Energy industry officials were pleased with a Senate floor vote late in the day August 3, to approve Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson for commissioner posts at FERC, allowing the Commission to restore a quorum with three of the five commissioner spots filled.
The vote took place on the last day the Senate was in session before its August recess. Until events unfolded late in the day August 2, prospects for Chatterjee and Powelson to be included in packages of nominees being voted out on the Senate floor were not very favorable.
FERC has been without a quorum since early February, and Senate action on August 3 was applauded by industry groups that have been urging Senate leaders to approve the two Republicans so that FERC would have a quorum to conduct its business.
At this point it is not known when Chatterjee and Powelson will be sworn in to join Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur at FERC, or whether LaFleur will keep that title once Chatterjee and Powelson are at FERC.
The Trump administration has nominated Kevin McIntyre to be chairman at FERC if he is confirmed by the Senate, but he will not join FERC until September at the earliest. Whether the Trump administration names a Republican, either Chatterjee or Powelson, as chairman until McIntyre could join the commission is among the unknowns at this point.
The nomination paperwork for McIntyre, a Republican, and Richard Glick, a Democrat, was sent from the White House to the Senate late in the day August 2, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee scheduled a confirmation hearing for both of them for September 7. Those two moves broke the roadblock that Democrats had in the Senate to withhold a floor vote on Chatterjee and Powelson, who were voted out by the committee in May.
A Senate source, who asked not to be named, said Democrats wanted to see the formal nomination of Glick sent from the White House to the Senate, to address concerns that the Trump administration might not put another Democrat at the Commission to join LaFleur.
Among the groups that praised the Senate vote was the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). With the Senate approval of Chatterjee and Powelson, “the commission now can get back to work thoroughly reviewing the many energy infrastructure projects of national importance that have been sidelined in recent months,” said Don Santa, president and CEO of INGAA.
Santa said INGAA appreciates the Trump administration formally nominating McIntyre and Glick and the Senate panel scheduling a hearing for them both. INGAA hopes that the Senate can confirm McIntyre and Glick as soon as possible after the hearing, Santa said.
Dat Tran, Chair of the Board of PennEast Pipeline Co. said in a statement, “After three years of review, and three government regulators agreeing PennEast Pipeline can be constructed with minimal impact on the environment, we are heartened to finally see Senate action on restoring a quorum to FERC to now consider important infrastructure projects across the country, including final approval of the PennEast Pipeline Project.”
With the healthcare debate tabled for the time being, the Senate was holding votes on several nominees at numerous agencies, with McConnell asserting early in the day August 3 that some of the Trump administration nominees have been held up “entirely too long.”
Among the nominees approved by a floor vote on August 3 was Dan Brouillette to be deputy secretary at the Department of Energy (DOE). Brouillette “has a wealth of experience in the energy industry and understands the importance of energy to the U.S. economy. We look forward to working with him,” Dena Wiggins, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA), said in a statement.
“All of these agencies need to be fully staffed,” Wiggins said in a brief interview. “I understand the politics involved” in Democrats’ wanting to see Glick’s paperwork moved so he could move forward in the confirmation process, she said.
NGSA hopes that shortly after the committee hearing for Glick and McIntyre in September, those two will answer any questions from Senators and be approved by the Senate in September, Wiggins said. “I have my fingers crossed,” and am “reasonably optimistic” that FERC could have a full roster of five commissioners late in September, she said.
The first order of business for Chatterjee and Powelson will be to get their arms around the pending matters and vote on numerous items that have been held up since early February, Wiggins said.
At different events over the past several months, LaFleur and former Commissioner Colette Honorable indicated that FERC staff has been prioritizing and queueing items in a backlog of cases that need votes from commissioners. While energy infrastructure projects in the billions of dollars are waiting for FERC votes, other rate, tariff and service items from different energy sectors also need to be addressed and carry their own importance, industry officials have said.
For several months, energy industry officials have urged Senate leaders to approve Chatterjee and Powelson to provide a quorum at FERC so that the Commission can vote on various energy infrastructure projects and matters that have been pending as FERC operated without a quorum for the first time in its history. Such efforts continued late into July, with the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council sending a July 31 letter to McConnell seeking a floor vote on Chatterjee and Powelson.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com
This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3160, issued August 4, 2017
Copyright © 2017 by Concentric Energy Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.