With the opposing sides entrenched in inflexible positions, it appears that the shutdown of the federal government won't end anytime soon. Because of differences in how the agencies are funded, a couple of energy-related agencies are operating normally for the time being. Here is a quick summary of how the federal shutdown will affect federal agencies of concern to the energy industry:
1. Power Marketing Agencies: By virtue of the fact that it is self-funded, the Bonneville Power Administration will continue to operate as normal. The Bonneville Fund, a permanent revolving fund created by the Federal Columbia River Transmission Act of 1974, allows BPA to operate without the necessity of annual Congressional appropriations. Even other federal power marketing agencies are not so lucky. For example, the Western Area Power Agency will operate with only 77 employees, retained to perform functions related to the protection of human life and property.
2. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: For the time being, FERC will operate normally, relying on funds collected from filing fees and other types of user fees that do not require Congressional appropriations. Once those funds are exhausted, FERC will drastically curtail its operations. According to press reports, Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has estimated that FERC may continue to operate for somewhere between two weeks and one month before available funds run dry.
3. Environmental Protection Agency: Like most federal agencies, EPA has furloughed a large majority of its employees. Hence, permitting and rulemaking activity is on hold for the duration of the shutdown.
4. Department of Energy: With the exception of employees involved in nuclear safety, nearly all Department of Energy employees have been furloughed, including, for example, all but two employees at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In fact, the DOE's website has been taken offline except for a detailed statement about the Department's furlough policy.
In short, with the exception of the BPA and FERC, nearly all federal activity related to energy and environmental protection has come to a halt. FERC will enjoy a short reprieve from the shutdown, but the reprieve will last only a few weeks, perhaps less.
If you have questions about the federal shutdown, the affected agencies, or other questions related to energy or environmental law, please contact a member of GTH's Energy, Telecommunications, and Utilities practice group or Environment & Natural Resources practice group. We are proud that our partner Jim Waldo was recently named 2013 Lawyer of the Year for Energy and Natural Resources Law, and practice group members Don Cohen, Bill Lynn, and Brad Jones were all named among Seattle's Best Lawyers.