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FERC Back to Quorum At Last As Powelson Sworn In; NatGas Backlog Awaits

Former Pennsylvania state utility commissioner Robert Powelson was officially sworn in as the third commissioner -- and the quorum-maker -- at FERC Thursday, earlier than some agency onlookers were expecting.

Powelson, who will join holdover Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur and recently sworn-in Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, is expected to be the starting gun for a string of FERC orders on cases that have been backed up since February.

Many expected Powelson to be sworn in Monday. The schedule speed-up could presage some early notational orders being issued Thursday or Friday, according to Clearview Energy Partners LLC.

Applications for a couple major pipelines, such as the Appalachian takeaway Nexus Gas Transmission project, along with numerous other infrastructure projects, have been in limbo since former Chairman Norman Bay’s resignation robbed FERC of its quorum.

“We would not be surprised if a handful of notational orders emerged this afternoon or tomorrow,” ClearView said in a Thursday note to clients. “We think it may be more likely that the Commission will resume issuing complex orders, such as pipeline certificates, early next week. We also think the Commission may schedule an open meeting in August given the upcoming workload.”

In the past, FERC has habitually skipped holding monthly meetings in August, but there is no rule that excludes a meeting in August, ClearView said.

Also Thursday, Chatterjee was officially named chairman of the newly revamped FERC, to serve until Chairman-to-be Kevin McIntyre’s nomination clears the Senate. The Trump administration’s nomination of Democrat Richard Glick is also pending in the Senate.

"I want to thank Chairman LaFleur for the tremendous work she's done in guiding the agency,” Chatterjee said. “The absence of a quorum was unprecedented, yet she rose to the challenge and created stability through her unwavering leadership.

“I am honored that President Trump has designated me as chairman of the Commission until Kevin McIntyre is confirmed, and I am eager to take on this responsibility,” Chatterjee said. “I look forward to working with Commissioner LaFleur and Commissioner Powelson on behalf of the American people. And I hope that we will have all five commissioners here soon with the confirmation of Kevin McIntyre and Rich Glick."

Powelson has served on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission since June 2008, and led as chairman from 2011-2015. He was on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which reviewed the Commonwealth’s existing statutes, regulations and policies and provided recommendations to develop a comprehensive strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of the Marcellus Shale.

Powelson is a past president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), where he also was a member of the board. He served as chairman of the NARUC Committee on Water and was on NARUC’s Task Force on Climate Policy. He was active in NARUC activities involving critical infrastructure and nuclear waste disposal. The newest FERC commissioner also worked very closely with NARUC leadership on aggressive pipeline safety standards with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

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