The spectre of a FERC unable to achieve a quorum following the resignation of Norman Bay, and thus unable to vote on a series of energy projects, prompted two prominent natural gas organizations on Friday to urge the fledgling Trump administration to waste no time in nominating new commissioners.
"Given your focus on infrastructure and domestic energy resources, we urge you to nominate candidates to fill the Commission's three existing vacancies as quickly as possible," Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), said in a letter to President Trump Friday. In a similar letter, Natural Gas Supply Association CEO Dena Wiggins urged the White House "to move expeditiously to nominate candidates to re-establish a quorum and fill vacant seats at the Commission."
Lack of a quorum beginning with Bay's planned exit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Feb. 3 threatens to create a regulatory logjam delaying several pipeline projects.
On Thursday, Trump named Cheryl LaFleur acting chairman of FERC, and Bay resigned his appointment, which would reduce the number of commissioners at the agency to two beginning Feb. 3. Without a quorum, FERC can conduct routine business, but cannot vote on important projects or rules.
"The Commission is working to get as many orders out as we can in the time we have left with a quorum,” LaFleur said in a statement released late Friday. “I am confident that, with the strong team we have here at the Commission, we can continue to do our important work.
"We are evaluating how best to do the business of the Commission after commissioner Bay's departure. We have already confirmed that all existing staff delegations will continue. We will be issuing a podcast on Monday with more detail, and I expect there will be still more to communicate on this in coming days.
"That said, nominations for the three openings at the Commission would be very welcome, and I look forward to the day when we have a full, five-member Commission again."
INGAA’s Santa said, "It is important to note that these natural gas pipeline systems are financed with private capital. The most significant barrier to building this infrastructure is often the permitting and approval process, not a lack of financial resources. We must have a functioning FERC to move forward with building this critical energy infrastructure.
"INGAA would like to work with your administration to identify qualified nominees to serve at FERC, including at least one nominee with a background in natural gas and pipeline matters. We also pledge to work diligently to support the expeditious confirmation of qualified nominees by the Senate."
Santa said INGAA would "support the expeditious confirmation of qualified nominees by the Senate," which will have the final word on Trump's choices to fill the empty seats at FERC.
"The Senate's challenge will be to promptly consider, without undue delay, FERC nominations once they are received," according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. "I will make it a top priority to work with President Trump and my colleagues to move nominees rapidly and to re-establish a working quorum on the Commission."
Republicans are expected to move swiftly to nominate and confirm new commissioners to fill one or more of the three vacant seats. With Bay's resignation, the only commissioners would be LaFleur and Colette Honorable, both Democrats. FERC can have as many as five commissioners, with no more than three from any one party. There have been only three commissioners at FERC -- all of them Democrats -- since September, when Republican Tony Clark resigned. Another Republican, Philip Moeller, resigned in October 2015.
Proposed pipeline projects waiting for FERC approval include Energy Transfer Partners' Rover Pipeline, Williams Partners' Atlantic Sunrise Project, National Fuel Gas Co.'s Northern Access pipeline expansion project, and the PennEast Pipeline.