President Trump has announced his intent to nominate Republican Bernard McNamee to fill the vacant fifth seat at FERC, but how the confirmation process will unfold for the current executive director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Policy is unclear.
If recent history is any indication, McNamee's path to a seat at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could be a lengthy one. Nearly five months passed between the day Trump announced his intent to nominate Republican Kevin McIntyre and his swearing in as FERC Chairman last year.
Weeks passed between each step of the process -- the initial announcement in mid-July 2017, the official nomination being sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in August, a committee vote in September, Senate confirmation in November, and a swearing-in ceremony at FERC on Dec. 7. The confirmation process for Richard Glick followed much the same timeline, though he was sworn in at FERC several days ahead of McIntyre.
More than three weeks were added to the process when Senate confirmation of McIntyre and Glick was stalled by an objection from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe put the brakes on the nomination of Glick, a Democrat, in retaliation for "unprecedented obstruction" of other Trump nominees by Senate Democrats. McIntyre's nomination was likewise stalled.
If McNamee's nomination were to follow the same timeline, his confirmation wouldn't come until the final days of February. The White House has not said when an official nomination will be sent to Capitol Hill, and the other steps in the process must wait for that move. Potential speed bumps for McNamee include Senator's preoccupation with -- and the possible fallout from -- the midterm election on Nov. 6.
If confirmed, McNamee would fill a spot previously held by Robert Powelson, for the remainder of a five-year term due to expire June 30, 2020. Until then, votes on some controversial issues could be blocked by the current makeup of the Commission -- two Republicans and two Democrats.
McNamee would be the third Republican at FERC, joining McIntyre and Neil Chatterjee. Glick and Cheryl LaFleur are Democrats.
LaFleur, who has served at FERC since 2010 -- occasionally as Chairman -- is currently serving a term due to expire June 30, 2019. Chatterjee's term expires in 2021, Glick's in 2022 and McIntyre's in 2023.
If Republicans retain a majority in the Senate in the upcoming election, the Trump administration, might pair a Democrat nominee with McNamee, rather than renominate LaFleur, according to analysts with Clearview Energy Partners LLC. Alternately, the administration may leave LaFleur's seat vacant if McNamee is confirmed this year, analysts said in a note to clients Thursday.
On the other hand, "If the control of the Senate changes, we would not be surprised to see McNamee's nomination move quickly in a lame duck session to restore a 3-2 majority on the Commission this year."
McIntyre seems eager to have the vacancy at FERC filled, writing on Twitter that McNamee "is eminently qualified for the job, and I look forward to serving with him."
But McNamee's support of fossil fuels and his work on DOE's failed notice of proposed rulemaking last year have raised concerns in some quarters.
"FERC has a longstanding commitment to fuel-neutral regulation, but Mr. McNamee's past writings and career track record suggest that he would seek every opportunity possible to support fossil fuels," said John Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "He even went so far as to state in an op-ed that fossil fuels 'dramatically improve' the human condition. He should be prepared to answer some very hard questions about his previous comments and positions, and how they would affect FERC independence.”