Bay: Told Trump Team I’d Leave FERC if Demoted
February 19, 2017
By Michael Brooks and Rich Heidorn Jr.
WASHINGTON — Former FERC Chairman Norman Bay says he told the Trump transition team he would likely leave the commission if he was replaced as chairman.
Bay’s Feb. 3 resignation, which came after President Trump appointed Cheryl LaFleur as acting chairman, left FERC with only two commissioners, one short of the quorum needed to rule on contested cases. (See FERC OKs Pipelines, Delegation Order Before Losing Quorum.)
Speaking at the Energy Storage Association’s annual policy forum at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Bay said he was following FERC tradition that the chair leaves after he is replaced.
“The tradition at FERC, with one exception” — LaFleur — “is for a former chairman to leave,” Bay said. LaFleur remained on the commission after Bay replaced her as chairman in 2015.
Also without a quorum following the departures of their chairs are the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who also appeared at the storage forum, said he was disappointed at Bay’s departure, saying it was “effectively paralyzing the commission.”
For her part, LaFleur told an audience last week that Bay’s departure was “somewhat to our surprise and certainly to our disappointment.”
Although Trump is expected to name a Republican as chairman when he fills the three vacancies, LaFleur said she intends to serve her complete term through June 2019.
“My whole FERC tour of duty has been a little non-standard,” LaFleur said Feb. 14 during remarks at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ winter meetings. “I’ve been a commissioner, then acting chairman, then chairman, then commissioner again. But the last three weeks have been the strangest set of plot twists yet.”
One of the plot twists: LaFleur learned of her appointment on Jan. 25 via a message from the White House dated Jan. 23. It was reportedly delivered two days late because it originally was sent to FERC’s old address, which the agency vacated for its current headquarters more than a decade ago.
She said her focus remains unchanged: reliability and grid security; transmission; and “building a clean and diverse energy mix.” Her priority as acting chair, she said, is to “keep the important work of the 1,300 people who work for the agency moving forward in a time of uncertainty and transition.”
Bay told the storage forum he promised Commissioner Colette Honorable he would be presidential “in the classic sense of the word” and not say what the commission should or should not do.
Nevertheless, he offered some advice for future commissioners. “It’s going to be very important for a future commission to retain a very important tradition at FERC, which is a tradition of bipartisanship, if not nonpartisanship, in the way that the commission addresses energy issues.”
He highlighted the high rate of unanimity in the commission’s orders. “Even when we were only down to one Republican commissioner, there were only two matters where the three Dems were on one side and the Republican commissioner was on the other,” he said. “I hardly need to say this in a ballroom in Washington, D.C., but there seems to be more partisanship than ever, and I think that when partisanship hits an independent agency … it is not a good thing for the American people.”
Asked by Burwen what he was going to do next, Bay said his “real ambition is to become a travel bum for a while.” True to his words, he left the Press Club wearing a backpack.