Two empty seats remained on the podium Wednesday for FERC's first monthly public meeting since January, but the recently reconstituted quorum was in attendance, approving three natural gas items and a series of items unrelated to gas. The panel in place promised continued action even as it awaits confirmation of two more members.
The meeting was dominated by talk of the now ended no-quorum period, the transfer of the chairmanship from Cheryl LaFleur to Neil Chatterjee, and the pending Senate confirmations of Kevin McIntyre and Richard Glick, with McIntyre set to become the fourth Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman this year.
"As Rob [Powelson] and I were going through the Senate confirmation process, what we heard repeatedly was 'we need to get you guys through so we can get FERC working again, we need to get FERC working again,'" Chatterjee said after the meeting. "What has been made clear to me from the moment I came walked in the door...is that FERC has been working, and has been doing tremendous work under Acting Chairman LaFleur's leadership and with the talents and efforts of the staff here."
FERC, nominally composed of five members, lost its quorum when then Chairman Norman Bay resigned Feb. 3, and it was reduced to a single member, LaFleur, when Colette Honorable left at the end of June. Chatterjee joined LaFleur when he was officially sworn in at FERC on Aug. 8, and Powelson was sworn in days later. It was the second time LaFleur has moved from chairman to commissioner.
The nominations of McIntyre and Glick received the support of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday and were sent to the full Senate for consideration. McIntyre would be installed as chairman upon confirmation. Both nominations were placed on the Senate executive calendar Tuesday, but votes had not been scheduled. The Senate is in recess until Monday (Sept. 25).
In the closing days of January, with a quorumless stretch looming, FERC handed down a slew of orders and issued a delegation order authorizing FERC staff to act on rate filings; grant extensions of time and waiver requests; and approve uncontested settlements. The order did not grant staff the authority to issue major orders approving certificate applications for natural gas projects.
"To say that the first part of this year until my friends arrived was an odd and unusual time at FERC would be an understatement," LaFleur said Tuesday. "The last nine days of quorum were an extremely intense but productive period."
Under the delegated authority, FERC staff was able to conduct most of its usual business. The Office of Energy Market Regulation staff issued 200 orders during the no-quorum period. Sixty-eight of those orders were subject to further Commission authority. Staff also held a number of technical conferences and workshops during the no-quorum period.
The delegation order expired Aug. 23.
Moving forward, three commissioners will do, but five would be optimal, Chatterjee said.
"Our primary focus is to work through the backlog, and we continue to do that with the three of us. That said, I have noted repeatedly that I think FERC speaks loudest when it speaks with one voice, and for some of the major issues before the Commission it would certainly be my preference when we do have FERC at full strength. That said, having just been through the Senate confirmation process myself and know the uncertainties of that process, certainly we're prepared to move on some of these major issues if in fact the arrival of our colleagues is delayed in some way...
"I think we intend to move forward with items as they're ready, on project approvals as they're ready. If they're ready to go, if we have the votes to approve them -- there's three of us here -- if we have the votes to move forward. I'm optimistic that our colleagues will join us here sooner rather than later, but we can't suspend the Commission's work waiting on the Senate to act.
"So our preference would be to tackle these big issues with FERC at full force, but if the process is delayed to any degree, we need to keep moving forward."
There had been some anticipation that some large natural gas items in FERC's backlog would appear on the meeting's agenda, but it was not to be. ClearView Energy Partners LLC had estimated the value of backlogged pipeline projects could have grown to more than $17 billion by October.
"I think people out in the ‘FERCosphere’ have expressed frustration on 'where are all the big things, the big policy items, we want those, when are they coming?'" LaFleur said. "The work on that during the no-quorum period was a little bit like the part of the duck that's underneath the lake. It moves furiously, but you can't see it."
It was packed house for the meeting, including a handful of anti-pipeline activists, some wearing shirts inscribed "FERC Doesn't Work." There had been protests outside FERC headquarters prior to the meeting and security lines were long. In a repeat of past practice, a few protesters who attempted to shout down the Commission were quickly removed from the room and the meeting continued.
The activists also claimed to have delivered a letter to members of Congress, signed by 139 organizations, calling for a moratorium on FERC-approved pipelines and infrastructure.