In a flurry of votes taken after weeks of delays, the U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed new commissioners to FERC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and a new Deputy Secretary of Energy, all of them previously nominated by President Trump.
In voice votes cast late Thursday the Senate confirmed Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, restoring a quorum that had been missing at the agency since former Chairman Norman Bay resigned Feb. 3. The now three-member Commission will need to come up to speed quickly as it faces a significant backlog of energy infrastructure project proposals on which to rule.
Trump nominated Chatterjee, a longtime energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for a term expiring June 30, 2021, which was previously held by Tony Clark. Before working for McConnell, Chatterjee was a principal in government relations for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and was an aide to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio. Chatterjee is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, was nominated for a term expiring June 30, 2020, previously held by Philip Moeller. Powelson serves as the president of NARUC, and he is on the Electric Power Research Institute Advisory Board and the Drexel University Board of Trustees. He is previous CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, based in Malvern, PA. He is a graduate of St. Joseph's University and the University of Pennsylvania.
"I am very pleased to welcome Neil and Rob to the Commission, and I look forward to working with them," said FERC Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur. "They each bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the important issues we are facing. With a quorum restored, our first order of business is the backlog of orders and issues that are awaiting Commission consideration."
The value of the Commission's backlog of pipeline projects awaiting approval was estimated at $4 billion in July and could grow to more than $17 billion by October, according to ClearView Energy Partners LLC. FERC's website lists 46 major pipeline projects pending, some filed as long ago as 2014.
"After six months, we have finally restored a working quorum to FERC," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Mr. Chatterjee and Mr. Powelson certainly have their work cut out for them, but I’m confident they will work to quickly get this independent agency back on track and tackle the important work that has been deferred."
Both Chatterjee and Powelson “are exceptionally well qualified and will serve with distinction,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Karen Harbert, CEO of the Global Energy Institute. “While overdue, the Senate’s action will now allow American energy companies the ability to move forward with projects that will create jobs and improve our security."
Two other Trump nominations to FERC -- Richard Glick and Kevin McIntyre -- are due to be considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 7. Glick is a Democrat, McIntyre a Republican. LaFleur is a Democrat; both Chatterjee and Powelson are Republicans. By law, FERC can have no more than three members of any party on its five-member panel.
A FERC spokesman said Friday that no swearing in ceremony had been scheduled for the newly confirmed commissioners, and it was not yet clear when FERC is holding its next monthly business meeting.
The Senate on Thursday also confirmed the nominations of J. Christopher Giancarlo as chairman of the CFTC and both Brian Quintenz and Rostin Behnam as CFTC commissioners. Giancarlo has served as acting CFTC chairman since January.
"I am humbled by the bipartisan support in the Senate," Giancarlo said. "As I have stated before, during my time as a commissioner, I have witnessed firsthand the enduring commitment of members of the U.S. Senate to our common purpose of serving the American people and the agricultural producers upon which we all rely.
“I stand ready to fulfill the CFTC’s mission to foster open, transparent, competitive and financially sound markets, in a way that best fosters broad-based economic growth and American prosperity. I am pleased that the nominations of Russ Benham and Brian Quintenz were also confirmed by the Senate, and I look forward to the swift confirmation of Dawn Stump and getting a full commission soon."
Quintenz is former head of a Washington, DC-based investment firm, is a former senior policy adviser to Ohio’s Pryce and was the founder, managing principal and CIO of Saeculum Capital Management LLC.
Benham, senior counsel to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), previously practiced law in New York City and worked at the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. Stump is a former executive director of the Americas Advisory Board for the Futures Industry Association and vice president at NYSE Euronext, and he has served in staff positions at both the Senate and House.
By a 79-17 vote, the Senate on Thursday also confirmed Dan Brouillette to the Department of Energy’s second highest position. Brouillette is head of public policy for USAA, a former vice president of Ford Motor Co. 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.
"Mr. Brouillette is well qualified to be Deputy Secretary of Energy and will be a good second-in-command to oversee programs critical to cybersecurity, energy innovation, and scientific discovery," Murkowski said. "His long history of distinguished service to our nation and significant management experience will enable him to be a great leader for the department."