Officials: White House Order Restores State Authority Over Power Grids, Energy Production
Officials in the nation’s energy sector have welcomed a new White House executive order rolling back many of the restrictions on oil, natural gas and coal imposed by the Obama administration. Those actions wrongly trampled on state-level policies and regulations, the officials said.
Under former president Barack Obama, federal restrictions on fossil fuels would have forced “broad and transformative changes to the electricity industry,” the American Public Power Association (APPA) said in a statement welcoming the executive order. APPA represents thousands of municipal, state-owned and non-profit power companies, such as the Wyoming Municipal Power Agency and the Farmington, N.M. Electric Utility System.
“As the voice of utilities that are units of state and local government, the Association firmly believes that states should maintain the authority to plan and implement generation and energy policies that are suitable for their circumstances,” APPA said. The public-power group objected to the Obama administration’s so-called Clean Power Plan, for example, because it would force utilities “to fundamentally alter the way they generate electricity” and in some cases “abandon functional power plants while continuing to pay them off.”
In a separate interview with E&E News, APPA president and CEO Sue Kelly said she “took a lot of comfort” in the executive order and comments by President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet at a signing ceremony yesterday at the headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While news coverage has focused on potential benefits for the coal industry, the executive order “goes way beyond that” by restoring the ability of state-level officials “to do what we think is best,” Kelly said.
Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma also hailed the executive order as a victory for state-level officials whose existing regulatory programs have been undermined by new federal mandates. “We’re very pleased that the Trump Administration will be reorienting [federal] agencies back to actually following the law and cooperating with states rather than constantly trying to usurp their authority,” Sgamma said. The Alliance, based in Denver, represents the Western oil and gas industry and is a supporter of Western Wire.
In addition to a review of the CPP, which sought to limit the use of coal and natural gas in state electricity markets, the executive order also takes aim at a number of last-minute oil and gas regulations issued by the Obama administration. Those regulations would federalize oil and gas permitting on state and private lands inside the boundaries of national parks and wildlife refuges, and impose another layer of federal methane restrictions on top of existing state rules for energy development on public lands. Western lawmakers in Congress are working separately to repeal these measures more swiftly by using the Congressional Review Act.
Another regulation cited in yesterday’s executive order would impose new federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands, even though state-level rules already apply. The federal hydraulic fracturing rule was struck down last year by a federal judge and the Obama administration appealed that decision. Recently, the Trump administration told an appeals court in Denver it would no longer contest the case and plans to withdraw the regulation. The executive order also instructs the U.S. Interior Department to “amend or withdraw” a moratorium on the sale of new federal coal leases imposed by the Obama administration.
Officials in energy-producing states welcome the executive order as a major step towards restoring state-level control over basic economic and planning decisions. If the Obama administration’s policies had continued, “Montana would be forced to restructure its energy economy accordingly and jeopardize the grid’s reliability while doing so,” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a statement.
“We are excited and relieved to finally have some common sense put back into Washington politics,” the commissioners of Rosebud County, Mont. – a major coal-producing area – said in a statement. “A great burden will be lifted off the residents of Rosebud County by pulling back these overreaching rules.”