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Murkowski, Cantwell Frustrated by White House Inaction on Empty FERC Seats

The continuing lack of a quorum at FERC and the White House's failure to have made any nominations to the Commission in the more than three months since President Trump took office is frustrating, according to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

"I'd like to see some names, now," Murkowski said during an event hosted Wednesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The joke on FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] is 'the nominees will be imminent,' and I said, 'I have no idea who imminent is, but just please send him or her quickly so we can confirm them.'

"It's very frustrating that here we are at May 3 and there has not been a quorum for the FERC for months now -- two months. We can't do much of anything in the energy space until there is a functioning quorum within the FERC. In terms of how we're going to handle them, first we need to get names so that we can actually act as a committee. Believe me, I am urging anybody who will listen that they need to get moving on it."

"I'll just say amen," Cantwell said.

The White House did not immediately respond to an NGI request for comment. A FERC spokesman told NGI there has been "no communication between the White House and FERC concerning potential nominations to Congress."

There are currently three empty seats at FERC and the expected exit of Colette Honorable at the end of June will leave the ostensibly five-member panel with a single member -- Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur.

The logjam at FERC began days after Trump's inauguration, when he named LaFleur acting chairman and Norman Bay, who had been at the helm since April 2015, submitted his resignation. It was the second time around for LaFleur, who chaired the Commission for a time before Bay took over. Given the multiple issues and cases across FERC's regulatory span encompassing oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, independent system operators, and hydroelectric and liquefied natural gas projects, it's possible the president might leave the relatively non-partisan LaFleur in her post as chairman temporarily.

Dozens of members of the House of Representatives, including members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, have called on Trump to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of commissioners. Some environmental groups have objected to those letters, saying they'd rather see FERC remain without a quorum.

There were reports several weeks ago that Trump planned to nominate as many as three individuals to FERC in a move that would have restored the Commission's quorum and allowed it to continue with its work, including the approval of oil and natural gas pipelines. Trump planned to nominate Kevin McIntyre, an attorney with law firm Jones Day, and install him as the new chairman, according to reports at that time. Reports also identified Neil Chatterjee, a longtime energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as a possible FERC nominee. Some reports have also identified Patrick McCormick, chief counsel for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Ellen Nowak, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, as possible nominees.

On Wednesday, Murkowski and Cantwell also said they plan to push this year for adoption of some form of the omnibus energy bill they worked in 2016.

"I have promised, and I know that Senator Cantwell has made the same commitments, that we're not done with our energy bill that we advanced last year," Murkowski said. "That was a bipartisan effort that deserves to be enacted into law, and we will see that through. That's a statement that you can take to the bank...we think that we can continue to build on that effort, that framework."

The bill -- S 2012, also known as the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 -- was passed by the Senate last April, but was not approved by the House. The bill called for, among other things, changes to the approval process for proposals to site, build, expand or operate liquefied natural gas facilities.

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