Did the Obama administration try to silence whistleblower agency on energy policy?

posted at 2:01 pm on May 21, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Imagine, the Wall Street Journal implores, what the federal government would do if a whistleblower had tipped off JP Morgan chief Jamie Dimon about the risky maneuvers that ended up as a $2 billion loss earlier this month — and had gotten fired or discredited in an attempt to shut him up.  The Obama administration would have started an SEC probe, Congress would demand that witnesses appear, and the media would have spent weeks interviewing the brave soul who endured retaliation for speaking truth to power.  But what happens when a watchdog organization with decades of experience and involvement try to blow the whistle on bad policy in the Obama administration?

They get a proctological audit, that’s what:

The target is the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, and its crime is scrutinizing the Obama Administration’s anticarbon agenda. This highly respected nonprofit has monitored the power system since the 1960s and establishes best practices to keep the lights on. In 2005, Congress gave NERC a formal role as adviser. But now it may be defrocked for questioning the “pace and aggressiveness” of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory wave in a 2010 report.

NERC’s position is that the EPA goal of mothballing many or most coal-fired power plants could endanger the security of the electric-power grid, with possible blackouts and much higher energy costs. In a follow-up report last year it found that “Environmental regulations are shown to be the number one risk to reliability over the next one to five years.”

Apparently that was too honest for Washington. Earlier this month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission disclosed that it has spent months conducting a highly unusual audit of NERC. The commission oversees NERC under the 2005 law, so it has every right to check its practices. But this probe exceeded normal auditing standards and was a free-floating investigation into NERC’s “economy and efficiency,” whatever that means. It didn’t find any rule-breaking.

Instead, the auditors question NERC’s focus and statutory responsibilities, concluding that it “may have exceeded the functions” Congress intended for a reliability organization. Never mind that NERC has been doing the same job for decades and its integrity hasn’t been questioned. The feds also complain about NERC’s “periodic reliability assessments,” otherwise considered the gold standard. They say this role “should be revisited.”

As the WSJ concludes, the FERC apparently wants NERC to protect the reliability of energy distribution without considering threats to its reliability.  Or, probably more accurately, FERC doesn’t want NERC to publicly disagree with the Obama administration.  Obama appointed Jon Wellinghoff as the chair of FERC, and he repaid the appointment by ordering the audit — without putting it to a vote by the board.  Another Obama appointee, Cheryl LaFleur, criticized that move, but the message has already been sent: dissent from the Obama agenda will be punished severely.

Or, as another Obama appointee once put it, all you have to do is crucify a few people and everyone else gets the message.


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