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Negotiations Reported as Senate Committee Vote on FERC Nominees Stalls

The nominations of Norman Bay, director of FERC’s Office of Enforcement (OE), to be Commission chairman and current Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur to be approved for a second term were stalled this week as some Senate committee members reportedly pushed to reverse the order, having LaFleur continue to lead, while Bay joins as a commissioner.

Chairman Mary Landrieu (D-LA), of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee which is considering the nominations, reportedly is one of those pushing for the swap. Landrieu and other members of the committee followed up a committee hearing on the nominations with a long list of written questions for Bay on a host of issues from liquefied natural gas exports to power market operations to cybersecurity.

In his response, the nominee vigorously defended OE’s conduct in the prosecution of bank traders on charges of market manipulation, saying no information that the defendants were entitled to receive was withheld from them. Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, particularly honed in on the question of Commission litigation. The committee vote on the nominees which had been expected this week was put off, and there is no word as to whether the committee with take it up next week.

"There is an ongoing negotiation and nothing has been decided, but I am really keeping my eye on the ball, which is getting us a good compliment of FERC commissioners that can do the job and do it well," Landrieu said in an article in The Hill Wednesday.

"Only the White House determines who the Chairman is, so it would be up to the White House to say they are supporting keeping LaFleur as Chair," a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ranking member on the committee, told NGI. "We have not seen that happen yet. There is talk of that possibility. I know Landrieu is working on that. Sen. Murkowski's position is that Cheryl LaFleur should remain chairman for the remainder of the president's term."

But if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has his way, Bay will be the next Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) chairman. Reid has reportedly been instrumental in the collapse of some of Obama's previous FERC nominations (see Daily GPIOct. 9, 2013Sept. 17, 2013) and has said he won't accept LaFleur in that position. "I don't want her as Chair," he said, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Bay is more likely to promote Nevada's renewable-energy industry, according to the report.

In November, Obama tapped LaFleur to be Acting Chairman following the departure of Jon Wellinghoff (see Daily GPINov. 21, 2013). Prognosticators had seen LaFleur as a possible successor to Wellinghoff, but Obama instead nominated Bay, to the Commission and to be designated chairman upon appointment by the Senate (see Daily GPIJan. 31). LaFleur’s current term is due to expire at the end of June.

Bay's nomination has been criticized in some quarters because he had no energy industry experience before going to OE in 2009 (see Daily GPIMay 20March 27). LaFleur has the backing of senators from both sides of the aisle representing New England states (see Daily GPI, April 2).

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