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Trump Regulatory Nominees Get Thumbs-Up From Senate Committee

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave its approval Tuesday to a quartet of Trump administration nominees to FERC, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of the Interior (DOI).

The nominees -- Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Dan Brouillette to be deputy secretary of DOE; and David Bernhardt to be deputy secretary of DOI -- must be confirmed by the full Senate before taking office.

“I believe all four of these nominees are capable, competent, and well-qualified for the roles that they have been selected for,” said Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “They did well at their hearings and have answered all questions submitted for the record. It is now incumbent on us to confirm them as soon as possible.”

DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke and DOE Secretary Rick Perry “need their deputies in place to help them set strategic direction and run their departments on a day-to-day basis,” Murkowski said. “And at more than four months and counting, it is also crucial that we act swiftly to restore a working quorum at FERC.”

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America has estimated that $14 billion in private capital ready to be deployed on energy infrastructure projects has been sidelined while FERC has lacked a quorum.

The two nominees to FERC received the strongest support from the committee during the brief hearing. The votes for Chatterjee and Powelson were both 20-3, with Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, along with Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont voting against.

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.

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. Powelson serves as the president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and is on the Electric Power Research Institute advisory board.

Brouillette, who is head of public policy for USAA, a former vice president of Ford Motor Co. and a previous served chief of staff to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, was approved 17-6, with all of the no votes coming from Democrats on the committee.

The only hint of controversy -- other than a few brief interruptions by protestors who were quickly removed from the room -- came with the vote on Bernhardt’s nomination, which was approved by a 14-9 vote, with all but two Democratic members voting against. Bernhardt, an attorney at Denver’s Brownstein Hyatt Farber law firm and previous legal counsel under then-President George W. Bush, “would bring a great deal of unwelcome baggage to the department,” said Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

“As a lawyer, he has reportedly sued the Department of Interior on behalf of corporate clients,” and has worked as an attorney on several high profile cases filed by companies and opposed by environmental groups, Cantwell said.

“There’s nothing wrong with Mr. Bernhardt representing these clients as their lawyer, but giving him the power to adjudicate his former clients’ interests as deputy secretary of Interior raises serious appearance of conflict of interest issues.” Bernhardt has agreed not to participate in matters involving his clients for two years, Cantwell said.

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