The nation's grid watchdog needs a spending boost to approve natural gas pipelines, export terminals and hydropower dams, while simultaneously beefing up its abilities to defend against cyberattacks, according to its spending request.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its budget request Tuesday amid a strange set of circumstances. It lacks enough commissioners to form a quorum to move ahead on the projects it is requesting funding from Congress to approve.
Nevertheless, FERC is expected to serve a key role in helping meet President Trump's infrastructure and energy goals once it is up and running again.
Trump nominated two new commissioners this month, which was three months after the commission began hemorrhaging members and was forced to shut down. It needs at least three members to make decisions and approve energy projects. Currently, only two members remain on the commission, which is charged with overseeing the electricity grid and approving major energy projects.
On Thursday, Trump's two FERC nominees will have their first confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The Senate must vote on the nominees before they can join the agency and restore a quorum and its decision-making ability.
The commission wants a boost in funding to advance its core missions of promoting "safe, reliable, secure and efficient infrastructure that serves the public interest," while ensuring that energy rates are just and reasonable, according to its fiscal 2018 budget request to Congress.
The biggest demand for new funding comes from its environmental siting and oversight roles for approving pipelines, hydropower dams and natural gas export terminals.
"This request provides resources to support the commission's infrastructure review process for non-federal hydropower and natural gas pipeline facilities," the request read. "Both programs have an involved environmental review process which include substantial efforts at public outreach and stakeholder engagement, as well as compliance oversight."
Liquefied natural gas exports, in particular, have been a major focus by White House officials, who see the nation becoming a major energy exporter as a way to shrink its trade imbalance.
"The request also provides continued funding for program contracts associated with statutorily required hydropower environmental workload, natural gas pipeline construction oversight, liquefied natural gas (LNG) construction inspections, and expert witness contractor assistance in the commission's enforcement program," it added.
It also wants to begin implementing a robust cybersecurity and new information technology projects to advance priority information technology initiatives.
"These projects will modernize core mission and support systems, expand existing data analytics and visualization capabilities, and improve the agency's cyber security posture," the request read. "Through the successful execution of these projects, the commission expects to maintain a cost-effective suite of IT products and services that will meet its near-term mission needs and provide a scalable platform to support future needs beyond 2020, while meeting applicable security mandates."
FERC's total request is about $368 million, representing an increase of $48 million, or about a 15.2 percent increase above its fiscal 2017 budget annualized budget. The request would also support a 5 percent increase in base operating costs.
The commission's budget is funded with the fees it collects from the industries it regulates. Those fees go to the Treasury to offset the funds Congress appropriates for it. By the end of the fiscal year, its net appropriation is zero.