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Chatterjee Avoids DOE NOPR Comments, Expects McIntyre at FERC in 'Coming Days'

FERC’s Acting Chairman Neil Chatterjee declined on Thursday to discuss the Department of Energy's (DOE) controversial notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) with representatives of the natural gas industry, or an interim proposal he is reportedly considering.

However, he told reporters that he expects Kevin McIntyre will be sworn in as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "in the coming days." He also didn't rule out the possibility of someday running for political office in his home state of Kentucky, a major coal-producing state that would benefit if the NOPR were to be enacted.

"I regret to inform you that I will not be speaking at length about the DOE NOPR today," Chatterjee told attendees of the Natural Gas Roundtable in Washington, DC. "I understand the significance of that proceeding to everyone in this room...and it's a matter that many of you have been following closely. But as you know, much has been written on this topic already. It is a topic that has consumed much of the oxygen in the room over the past several weeks."

During a speech that lasted roughly 17 minutes, Chatterjee touched briefly on Richard Glick’s swearing in at FERC on Wednesday evening.

"Rich and I have known each other for years," Chatterjee said. "We worked well together in the Senate, and I very much look forward to working alongside he and all of my colleagues at the Commission. We are all eager to welcome Kevin McIntyre when he's sworn in as well. I look forward to working with him as he steps into the chairman's shoes in the coming days."

The last time FERC had a full complement of five members was October 2015.

Chatterjee told reporters as he was departing the meeting that while he attended Glick's swearing in ceremony, they "did not get into any substantive discussions" about the DOE NOPR.

When NGI asked whether he ever would consider running for political office in Kentucky, Chatterjee said "it's certainly not something that I'm considering today. I would never rule out any possibility to serve my country." He did not dispute the notion that advancing the DOE NOPR could help him with a possible political run.

The acting chairman declined to answer whether he was close to having the votes necessary to advance an interim proposal that, according to reports, calls for regulatory changes that would support coal and nuclear power generators. He also declined to say whether he would appoint a new enforcement director at FERC, should he remain chairman next week.

With Glick's swearing in, FERC has two Democrats (Glick and Cheryl LaFleur) and two Republicans (Chatterjee and Robert Powelson). McIntyre, a Republican, was confirmed by the Senate on Nov. 2.

Swearing in ceremonies at FERC customarily occur within a few days of Senate confirmation. The delay in seating Glick and McIntyre has fueledvarious theories, including that the Trump administration wants Chatterjee, a former energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), to remain at the helm until at least Dec. 11, the day FERC is expected to vote on the DOE NOPR. That theory is dependent upon the belief that Chatterjee and at least one other commissioner back the proposal.

Under the DOE NOPR, FERC would impose rules on independent system operators and regional transmission organizations "to ensure that certain reliability and resilience attributes of electric generation resources are fully valued."

The rule would allow "for the recovery of costs of fuel-secure generation units that make our grid reliable and resilient," according to DOE Secretary Rick Perry. Eligible units would have to "be able to provide essential energy and ancillary reliability service and have a 90-day fuel supply on site in the event of supply disruptions caused by emergencies, extreme weather, or natural or man-made disasters."

Coal and some electricity organizations have shown support for the NOPR, while natural gas industry groups have vehemently opposed it. It has also been criticized by several former FERC commissioners and chairmen, and by members of a House Committee on Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

One recent analysis concluded that subsidies included in the NOPR would cost as much as $10.6 billion a year, with most of the funds going to a handful of coal and nuclear companies.

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