Theories, rumors abound on FERC vacancies

Hannah Northey and Rod Kuckro, E&E News reporters

Published: Friday, April 21, 2017

Companies and lawmakers have been wondering what’s taking the White House so long to fill three vacancies at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

A few theories making their way through energy circles include lengthy background checks, debates about which nominee should be chairman and the bipartisan pairing of candidates.

“Everyone is scratching their heads as why it is taking so long to move formal nominations for FERC,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program.

More than two months ago, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said President Trump vowed in a meeting with lawmakers to fill the empty slots. Then came surefire signals that decisions were underway with the surfacing of key names.

Today, agency watchers and commission members are still waiting.

One former transition source said the debate over who should serve as FERC chairman is at the heart of the administration’s delay.

Possibly up for the job are Kevin McIntyre, a co-head of Jones Day’s global energy practice; Neil Chatterjee, a longtime energy aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); and Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania regulator who is serving this year as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Currently leading the agency is acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur, accompanied on the panel by Commissioner Colette Honorable. The duo, both Democrats, have been unable to make high-profile decisions since former FERC Chairman Norman Bay, also a Democrat, abruptly left in February, depriving the panel of a quorum.

Some sources say the Trump administration’s hangup stems from a long queue of nominee background checks that can take months to wrap up.

Others suggested it may have more to do with the practice of pairing up nominees by party. Democrats getting a pick may make them more likely to agree with a GOP choice.

Slocum threw out another theory, pointing to Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s recent memo calling for a study of the effect of clean energy subsidies on the U.S. electric grid and baseload power.

“I have to think that the holdup there might be a vetting process to see particularly if the incoming FERC chair is going to align with the kinds of objectives and tone that we see in this memo here,” Slocum said.

Green groups have seized on the lack of quorum to challenge FERC actions. The Sierra Club, for example, asked a federal court in March to block the agency’s approval of the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise pipeline.

The group argued FERC rushed the decision on Bay’s last day and failed to make critical environmental information available, thereby violating the National Environmental Policy Act (Energywire, March 14).

Twitter: @HMNorthey Email: hnorthey@eenews.net