Pa. DEP Secretary Quigley discusses state's shift on power plan

With U.S. EPA scheduled to release its final Clean Power Plan this summer, stakeholders are making last-ditch efforts to speak to the Obama administration about the plan and its potential impacts. During today's OnPoint, John Quigley, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, discusses his recent White House meeting on the power plan. He also explains the steps Pennsylvania is taking to prepare a compliance mechanism and talks about the opportunities that exist with a multistate plan.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is John Quigley, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Secretary Quigley, thank you for joining me.

John Quigley: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: So, to get everyone up to speed, last December Pennsylvania submitted public comments on EPA's Clean Power Plan under the Republican Corbett administration. Since then, Democrat Tom Wolf has become governor, and the administration's views on the power plan have shifted. How different are they from what was presented in December?

John Quigley: Well, I think they're fundamentally different. Governor Wolf supports this rule. He supports a Pennsylvania response that maintains our position as an energy exporter, that maintains the role of coal in our energy portfolio. He believes, as I do, that we can meet this mandate, this clean-power mandate, in a way that benefits Pennsylvania's economy and environment.

Monica Trauzzi: So what conversations have you and the governor's office had with EPA to sort of get them up to speed on this new viewpoint?

John Quigley: Well, it's safe to say that we are in regular conversation with EPA on this and a lot of other things. There's a number of issues that we have to deal with and essentially start over relative to EPA's involvement in Pennsylvania, things like the Chesapeake Bay, for example. So we're in regular contact with EPA.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you were in a meeting earlier this week at the White House on the Clean Power Plan. OMB is known to be very hush-hush in these types of meetings. The White House is known to be very hush-hush. What did you glean from that meeting from the folks that were in the room?

John Quigley: Well, I think the most important thing is that the OMB officials, the White House climate officials, were very attentive to the states who were represented in the room. I was very pleased with the level of engagement, the note-taking, the dialogue. Certainly there weren't any promises made, anything along those lines, but the officials representing the Obama administration were very attentive to what we had to say.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, and sometimes there's very minimal dialogue in these meetings. What types of conversations, questions happened in that room?

John Quigley: Well, again, there was a number of states that were represented in the meeting. Some of them chose to reiterate the high points of their comments to EPA. For my part, I reiterated Governor Wolf's support of the rule and his commitment to being an example to the country on how we can meet the mandates of this plan. And we all asked for as much information as we could get in kind of the digest form as soon as the rule comes out so that we can respond meaningfully to questions.

Monica Trauzzi: And EPA was not in the room?

John Quigley: EPA was not in that room, no.

Monica Trauzzi: Anything you can tell us about the timing of the release of the final rule? We're all kind of trying to look at the tea leaves here.

John Quigley: Well, I don't have anything definitive and certainly nothing official. The sense that we have always had is that early to mid-August was the time frame that we could expect to see something, and I'll -- we'll see. I would say the first two weeks of August.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. In EPA's draft proposal, Pennsylvania has a 31 percent emissions reduction target. How is the compliance mechanism shaping up for your state?

John Quigley: Well, we are looking at all kinds of options. We are one of four states that was selected by the National Governors Association for their policy academy, so we have been doing some preliminary modeling runs, different scenarios on how we might achieve a path to compliance. We've also been talking with all the stakeholders. Even though we intend after the rule is final to have a very robust stakeholder dialogue, we've actually met individually with power companies, with environmental organizations to hear what they had on their minds. Being a new administration, we wanted to make sure that those dialogues were taking early and in advance of the more formal post-rule process. So we're listening to the folks, doing some preliminary modeling, identifying alternative pathways. It's safe to say that everything is on the table. We're going to consider all options?

Monica Trauzzi: Including multistate? What opportunities exist there? Would you consider joining RGGI?

John Quigley: Well, that is one of the options on the table. We've also been involved in a conversation among some states that're in the PJM power grid about the possibility of working together, and so, again, we're trying to look at all of the options and leaving nothing off the table at this point.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the dynamic between your office and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which has expressed concerns about EPA's draft proposal, and how do you see that relationship working and evolving as you try to put your final compliance mechanism together?

John Quigley: Well, we are going to have to have a close working relationship, and I'm sure we will, knowing the members of the Public Utility Commission as I do, and certainly there are relationships within the governor's office as well. We have to have an open dialogue and really sit down together as partners to work out our plan.

Monica Trauzzi: Pennsylvania has several nuclear facilities. What role would you like to see nuclear play in the final role, and when did you hear from EPA? What have you heard from EPA about what changes we could expect on that nuclear element?

John Quigley: Have not heard anything definitive from EPA on the treatment of nuclear power. It's obviously an issue in Pennsylvania with the generation that we have in state. We want to make sure that those interests have been acknowledged, but, again, I think it's premature to comment any more than that until we see the final --

Monica Trauzzi: So we heard some legal analysts talking about the possibility of a stay on the rule and that that might be sort of the fair approach or the most reasoned approach on how to make things easier for states as this goes to the courts. What do you think about that option?

John Quigley: Well, I'm not personally all that interested in a stay. I know that the governor's anxious to get on with this work. He acknowledges that we have a very serious climate challenge that we have to solve, and Pennsylvania needs to be a part of that. He aspires for our state to have a leadership role in demonstrating how states can comply, and given our prominence as an energy exporter, as a coal state, I think there's an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, and we're anxious to get to work.

Monica Trauzzi: An oil and gas question for you here. EnergyWire recently reported that beginning next year, your office will no longer be using FracFocus but rather taking data directly from oil and gas companies and then also using in-house data. Explain the reasoning behind that move.

John Quigley: Well, we actually aspire to go beyond FracFocus. Now, whether our data will continue to be shared with FracFocus, that's not a decision that we've made. They're doing great work. The advances and improvements that FracFocus have made are very significant, and we acknowledge that a lot of the folks in the stakeholder community use FracFocus, so we want to understand how we can continue to add some value there. But our aspiration is to go beyond that, provide more information in more user-friendly ways that -- more searchable so the data can be downloaded and manipulated and also geo-located. We want to couple our disclosure information with information that we have available on individual wells, inspection records, compliance histories and have a comprehensive database that citizens and stakeholders can make themselves available to.

Monica Trauzzi: So your thinking is that FracFocus is perhaps not as comprehensive as it could be?

John Quigley: Well, we want to have the most comprehensive access to data of any state. That's the aspiration. Whether we can meet that, it will be to some degree in the hands of the programmers, but we want to take a look at what we can do to put information out in a very transparent way to the public and then see how we will continue to relate, if at all, to FracFocus.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.

John Quigley: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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