President Donald Trump is expected to announce his nominees to fill the vacancies at FERC soon, several sources told The Foster Report March 9, though the timing and names are still a source of speculation within Washington.
The two names mentioned most often are Neil Chatterjee, energy policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), and Kevin McIntyre, an attorney and co-leader of the energy practice at the law firm Jones Day.
The third vacancy at FERC is expected to be filled by a state regulator, with Commissioner Robert Powelson of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Ellen Nowak, chairperson of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, mentioned by sources who asked not to be identified. Powelson, who has been at the PUC since 2008 and previously served as chairman, declined to comment. Nowak has been at the PSC since 2011.
The White House press office said there are no updates on the FERC nomination process at press time March 9.
Lack of a Quorum. With three commissioner vacancies, FERC has been without a quorum since the 2/3/17 departure of former Chairman Norman Bay, leaving Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable, both Democrats, at the Commission. Honorable’s term expires in June 2017, and whether she’ll be nominated for another term or replaced by a different nominee from the White House was mentioned in a March 8 letter from 16 Senate Democrats.
As other lawmakers and energy trade groups have written letters to Trump over the past month or so, the 16 senators urged the President to restore the quorum and nominate individuals that will honor FERC’s statutory missions.
Trump on March 8 met with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, and new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the White House for an hour-long discussion on an array of issues important to Alaska, the senators said in a March 8 statement. Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will be key to getting any Trump administration nominees to FERC confirmed by the Senate.
That meeting should help raise the issue of FERC’s vacancies as a matter of importance within the administration, one source noted.
In their statement, Murkowski and Sullivan said the meeting with Trump touched on numerous issues, but the statement did not mention FERC.
Media reports have mentioned that Trump will be looking to fill agencies with members who support his policies, perhaps naming Independent members who are sympathetic to his views as a way to get around the requirement that no more than three of five commissioners at independent agencies can be from the President’s political party.
The Senate confirmation process can be tricky for political appointees, as former Colorado Public Utilities Commission Chairman Ron Binz can attest after he ended his nomination process in 2013 once it became clear he did not have the votes to get through the Senate committee. Binz, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, ran into opposition from fossil fuel interests and others for being too supportive of the environment.
Any nominee from the Trump administration will face resistance from environmental groups and energy infrastructure opponents. A collection of more than 130 groups on March 8 said they are gaining interest from landowners and others who will oppose Trump’s nominees to FERC. The groups include Beyond Extreme Energy, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Green America, Allegheny Defense Project, and others who are calling on senators to challenge FERC’s “rubber stamping of pipeline projects and refusal to listen to legitimate concerns of community groups,” according to their statement.
The groups plan to address any Senate hearings for FERC nominees from the Trump administration, they said.
“FERC is abusing its powers and the law in how it reviews, approves and greases the wheels for pipelines cutting through communities across America,” Maya van Rossum, leader of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said in the statement.
The 16 Democrat senators asked Trump to consult with Republicans and Democrats in the chamber to select nominees of both parties to serve at FERC, which would be consistent with law and long-standing traditions.
By law, not more than three members of FERC can be from the same political party, they said. For both Republican and Democrat presidents in the past, when they nominated FERC members who are not members of the president’s political party, they have nominated individuals recommended by the Senate leader of the opposing party.
“We expect you will honor this long-standing practice in nominating individuals to serve on the Commission,” the senators told Trump.
The letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Different media outlets have reported that McIntyre is expected to be tapped as chairman of FERC by the Trump administration. If so, it would add to the growing list of Jones Day connections with the White House, as Trump on March 7 named about 30 officials to positions in the administration, five of which would come from Jones Day. Those positions range from Noel Francisco, nominated to be solicitor general at the Justice Department, to several posts within the White House Counsel’s Office.
McIntyre is co-head of Jones Day’s global energy practice. He has represented energy companies and has experience with compliance and enforcement matters and a wide range of regulatory matters in the energy sector, according to his biography.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com
This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3139, issued March 10, 2017
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