Lawmakers had their first chance Tuesday to probe energy industry representatives about the potential impact of the Trump administration's controversial proposal to help coal and nuclear power plants.
Most lawmakers asking questions at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing seemed skeptical of Energy Secretary Rick Perry's plan, expressing concern that it would undermine an "all of the above" energy landscape by favoring certain power sources over others.
"This is quite a misguided effort they need to put back to the shop," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. "Clearly [the Trump administration] are favoring fuel sources that are less competitive today. This will cost consumers dearly."
Perry on Friday asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to create regulations that would change regional power market pricing to reward the "reliability and resilience attributes" of plants that have 90 days of fuel supply on site, which many took to mean nuclear, coal and hydropower.
Perry cited "economic and national security" interests in issuing the surprise proposal. It's been 30 years since the Energy Department last invoked the section of the law that Perry used to start a rulemaking at FERC.
The Trump administration has expressed concern that the growth in natural gas and renewables has harmed the economic viability of "baseload" coal and nuclear power plants that provide around-the-clock power.
But the broader energy industry has derided Perry's proposal for its potential to upset the last two decades of electricity generation, which have been marked by free competition and little intrusion by the federal government.
Eleven energy groups, ranging from the American Petroleum Institute to the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, made a joint filing with FERC Monday opposing Perry's plan for a 60-day rulemaking process.
"SEIA agrees FERC should continue its important work on price formation," said Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs of the Solar Energy Industries Association, testifying at Tuesday's hearing. "Where we don't agree is that this rushed rulemaking is the best way to achieve those ends. Healthy competition will yield the most innovative solutions and low costs for ratepayers."
Lawmakers Tuesday echoed that skepticism.
"I would say the true threat to resiliency is the Trump administration's allegiance to the policies and the fuel mix of 50 years ago," Castor said.
She urged the Energy Department and FERC to undertake a longer review period for the proposal. But just as the industry groups filed their complaints, FERC issued a notice Monday night stating that it is shaving the time the public can respond to Perry's proposal from 45 days to just 21 days.
"The time line is extraordinarily too short for such a transformative shift in federal policy that will impact all consumers and all businesses, likely shifting huge costs to folks we represent," Castor said. "Hopefully smarter heads will prevail on that time frame."
Other lawmakers suggested Tuesday that the Trump administration is acting politically by encouraging FERC, which is independent, to take a dramatic policy shift to boost struggling industries.
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, appearing at a separate House Science Committee hearing, suggested that Energy Department may be "redefining grid resiliency to accomplish a political agenda."
The few who defended Perry's proposal did so indirectly, with caveats.
"I will confess my district has a lot of natural gas and coal," said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., at the Energy and Commerce hearing. "If we were going to a market policy 10 years ago that many are advocating today, wind and solar and even battery storage would be in a lot different position because the market kings would have been the forces that are now being characterized as 50 years old. And to now have those particular fuel sources castigated to the trash heap of history without recognizing the huge investments that our ratepayers have put into those, that creates some interesting issues."