By John Howell, Esq., Vice President
Calm seemed to preside at the NARUC Annual Meeting in San Francisco in stark contrast to the sense of urgency underlying NARUC’s Summer Meetings in July. The Summer Committee Meetings were dominated by discussions, and often debate, surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency’s 111(d) proposed guidelines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants. Both regulators and industry stakeholders spoke of uncertainty and the anticipated struggle to comply with the EPA’s guidelines under tight deadlines. At the same time there was a sense of “we’re all in this together” present at the Summer Committee Meetings. At the Annual Meeting 111(d) remained a topic of discussion but not exclusively on center stage as had been the case in July. Rather, 111(d) was part of an ensemble cast of topics addressing Natural Gas/Hydraulic Fracturing, Renewable Energy, Enhanced 9-1-1 Service, the Water Industry, and Cybersecurity among several others. The discussions were certainly lively and thought provoking as we’ve all come to expect at a NARUC event but one couldn’t escape the sense of calm underlying the Annual Meeting.
I would suggest that the tone of the Annual Meeting may very well be attributable, at least in large part, to the November elections. Clearly, a massive wave produced sweeping change not only at the Federal level but across all levels of state government. While none of us can say with certainty how the elections will impact regulatory activity we can certainly anticipate it will not be business as usual. Will the EPA’s 111(d) guidelines remain a viable priority for the administration or will the new Congress or even the Supreme Court have the final say? Will states heretofore on the fence with regard to fracking begin to drill for shale gas? What will happen at the FCC regarding net neutrality? The answers to these questions and others weren’t to be found at the NARUC Annual Meeting but what I did find was this calmness – as if to say “it’s going to take time for things to work out following the elections…time that is now on my side.”
Another possible, if not likely, effect from the elections is that regulatory activity, at least in the near term, should slow down. We have seen in the past that when incumbents are defeated or open seats are filled by new voices, regulatory activity slows as those elected take office and begin to establish priorities. Again, time may be now on the side of those monitoring, impacting, and complying with regulation. Even if this year goes against the trend we’ve observed, tomorrow’s priorities will not be the same as yesterday’s. Too much change has occurred. Priorities will most certainly change as well.
Opportunity has presented itself!
The most effective strategy to address potential regulation is to be armed with information as early as possible in order to have your voice heard in a meaningful way. The time to build your 2015 regulatory strategy is now. It is also the time to gather intelligence to inform your strategy. With the resource of time on our side, we will be spending the next few months speaking with regulators and their staff to gain insight on where current proposed rules may be headed and what we can expect going forward. We are readying ourselves for the range of possibilities that lie ahead; possibilities that we will be well-positioned to turn into opportunities. Are you ready?
Back in my days as a telecom attorney, the FCC foisted an onerous rule on all wireless carriers in the aftermath of 9/11 that to this day is still being debated at NARUC and other fora many years later. If only we had the luxury of time back then. Time to gather and share information and to work with each other in order to deliver the best regulatory framework. Certainly, there would be no lingering debates at NARUC and elsewhere to this day. If only there was a sense of calm at that time to foster delivery of the best possible result.