H.R. 271: Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2013

H.R. 271

Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2013

Sponsor
Sen. Bernard Sanders

Date
May 22, 2013 (113th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Wednesday, May 22, 2013, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 271, the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2013,under a suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on February 6, 2013 by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which held a mark-up and reported the bill by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 271 amends the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824a(c)) to limit the extent that an order may limit the generation, delivery or transmission of electricity to only the extent that it is consistent with an emergency and necessary to serve the public interest.  The bill stipulates that any emergency order by the Department of Energy that may conflict with Federal, State, or local law or regulation must be limited to only those hours necessary to meet the emergency and may not last longer than 90 days. 

Further, the bill provides that any action or omission required to comply with such an emergency order will not be considered as a violation of any Federal, state or local environmental law or regulation.  The Department of Energy may renew orders for subsequent periods, not to exceed, 90 days. However, the Department of Energy must consult with the primary federal agency in the renewed order to minimize any adverse environmental impacts. The Department of Energy may waive such conditions if it determines that the condition would prevent the order from adequately addressing the emergency.

Background

The United States commercial power grid currently serves over 300 million people.  Electricity, however, cannot be reliably stored on a large scale, meaning that it must be generated as needed.  Any disruption in this constant balance of supply and demand can result in power lost to customers, which has the possibility of causing harm to national security and the U.S. economy.

In the event of an emergency, the Department of Energy has the authority to order power plants to continue operating and temporarily connect to other facilities in order to ensure continued power delivery.  However, legal problems can arise for the providers that operate pursuant to an emergency order.  For instance, in 2005, a Virginia power company was fined by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality because it exceeded its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) operating limits, this despite the fact that had done so in order to comply with a DOE emergency order.[1] 

Current law does not make power reliability a priority over environmental laws.  H.R. 271 fixes this by indemnifying parties complying with a DOJ emergency order from criminal or civil liability, thereby no longer putting companies in the no-win situation of having to choose between conflicting legal responsibilities.  It also balances this with the need to minimize environmental effects by limiting the length of any emergency order by the DOE to 90 days.

The House passed similar legislation (H.R. 4273) in the 112th Congress on August 1, 2012 by voice vote.


[1] See Committee Report 112-586

Cost

There is no CBO score currently available.  However, CBO previously estimated that H.R. 4273, similar legislation passed in the House in the 112th Congress, would have an, “impact on the federal budget [that] would be insignificant over the 2012-2022 period.”[1]