their output -- to meet urgent needs. This legislation ensures that during such emergencies, utility providers are not penalized for doing what they're instructed to. Nebraskan utilities will benefit from this, as will utility companies all throughout our great country."
Congressman Green added, "There currently exists a clear conflict in law and this bipartisan bill will ensure that our electric generating facilities do not have to fear legal repercussions when being ordered to run because of an emergency."
"This legislation ensures that power utilities are able to run in an emergency situation without being penalized by the EPA or sued by a third party," said Congressman Kinzinger. "This eliminates the issue that occurs when two government agencies give contradictory orders to a power utility and will instead provide a clearer, more expedited path to restore power during blackout periods."
Congressman Gonzalezsaid, "This legislation will ensure that energy companies no longer have to face the dilemma of trying to comply with outdated, conflicting rules and will be able to meet the critical energy needs of their community during an emergency. Additionally, I am proud that a reasonable solution is being reached in a commonsense, bipartisan manner."
H.R. 4273 resolves the conflict between the authority of the Department of Energy (DOE) to direct emergency operation of electric generating facilities to maintain the reliability of the bulk power system and environmental laws. These conflicting legal mandates threaten the reliability of the grid and place the owners of power plants in the untenable position of having to choose between compliance with one law over another.