Senate Panel to Hold May 25 Hearing on FERC Nominees Chatterjee, Powelson

Following receipt of all paperwork for the nominations of Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to join FERC, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 18 said it would hold a May 25 hearing to consider the White House nominees.

One day before the hearing was scheduled, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that the White House has not provided all the paperwork needed for the Senate to consider the nominations of Chatterjee and Powelson.The hearing will also cover the nomination of Daniel Brouillette to be the deputy secretary at the Department of Energy (DOE).

The White House on May 10 said it sent the nominations of Chatterjee and Powelson to the Senate. But Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told reporters that the committee has not received all of the paperwork for the nominations to be considered.

Speaking with the media following remarks at an event sponsored by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) and the ClearPath Foundation, Murkowski said she does not schedule confirmation hearings for nominees until all paperwork is provided. The White House provided most of the paperwork needed for the two FERC nominees, but not all of it. “As soon as we have all of it, we’ll schedule them,” she said about a confirmation hearing before the committee.

FERC has been essentially “neutered” since early February, when it began operating without a quorum following the departure of former Chairman Norman Bay, Murkowski said, adding “everyone wants FERC to get back to work” once a quorum is restored at the Commission.

The vetting, background check, financial disclosure forms, and other paperwork for Kevin McIntyre, an attorney and co-leader of the energy practice at Jones Day, is on a separate track than Chatterjee and Powelson, sources have told The Foster Report. Because Chatterjee, energy policy advisor for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Powelson, a commissioner with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, are in government service, their vetting and paperwork did not take as long as McIntyre, who is expected to be tapped to serve as chairman at FERC, sources said.

Chatterjee, Powelson, and McIntyre would join Cheryl LaFleur, a Democrat, currently serving as acting chairman, and Commissioner Colette Honorable, a Democrat, who has given notice that she will not seek another term at FERC. Honorable’s current term at the Commission expires on June 30, though she could stay on after that date until a replacement is named or the end of the current Congressional session.

Murkowski spoke at the event as part of a panel, with Meera Kohler, president of Alaska Village Cooperative, and Jay Faison, founder and CEO of ClearPath Foundation, a conservative group touting energy innovation, reduced government interference and free markets.

When asked by moderator Nick Juliano, deputy energy editor at Politico, whether she believes the Trump administration might choose not to fill some of the many vacant federal government positions at DOE and other agencies, Murkowski said it will be critical for the administration to fill key spots quickly if they want to carry out their energy agenda. “The sooner they get their people in place to do what they would like to do, the better off they’ll be,” she said of the administration.

“Delays do not benefit anybody,” especially at agencies where officials from the Obama administration are in leadership positions because of vacancies not yet filled by the Trump administration, Murkowski said.

She referred to the pace of nominations, and the paperwork to support those nominations, as “tortuously slow” and almost painful. “We just got the paperwork for Daniel Brouillette” to serve as the deputy secretary of energy, Murkowski noted. The White House announced the intent to nominate Brouillette for the No. 2 position at DOE on April 3.

Brouillette, currently senior vice president and head of public policy for USAA, a provider of financial services to the military community, previously had roles as vice president at Ford Motor Co., chief of staff for the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, and assistant secretary of energy for congressional and intergovernmental affairs.

Faison and Murkowski touched on the proposed budget blueprint from the Trump administration, which sought massive cuts in funding and programs at DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies, including reductions in research and development efforts.[1]

Murkowski said she does not agree with some of the programs targeted for elimination, such as the Energy Star program, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program and others. Lawmakers have discussed concerns with the initial proposed budget and will have an opportunity to weigh in once the full budget is released from the administration, which is expected soon, she said.

Faison commented that the U.S. should be a leader in the energy sector through innovation, new technologies that capitalize on reduced carbon emissions, small modular reactors for nuclear generation, and small hydropower projects. “Energy is the biggest market in the world, by far,” and the U.S. should take advantage of its skilled labor and industrial engineering prowess to build infrastructure for clean and affordable energy, he said.

“The world is decarbonizing,” and if the U.S. does not have a leadership position in that realm, China will, and it will gain an economic advantage in the process, Faison said.

The panelists gave their views on whether the U.S. should maintain its participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change, with Faison supporting staying in the agreement.

“I’ve been agnostic on staying in or going out” of the agreement, Murkowski said. However, after examining what might be best for the country and where it can be most useful in the global energy market, “I think you have more leverage if you stay in,” she said. That is not because of any environmental mandate, but because it would be a good business decision to have the country follow the direction of the agreement.

She noted that the Trump administration is developing its policy on climate change, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently commented, before it reaches a decision on its status regarding the Paris Agreement.

In Alaska, “we’re very distant” from the agreement and the policy debate in Washington, but coastal erosion and climate change impacts are clearly visible, said Kohler. Power plant emissions are a contributing factor, but for the U.S. to adopt draconian standards that would hinder utilities’ ability to meet the needs of their customers would be wrong, she said.

All three panelists lamented that there is too much regulation stifling innovations in the energy sector, and even relicensing existing hydropower projects can take up to 10 years and cost millions of dollars. Kohler related how a small Alaska village – Old Harbor, on Kodiak Island – wanted to add two 262.5-kW turbines at a hydropower project, but FERC only allowed one turbine to be added because it was not convinced that the village had the electricity demand to need both small turbines. The cooperative utility spent about $10 million over seven years to license the facility with the one turbine, and will have to go through the FERC licensing process again to add the second turbine as electricity demand grows. “It’s unconscionable” for FERC not to approve both turbines, and “we’re fit to be tied” about the decision, she said.

By Tom Tiernan

[1] See, Budget Plan Seeks Major Cuts at DOE, EPA, With No ARPA-E, Energy Star, LIHEAP Programs, FR No. 3140, pp. 1-4.


This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3149, issued May 19, 2017

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