Donald Trump’s hand-picked chair of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says he was “demoted for my independence” on climate change, but maintains it was “totally worth it” to back recent FERC rulings on distributed energy resources (DER) and utility carbon pricing.
While most people in the United States and around much of the world were transfixed by the days-long vote-counting process that unfolded during the U.S. election, Trump “abruptly demoted” Republican appointee Neil Chatterjee, “the head of a key energy panel who wants to take steps to mitigate climate change,” the Washington Post reports. “The move comes just weeks after Chatterjee and the agency began clearing the way for regional power administrators to put a price on carbon dioxide emissions, the main contributor to global warming.”
While the concept of a carbon tax “has been discussed for decades and has support across the political spectrum,” the Post adds, Trump “spent his presidency trying to reduce the regulatory burdens and costs associated with the fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide when burned.”
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While Chatterjee has often supported fossil fuels since he began his five-year FERC appointment in 2017, FERC also “opened up electricity markets to rooftop solar panels and storage systems for solar, wind, and other green energy” during his tenure as chair. He also ran the kind of workplace diversity training sessions that Trump banned in a September executive order.
Chatterjee, a one-time energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), speculated he got the axe because his recent actions “aggravated somebody at the White House, and they make the switch.” But “if that’s the case, that’s being demoted for my independence,” he told the Post. “I’m quite proud of that, and will wear it as a badge of honour.”
“I knew when I moved forward with Order 2222 (on DER), convening the tech conference on carbon pricing, and ultimately moved forward with a proposed policy statement, that there was the risk of blowback,” he told Utility Dive. “I knew that, [but] went forward anyway, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don’t know for certain that that is the reason that the action was taken,” but if it was, “it would have been totally worth it.”
In his interview with the Post, Chatterjee added that he “made very clear early on in my tenure that I was concerned about climate change and wanted to take concrete steps to mitigate carbon emissions. But I did not believe in heavy-handed regulations, subsidies, or mandates.” Through that lens, he supported carbon pricing in mid-October as a measure that would not “degrade market efficiency”, as he felt other anti-pollution regulations might do.
This would be the same FERC chair who was a sometimes an aggressive proponent for coal and gas, the Post says.
FERC will play an important role in President-elect Joe Biden’s climate agenda if the Democrats fail to take a majority in the Senate. “Without the control of the Senate, which it looks likely he won’t have, Biden is likely to look to FERC and its Democratic chair to achieve many of his climate and energy goals,” said energy lawyer Christine Wyman.