Today Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22) announced unanimous, bipartisan support for his legislation to ensure power remains on during an emergency crisis. By a voice vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4273, a bill to allow America's power companies to comply with federal orders to maintain grid reliability during a power emergency without facing lawsuits or penalties for violating potentially conflicting federal environmental laws.
Congressman Pete Olson said, "States are being warned by electricity regulators that reserve margins could dip dangerously low. Extreme hot weather across the US and a massive blackout in India demonstrates the dangers of power shortages. My bill fixes an important glitch in federal law that puts power generators in the unenviable position of choosing which federal law they will violate - a DOE emergency order or environmental laws that expose them to citizen lawsuits. The bipartisan support this bill has received is proof that we can find common ground when working to address a critical glitch in federal law, protect the environment and provide a reliable energy supply to all Americans."
"The bill addresses the basic principle that the federal government should not be able to direct a generator to operate for emergency purposes and then turn around and fine them for doing so," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). "The potential conflict puts the electric grid at risk and puts generators in the inequitable and unenviable position of having to choose between keeping the lights on and meeting their environmental obligations. It's simply not fair and must be resolved, and I commend Mr. Olson's leadership for working on this commonsense solution."
"I applaud Rep. Olson's leadership on this very important issue," Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield said. "It's ridiculous that the federal government on one hand can force electricity suppliers to continue operations for reliability reasons, and at the same time fine them for doing so for environmental reasons. This bill will fix this contradiction, and allow our electricity suppliers to do what they are supposed to do, keep the power on for their customers."
Relevant Prior Occurrences
In 2005,Mirant (now GenOn) faced a dilemma when the Department of Energy (DOE) ordered the Potomac River Generating Station to continue operations in violation of environmental laws to protect reliability for Washington, D.C. Mirant complied and was later fined by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for a three hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard violation.
In 2001, Mirant's Potrero Power Plant in the San Francisco area was issued an emergency order by DOE to ensure reliability during an electricity crisis. Mirant obtained written approval from local and federal regulators, who allowed the plant to operate for more than 877 hours. Yet, Mirant still faced a citizen lawsuit by the City of San Francisco and environmental groups for exceeding the 877 hour operating limit and was forced to settle the lawsuit at significant expense.
Olson is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.