A series of recent comments by FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese has caught the attention of two powerful Capitol Hill Democrats, who said the statements "call into question the impartiality and independence of the Commission itself."
In a letter to Chairman Kevin McIntyre Wednesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said they were "deeply troubled" by recent statements by Pugliese, "which indicate the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is working with Trump administration officials at the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Security Council on an ill-conceived plan to interfere with the operation of the nation's wholesale electric markets. We believe this action would violate the requirement that FERC remain a neutral and unbiased decisionmaker."
Pugliese made the comments on Aug. 7 at a meeting of the American Nuclear Society in Amelia Island, FL, according to published reports.
The Democratic lawmakers said they were also concerned by Pugliese's appearance on Breitbart News last month, a portion of which was devoted to criticizing Democrats for what Pugliese and the show's host characterized as anti-energy politics.
"We are equally concerned by highly partisan political remarks reportedly made by Mr. Pugliese in the media and at a recent industry conference that are highly inappropriate and undermine the Commission's independence," the lawmakers wrote.
"...Left unchecked, we believe such statements must ultimately call into question the impartiality and independence of the Commission itself."
During the 20-minute radio interview, Pugliese defended Energy Secretary Rick Perry's notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR), which appeared to support mainly the coal and nuclear industries.
The NOPR was presented to FERC last September, as a necessary bulwark to maintaining grid resiliency and U.S. national security. In January FERC unanimously rejected the NOPR.
Pugliese was named chief of staff at FERC in August 2017 by then-Chairman Neil Chatterjee. Prior to coming to FERC, Pugliese served as White House adviser at the Transportation Department since the beginning of the Trump administration in January 2017. He also has been director of legislative affairs for former Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Corbett, and served on Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale Commission.
"In light of Pugliese's troubling remarks and Chairman McIntyre's statutory responsibility" as chairman, Pallone and Cantwell asked a series of pointed questions in their letter.
Do Pugliese's remarks represent the views of the Commission or any of its members, they asked, and what policies, protocols and procedures does FERC have in place to ensure that its staff does not engage in partisan political activity in violation of the Hatch Act?
Cantwell is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Pallone is ranking member on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
FERC does not comment on letters the chairman receives, but McIntyre "will respond," a FERC spokesperson told NGI.