The Consumer Energy Alliance, a longtime member of the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, today launched a new tele-town hall series to keep members updated on energy policy and related issues during the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The town halls will run roughly every two weeks.
For more than 14 years, CEA has worked for sensible energy policies while ensuring families — especially low-income individuals and those on fixed incomes or living paycheck-to-paycheck — and businesses are able to access the energy they need to remain competitive. CEA also has been a tireless advocate for PEIA in Pennsylvania related to critical infrastructure.
After opening remarks by CEA President David Holt, the town hall featured a high-level question-and-answer session with U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Assistant Secretary Shawn Bennett, who provided global and domestic policy updates.
The oil and gas sector is seriously constrained. First, prices bottomed out when foreign interests flooded the market. Then, demand dropped precipitously as state and federal economies essentially shut down because of the pandemic. The situation is completely unprecedented.
“We’ve never had demand completely stop before,” Bennett said.
DOE is working to stabilize energy markets not just for economic reasons but also because the sector remains critical to security. The challenge right now is finding out the best path forward, Bennett said. It is important to keep domestic energy supplies producing, not just for now but also as the country prepares its plan to emerge strong on the other side of the pandemic.
Bennett also fielded a question about pipelines being deemed essential nationally, but states sending conflicting “stay at home” orders that could affect operations. Bennett reiterated that energy production remains essential, and that designation should include both pipelines and related supply and security services.
In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Community and Economic Development last week granted waiver requests that will allow some construction work to resume on the Mariner East pipeline network. Work originally was halted March 19 after Gov. Tom Wolf issued an Emergency Order, which shut down several sectors of Pennsylvania’s economy, but provided a process for affected businesses to seek a waiver for essential operations.
Similarly, Shell Pipeline Co.’s 97-mile ethane pipeline also received approval by DCED that it is a “life-sustaining” business, meaning construction can continue. Work on the petrochemical plant that it will serve remains temporarily halted.
Bennett encouraged anyone with questions to visit the COVID-19 portal of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) website at www.cisa.gov.
The tele-town hall closed out with a federal legislative briefing by CEA Policy Advisor Michael Zehr, who provided an overview of recently approved federal legislation in response to the economic downturn. Additional stimulus packages and legislative proposals are being debated by Congress, and that work continues.