Murkowski’s Opening Statement on Electric Grid Reliability

New Environmental Regulations Must Recognize the Primacy of Ensuring Grid Reliability

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today made the following opening statement at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on electric reliability and the New England power outages last fall:

Click on photo to play video

“Good morning and thank you all for being here. Today we’re scheduled to hear testimony on grid reliability in light of the power outages experienced by New England last October after an historic Nor’easter. 

“Coming from Alaska, I can certainly appreciate the hardships brought about by extreme weather. Just this past January, the National Guard was called in to dig out our small town of Cordova which was literally buried under 18 feet of snow. And that same month we had to use a Coast Guard icebreaker and a Russian tanker to bring desperately needed fuel to an isolated Nome.

“It appears, however, that many of New England’s weather-related problems last fall were at the local level. I am a little concerned that we may be blurring the lines between our proper federal role in overseeing the bulk power system and the historic state role in maintaining the distribution system.

“Moreover, I understand that FERC, working jointly with NERC, has an ongoing inquiry into the New England situation with a final report expected just four weeks from now. I believe the committee would have been better served to postpone this hearing until that report was finalized. Not only would it have provided the federal nexus for a full committee hearing, but we would have had the benefit of our grid regulators’ findings and recommendations. 

“Of course we must thoroughly examine our response to storm-caused outages so we can better plan and prepare for the next emergency. Because we know there’ll be another storm that will drag down our power lines – New England got hit with its record storm only two months after Hurricane Irene.  The northeast got knocked again this week with late-spring snow.  The problem is that whether it’s a hurricane or a blizzard or a tornado – whatever the ‘act of God’ – we can’t know for sure the extent and the challenges we’ll face until it actually hits.

“But in working to ensure the reliability of our nation’s grid there are some challenges we can foresee and for which we can take preventive action. I’ve spent considerable time this Congress asking both FERC and EPA to balance electric reliability needs with the suite of new federal rules regulating power plant emissions. I’m now working on safety valve legislation so that the cumulative effect of these federal regulations does not threaten electric reliability. 

“Today, I’m hopeful that we’ll have enough members of the committee so that we may consider two FERC nominees, Commissioner Norris and Mr. Clark. If approved by the full Senate, I expect both commissioners to uphold FERC’s electric reliability mandate – especially if another agency’s regulations could adversely impact our nation’s grid. Commissioner Norris has told us that he has “encouraged EPA to consider the cumulative impact of their regulations.” Unfortunately, that’s not good enough. Only two weeks ago, the president established a national interagency task force on shale gas development to ensure that federal regulations are well-coordinated and not duplicative. We shouldn’t need an executive order to get agencies to work together but perhaps we need one to maintain electricity reliability. At the very least I hope that FERC will immediately convene another technical conference to gather evidence regarding the cumulative impact of EPA’s new power plants regulations.”