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Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GENE GREEN of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank both my colleague from Pennsylvania and also my neighbor in Texas, Congressman Olson, for making sure we get this bill to the floor today.

I rise in strong support of H.R. 4273, the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2012. This bipartisan legislation addresses a longstanding conflict in Federal law where a company or individual can be held liable for violating environmental laws when complying with a Federal order to generate power to avoid blackouts.

Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act gives the Department of Energy the authority to order an electric-generating facility to operate to avoid a reliability emergency. At the same time, environmental laws and regulations may restrict the operation of power plants or transmission lines.

So if a company or publicly owned utility is ordered by the DOE to operate under section 202(c) and at the same time is prohibited from operating in accordance with the DOE order due to environmental limitations, the operator must choose which legal mandate to follow. These conflicting legal mandates should not complicate an electric reliability crisis.

As a long-time member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and someone who has worked on both reliability and environmental legislation during that time, I can honestly say it was never our intention to put electric-generating facilities in the position of having to choose between compliance with one law over another.

And while there have only been a couple of instances to date where a generator has been in this situation, the potential for conflict will only grow as several coal-fired plants are scheduled to be taken offline in the coming years.

And as my Pennsylvania colleague noted, we have potential reliability issues in my and Mr. Olson's home State of Texas. Even though we are under a separate grid--ERCOT--it's important that we have this distinction corrected.

That's why Congress needs to address this issue, right here, right now or else we risk threatening our electrical reliability. H.R. 4273 clarifies that if an emergency order issued pursuant to section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act may result in a conflict with an environmental law or regulation, the order shall expire no later than 90 days after issuance. This is to ensure that DOE continues to have the necessary authority to ``keep the lights on'' in true emergencies.

However, it then gives DOE the opportunity to renew or reissue the order for an additional 90-day period only after consulting with the appropriate Federal agencies and including conditions submitted by these agencies to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts.

This is not a messaging bill. This is not an anti-EPA bill or an anti air toxic standards bill. Instead, it's a commonsense bill that would address a very worrisome deficiency in current law that is only going to become more prominent in the coming years.

This is one of a handful of bills that actually was supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the Energy and Commerce Committee. It also has support from the utility industry. That's why I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the bill.


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