Though they took different paths to get there, former FERC Commissioner Colette Honorable, Regina Speed-Bost, and Debra Ann Palmer arrived at global law firm Reed Smith LLP in early July to add to the energy practice there, which is being enhanced to attract new clients, Honorable and Speed-Bost said in a recent interview.
During the interview at Reed Smith’s Washington D.C. office, Honorable and Speed-Bost addressed what FERC may focus on with a new commissioner lineup once a quorum is restored, complaints that FERC is a rubber-stamp agency for approving pipeline projects, and the priority placed on the long list of items pending at the Commission since it has been without a quorum for nearly six months.
Speed-Bost and Palmer came to Reed Smith from Schiff Hardin, where Speed-Bost chaired that firm’s energy practice group. Speed-Bost was a trial attorney and senior advisor at FERC before moving into private practice several years ago, and she brings a wide range of clients with her to Reed Smith. Palmer has represented clients under investigation by FERC’s Office of Enforcement, and advised clients on compliance with Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulations, Reed Smith noted in a statement announcing the additions.
In the interview, Honorable and Speed-Bost discussed what attracted them to Reed Smith, which is looking to develop a FERC regulatory practice “that is second to none,” in the words of Speed-Bost. Reed Smith is a known entity in the commodities space and it has an energy practice that is expected to have additional offerings to clients with the three new attorneys, she said. “They want to make headway in all aspects of what FERC regulates” and have gone about it in a thoughtful way, which impressed Speed-Bost enough to make the move from Schiff Hardin, she said.
As herself and Palmer were being courted, “the stars aligned” with efforts to bring on Honorable, said Speed-Bost, a senior advisor to former FERC Commissioner William Massey when they were both at the Commission.
Honorable said the “mastermind” behind bringing the three additions to Reed Smith was Kyri Evagora, partner and vice chair of the firm’s business and finance department in the New York office.
“Bringing on a premier FERC practice is just one more part of the firm’s strategy and commitment to ongoing growth in the energy and natural resources space,” Evagora said in a statement. “We are ramping up in the Americas to be sure we have the depth and strength of experience in all areas of our energy practice to help our clients succeed,” he said.
The strong brand name and global reach of Reed Smith, along with the chance to work with top attorneys in the regulatory field, meant “it was not a hard sell to get me to consider” joining the firm, said Honorable, who was a commissioner at the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) and past president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners before being named to FERC by former President Barack Obama.
There is a family connection as well, Honorable revealed, noting that her cousin, Marlen Whitley, is a partner in Reed Smith’s Houston office and was named to be the firm’s first executive director of diversity recruiting. At a diversity event the firm held, Honorable saw how Reed Smith reaches out to women, people with disabilities and other minority groups, which “solidified why this place would be home for me.”
Both Speed-Bost and Honorable, who are African American, reflected on how the energy industry has changed to include a more diverse population, with Speed-Bost recalling how she was often one of the few women and the only African American involved in a proceeding while at FERC. The look and perspective of the energy industry has changed for the better to include more diverse perspectives, but there is still work to be done on that front, Speed-Bost said, noting that she has worked with the Energy Bar Association and other groups on the issue.
Having been a regulator at the federal and state level for about 10 years, which is more than the average tenure, Honorable said she felt it was time to move into private practice and she is proud that “I left FERC in the way that I came, with strong bipartisan support and with strong stakeholder relationships.” She said she is looking forward to working with people directly at Reed Smith, since connections and personal interactions with industry representatives are limited as a FERC commissioner, even though FERC has good stakeholder outreach efforts.
Some of those stakeholders have interrupted FERC meetings, Senate hearings and other events to protest new pipeline infrastructure, calling FERC a “rubber-stamp agency” that approves every pipeline application it receives.
Honorable said energy consumers today are much more concerned and involved in how the energy they use is produced and delivered to them, and “I think that is a great thing.” But they should make their views known in the FERC proceedings and in the dockets pending at the Commission, along with the open houses for pipeline projects to serve as an effective party at the Commission, she said.
When FERC issues orders for pipeline projects, Honorable questions senior staff and reads the orders completely. ”I question the analysis. I know it’s not a rubber stamp agency. And so do I understand that people are critical? Yes, and that is why I encourage them to make their concerns known in the docket.”
With an emphasis in Washington on infrastructure, and several pipeline project applications pending at FERC while it has not had a quorum, a few projects may be among the first orders to be issued once a quorum is restored, Speed-Bost suggested. “There is a laundry list of items waiting for action, and how they prioritize that list will be critical” for the Commission to undertake when a quorum is restored, she said.
She cautioned that a large number of pipeline certificates may not be addressed all at once, although those are the items that make headlines because of the financial investments involved. “The public interest aspect of what the regulator does means you can’t prioritize in a way that skews the market,” Speed-Bost said.
FERC staff has been prioritizing items, sometimes based on statutory or other deadlines that are coming up or have passed, Honorable said. She expects market oversight issues will get attention from the new FERC commissioners, including state policy initiatives that are affecting wholesale power markets, which was the subject of a two-day technical conference in May.
Most chairmen at FERC put their own stamp on the agency in terms of priorities and direction, and “I fully expect that there will be one for the new chairman,” Speed-Bost said. President Donald Trump intends to nominate Jones Day attorney Kevin McIntyre to FERC and designate him chairman if he is confirmed by the Senate, and given the priorities of the Trump administration, “I would not be surprised to see infrastructure enhancements” as a priority at FERC, she said, acknowledging that as the head of an independent agency, McIntyre would have the ability to focus FERC’s agenda as he sees fit.
Honorable added that even with the power of the chairman’s role, much of what FERC addresses is a result of what is filed at the Commission. “While the chairman has the ability to shape the agenda somewhat, quite a bit of what the Commission decides comes from the stakeholders and counsel and parties and flows up through the processes at FERC,” she said.
“You may see some tweaks or adjustments” in policy statements or rulemakings once the new commissioners are in place for a while, but only time will tell when that will be and what they will focus on as they work through the backlog of pending items, Speed-Bost said.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fostereport.com