While the Senate calendar is getting filled with health care debate and other items, a collection of 30 trade groups urged Senate leaders to schedule a vote on White House nominees for open seats at FERC to restore a quorum at the Commission.
The timing of when nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson will see a vote by the full Senate remains a topic of debate in Washington energy circles, with a few sources believing nothing is likely to happen until July or later. At least one source is holding out hope for a bargain to be struck before the July 4 recess between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to have a vote on Chatterjee and Powelson as long as the White House has a clear intent to nominate a Democrat favored by the minority party.
That nominee is increasingly looking like Richard Glick, the general counsel for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking minority member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As reported previously, several sources have mentioned Glick as the likely nominee to fill the spot of Commissioner Colette Honorable, a Democrat, who has given notice that she will not seek another term at FERC.
Before his current role on the committee, Glick was vice president of government affairs at Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant with a strong interest in wind energy in the U.S. Prior to his stint at Iberdrola, Glick was an aide to former Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who was a key figure on the Senate Energy Committee.
Glick is favored by key Democrat leaders in the Senate, but whether the Democrat leaders support a floor vote on Chatterjee, the energy policy advisor for McConnell, and Powelson, a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, without a public announcement by the White House on a Democrat nominee is a sticking point. Democrats thus far have maintained the position that they will not vote on Chatterjee and Powelson until President Donald Trump announces an intent to nominate a Democrat.
A public announcement by the White House that Glick would be the nominee is unlikely, several sources said, especially since nothing of that sort has come from the White House about the other Republican vacancy at FERC, which is expected to be filled by Kevin McIntyre, an attorney and co-leader of the energy practice at Jones Day.
It has been anticipated that Trump will nominate McIntyre, but his nomination paperwork is on a separate track and taking longer than that of Chatterjee and Powelson. McIntyre is expected to be tapped as chairman for his nomination, but when that nomination makes its way to the Senate and lawmakers hold a hearing to consider his nomination remains to be seen, and no official announcement has come from the White House regarding McIntyre.
With the stance of the Democrats and the slow pace of nominations from the White House, a Senate vote on Chatterjee and Powelson is likely to slide into July or later, two sources told The Foster Report. The days just before an August recess in the Senate, if one is held this year, is often when a lot of nominations move, they noted. Even though it only takes a simple majority vote to confirm nominees, if the Democrats hold up activity “the Senate wouldn’t have the time or the appetite for an extended debate on two FERC nominees given everything else swirling around,” said one of the sources who asked not to be named.
The chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), may play an important role as a swing vote on the health care package, another source noted.
Murkowski has been prompting Senate leaders for a vote on the FERC nominees “and urging others to push for a vote,” a spokeswoman for Murkowski said June 22.
In their June 20 letter to both Schumer and McConnell, the trade groups asked the Senate leaders to restore a quorum at FERC, which has been unable to vote on key infrastructure projects for more than four months. The lack of a quorum at FERC has created a barrier for authorizing infrastructure projects, and Chatterjee and Powelson were approved by the Senate Energy Committee on strong bipartisan votes, the groups said.
“We ask you to schedule votes to confirm new FERC commissioners to fill the existing vacancies as soon as possible. Robust energy infrastructure creates jobs, improves safety and spurs domestic investment, and these benefits are placed in jeopardy when FERC seats are left empty,” the groups said.
Among the groups that signed the letter are the American Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the American Public Power Association, the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, the Consumer Energy Alliance, the Edison Electric Institute, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Natural Gas Supply Association, the Association of Union Constructors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com