On March 17, 2021, a coalition of environmental organizations and clean energy groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a rulemaking that would amend the Uniform Systems of Accounts (USofA) requirements to disallow utilities from recovering the cost of membership from ratepayers in associations engaged in lobbying or other influence-related activities. CBD argues that these associations lack transparency, and many engage in “anti-climate” advocacy, including lobbying and campaigning activities, that do not align with the priorities of ratepayers.
All lobbying-related dues that utilities pay to industry groups are already identified through routine auditing. Lobbying expenses by trade groups are also already presumed nonrecoverable under FERC’s existing accounting requirements. As such, a number of industry stakeholders, including the American Gas Association, Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and Nuclear Energy Institute have opposed the petition and asked FERC to deny the proposed change to the USofA. EEI, particularly, noted its broad membership of clean energy member companies that are leading the clean energy transition. Moreover, EEI discussed energy diversity and supply security that benefits all customers.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), on the other hand, supported the petition, taking issue with FERC’s accounting rules that allow industry dues to be recoverable except those “the portion of industry association fees where that association undertakes lobbying activities . . . .” SEIA advocates making “payments presumptively non-recoverable,” which “put[s] the affirmative burden . . . on utilities, should they seek to assert that there could be some basis for charging ratepayers for these payments.” CBD’s petition would essentially presume that cost recovery is disallowed on all dues paid to organizations that engage in advocacy, regardless of whether the utility participated in lobbying or advocacy.
The comment period in the rulemaking docket opened by FERC (RM21-15-000) closed on April 26, 2021. FERC now has the ability to deny the petition and take no further action or issue a rule proposal for further public comment.