Regulatory observers believe the odds are high that Colette D. Honorable, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, is the front runner to take over as head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

If she is nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate, Honorable would be the first black chairman or chairwoman of the Commission. “She’s not the lightning rod that [Ron] Binz was. I haven’t heard any downside to confirming her,” said a regulatory official with an oil and natural gas association.

Amid controversy over his pro-renewable energy and anti-fossil fuel sentiments, former Colorado regulator Binz last week asked Obama to withdraw his name from further consideration as a nominee for FERC chairman (see Daily GPI, Oct. 2). The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over FERC nominations, had vowed to block his nomination, preventing the full Senate from voting on it.

Unlike Binz, “she is very confirmable,” which is something the Obama administration wants during this period of “acrimony,” said a spokeswoman for a pipeline group.

Another possible candidate for chairman would be Democratic FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur. She has been on the Commission since 2010, and her term is scheduled to end in June 2014. “I have no reason to believe there would be anything preventing” Obama from appointing LaFleur, said the regulatory official with an oil and gas group.

But it’s unlikely that John Norris, another Democrat on the Commission, will be considered for chairman. Obama initially picked Norris to be the new chairman. But Norris “shot himself in the foot” last month when he accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) of blocking his appointment as chair because the senator believed Norris was too “pro-coal.” Reid denied the allegation.

“I don’t think Obama wants to tick off Reid” by nominating Norris when he is trying to get Congress to reopen the federal government and lift the debt ceiling by Oct. 17.

Norris, a former Iowa regulator, was nominated by Obama to FERC in 2010 and reconfirmed by the Senate in 2012 for a full term, expiring in June 2014.

Current FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is due to depart the agency at the end of the year. Industry observers don’t expect Obama to announce his choice for FERC chairman until the government shutdown and debt ceiling issues are resolved.