There was little controversy and plenty of goodwill for a trio of Trump administration nominees to FERC and the Department of Energy (DOE) Thursday when they appeared at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Senators' questions to the nominees -- Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Dan Brouillette to be deputy secretary of DOE -- were wide-ranging, with an emphasis on electricity and renewables, but did not drill down into fine detail. There were no objections to any of the nominees from committee members. Their nominations will need the approval of the committee and the full Senate before they can take their seats at FERC and DOE.
"I am pleased to have these nominees before our committee this morning," said Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). "This hearing is an important step in our efforts to restore a quorum at FERC, and to ensure that Secretary [Rick] Perry has a good team in place at his department. I believe Mr. Brouillette, Mr. Chatterjee and Mr. Powelson are well-qualified and deserve to move quickly through the process of confirmation."
Trump nominated Chatterjee, a longtime energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for the term expiring June 30, 2021, that was previously held by Tony Clark, who left FERC last September.
"As my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle can attest, I have always endeavored to be pragmatic, fair and transparent in my interactions," Chatterjee told the committee. "In an effort to gain majority support on key legislative priorities, I have proven my commitment to hearing all sides of an issue and looking for common ground...I hope to be able to bring the same equitable, level-headed approach that I've taken here in the Senate with me to the Commission so that we can move our country forward on the numerous big issues before us."
Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, was nominated for a term expiring June 30, 2020, that was previously held by Philip Moeller, who left FERC in October 2015. He serves as the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and on the Electric Power Research Institute Advisory Board.
"In working with state commissions across the country, I have gained an appreciation of the diversity in utility regulation that exists across the 50-state compact," Powelson said. "What works in Pennsylvania does not necessarily work in other markets, and, should I be confirmed, I will continue to value the variety of perspectives that the states bring to an issue."
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. There is some question about the likelihood of LaFleur remaining at the helm at FERC, since she is a Democrat and Trump and his nominees are Republicans. By law, no more than three members of FERC may be from the same political party.
There have been reports that Trump plans to nominate Kevin McIntyre, an attorney with law firm Jones Day, to FERC and install him as the new chairman. McIntyre currently serves as co-head of the firm's global energy practice.
Brouillette is head of public policy for USAA, a former vice president of Ford Motor Company and previously served as chief of staff to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He also served as assistant secretary of energy for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs from 2001 to 2003 and was a member of the Louisiana State Mineral and Energy Board from 2013 to 2016.
The hearing was interrupted several times by protesters, some shouting "shut FERC down." They were quickly removed from the room. At least one environmental organization was unhappy with the tenor of the hearing.
"Neither nominee expressed any serious concern for the climate of our communities being harmed by FERC's virtually indiscriminate approval of dangerous gas pipelines," said Oil Change International's David Turnbull. "Both Powelson and Chatterjee have track records that are antithetical to the reform that's urgently needed at FERC to stop pro-gas bias and square permitting processes with scientific and economic reality. Ultimately, Senators should reject these nominees."
Committee members had until the end of the day to submit further questions for the nominees, and Murkowski seemed eager to move on a full Senate vote.
"My hope is to be able to advance your names quickly...so that we can process these nominees for the FERC and DOE...and allow for business to proceed," Murkowski said.