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LaFleur Readies FERC to Work Through Quorumless Stretch

Cheryl LaFleur, Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and her two fellow commissioners on the ostensibly five-member commission are "very focused on the next week and trying to get as much work done [as possible] while we have a quorum," she said during a podcast released Monday.

"But beyond that, we have already confirmed that all of the existing staff delegations that are in place, including such actions as hydro inspections, LNG [liquefied natural gas] safety reviews, audits and all the other things that staff does, will continue during a period of no quorum. And, I'm not sure that everyone knows that five times as many orders are issued in a year by staff than by the commissioners."

On Thursday, President Trump named LaFleur acting chairman of FERC, replacing Chairman Norman Bay who then resigned his appointment as commissioner, effective Feb. 3. Bay's exit would reduce the number of commissioners at the agency to two. Two out of five does not a quorum make and without it LaFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable can conduct routine business, but cannot vote on important projects or rules.

"We're also working on a potential expansion of the staff's delegated authority during the period of non-quorum," LaFleur said. "We're basing that on past commission orders on this subject and the experience of other agencies. So, people should stay tuned for that.

"I've already spent some time with Commissioner Honorable, and we're both committed to working really closely to move the work of the commission forward. Some of the things we'll be able to do -- this isn't a complete list -- but review and consider filings that are pending or come before the commission, coordinate staff delegated actions existing and increased, proceed with environmental review of projects, hold commission meetings, tech conferences, workshops, prepare orders for future voting on that happy day when we get a new commissioner, and just conduct other business."

LaFleur has been a member of the Commission since 2010. She has plenty of experience running the place, having served as acting chairman from November 2013 to July 2014, as chairman from July 2014 until April 2015, and as commissioner since then. She had more than 20 years' experience as a leader in the electric and natural gas industry before joining FERC, serving as executive vice president and acting CEO of National Grid USA.

"Thinking back to when I was made acting chairman in 2013 -- and I only had 45 minutes notice before that announcement -- the first thing I said was that I would work with my colleagues and all the employees to keep the work of the commission moving forward during a time of transition and uncertainty. I think we’re in another time of transition, and that will be equally true today.

“Now, having said that, I'll confront any issues that happen to come up during my tenure, working with my colleagues just like any other chairman would. I'm the chairman while I'm the chairman." Her priorities now, as in her first tenure as chairman, remain reliability and grid security, along with ensuring a clean and diverse energy supply, she said. The new administration would be expected in time to nominate Republican commissioners and a Republican chairman, who would then have to go through the confirmation process.

 As for the memo regarding a regulatory freeze recently circulated by the White House, LaFleur doesn't see it causing a logjam at FERC.

"We reviewed the memo very carefully, and to the extent it applies to FERC, a triggering event described in the memo is the designation of a new agency head by the new administration. That happened last week when I was designated as acting chairman. I've completed the review of new or pending regulations described in the memo, and we have now sent to the Federal Register items previously duly voted out by the commission that need to be published there. I’d also note that previously set comment deadlines will remain unchanged."

A federal hiring freeze ordered by the White House will affect FERC, she said, though an exemption for work of significance to national security could potentially cover some parts of the commission's work. 

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