Sixteen Democrats on Wednesday urged President Trump to restore the quorum at FERC, after consulting with leaders of both political parties in the Senate and selecting nominees to serve on the Commission.
Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups, led by controversial Gasland documentarian Josh Fox, took the opposite tack, launching a campaign to oppose any Trump nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, thereby preventing FERC from fulfilling some of its duties, especially approving oil and natural gas pipelines.
In a letter to the White House, the Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who is the ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said FERC has been stymied in making decisions that require a vote of at least three commissioners.
"We write to request that you restore the quorum by nominating individuals that will honor the Commission's statutory missions to ensure that jurisdictional rates are just and reasonable, to prohibit market manipulation, to protect electric grid reliability, to oversee energy infrastructure development in a balanced manner and to provide for the licensing and safe operation of many of our nation's hydroelectric dams," the Democrats wrote.
House Democrats sent two similar letters to Trump last month, both on Feb. 22. The first letter had 14 signatories, while a second had 92.
FERC has been without a quorum since last month's departure of Norman Bay, who had served as the Commission's chairman before announcing his resignation in January. President Trump then named Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur to serve as acting chairman. A flurry of activity took place before Bay's last day on Feb. 3, but several major natural gas pipeline projects did not win last-minute approval.
The Senate members said FERC "has a long tradition of bipartisanship," and reminded Trump that by law, not more than three members of FERC may be members of the same political party. They added that, historically, both Republican and Democratic presidents have nominated people recommended by the Senate leader of the party that does not hold the White House.
"We hope that your nominees will be prepared to continue this tradition, and we intend to review them through that lens during the confirmation process," the Senators wrote, later adding "we expect you will honor this long-standing practice in nominating individuals to serve on the Commission."
The letter was signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (D-PA), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
There has been no word from the Trump administration about filling the three vacant seats at FERC. But rumors of some potential nominees have started to surface.
In a statement Monday, Fox said he and more than 130 environmental groups would launch a campaign opposing efforts to re-establish a quorum at FERC. Fox and several speakers, including Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, were scheduled to hold a conference call on Wednesday.