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Senate Awaits Brownell Successor Before Acting on FERC Nominees

The two nominees previously named to fill vacant seats at FERC are likely to remain stalled in the Senate until the Bush White House taps a successor for outgoing Commissioner Nora Brownell, according to Capitol Hill sources.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over FERC nominations, is waiting for the Bush administration to announce a replacement for Brownell "so it can do all three [nominees] at once," said a legislative aide. Brownell's term at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expires on June 30.

Several candidates reportedly are being eyed to succeed Brownell, a Republican, but "most people say the White House is vetting and giving the closest look" at Alan R. Schriber, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a Capitol Hill aide said. Schriber has been chairman of the PUC since 1999, and also served as a commissioner between 1983-1989.

He was a member of the U.S.-Canada Power Outage Task Force that investigated the causes behind the August 2003 blackout that affected parts of Ohio and the Northeast.

In March, President Bush nominated Philip D. Moeller, executive director of the Washington office for Alliant Energy Corp., to a five-year term at FERC expiring June 30, 2010. He would fill the Republican seat vacated by former Chairman Pat Wood in July 2005. Bush also tapped Jon Wellinghoff, a partner with the law firm of Beckley Singleton in Colorado, for the remainder of a term expiring on June 30, 2008. He would fill the seat of former Commissioner William Massey, a Democrat, who departed the agency in December 2003 (see NGI, March 13).

FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher said he has known Moeller for 20 years when they both worked on Capitol Hill. Wellinghoff, who specializes in energy and consumer law, was recommended for the FERC seat by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

Both candidates have completed their Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks, with the prerequisite paperwork forwarded to the Senate energy panel, according to Capitol Hill sources. Normally the committee would schedule a confirmation hearing as the next step. But with Brownell's term coming to a close, the Senate panel has decided to wait for the White House to tap her successor.

Given that this is an election year, some observers believe that it will be difficult to get three FERC nominations through the Senate before the end of the congressional session. If this should prove to be the case, the Commission still would have a sufficient quorum (three commissioners) to conduct business because Brownell would be able to stay on under a grace period until Congress adjourns for the year. The other two FERC members include Kelliher and Commissioner Suedeen Kelly.

Kelliher has urged the Senate to act quickly on the nominations to give FERC the needed manpower. He noted that the five Commission seats have been filled for only three months over the past six years.

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