US House approves electric reliability law

August 02, 2012

Washington: In the immediate aftermath of the massive power cuts faced by India, the US House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan legislation to protect electricity reliability in the country.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Congressmen Pete Olson and Mike Doyle, will ensure America’s power companies are able to comply with the Department of Energy emergency orders to maintain grid reliability without facing penalties for violating potentially conflicting environmental laws.

Federal Power Act authorises the Department of Energy to order electric generating facilities to continue operating in order to avoid potential reliability-related emergencies.

However, compliance with such an emergency order could trigger a violation of environmental laws and regulations, potentially exposing the generator to penalties and lawsuits.
The legislation makes an important clarification to the Federal Power Act so that utilities will not be subject to penalties when working with DOE to keep the lights on.

“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,” said Olson.

“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,” he said.

“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, discussing the measure as it moved through committee.

“As we’ve seen happen before in our country, and as we are watching it unfold in India this week, an unexpected loss of power can result in significant harm to human health and the environment,” Olson said on the House floor.