Apparently hampered by health issues, Kevin McIntyre was absent for a second consecutive monthly FERC meeting Thursday, prompting speculation that he may step down as Chairman or even leave the Commission.
There were two empty chairs at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dais, as there were at FERC's Sept. 20 meeting, and Commissioner Neil Chatterjee chaired the session.
"Chairman McIntyre is not here today. My prayers are with him and his family," said Chatterjee. Commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick also wished McIntyre "a speedy recovery."
FERC has remained tight lipped about McIntyre's health, refusing to comment on the issue again Thursday. Earlier this year, McIntyre revealed that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2017 and had since undergone successful surgery. At least until FERC's September public meeting, his recovery had not prevented him from fulfilling a full schedule, including hearings on Capitol Hill and speaking engagements.
If McIntyre were to yield the Chairmanship but remain as a Commissioner, Chatterjee, his fellow Republican, would become Chairman and the Commission would remain at its current two-Republican, two-Democrat status.
But if McIntyre were to leave the Commission entirely, it would leave FERC with a single Republican -- Chatterjee -- and two Democrats -- LaFleur and Glick.
Such a shift in the balance of power could bring with it a change in FERC's attitude toward natural gas pipeline applications. LaFleur and Glick have dissented on a number of recent pipeline decisions. Since the chairman controls which cases are brought up for a vote, a lone Republican, as chairman, might hold off votes on cases which he might lose.
LaFleur has critiqued FERC's approach to assessing climate change impacts from gas projects, and said this week that she strongly supports having a national or international policy on climate change, including carbon pricing and aggregate goals for curbing emissions. LaFleur also called for FERC to go beyond precedent agreements in evaluating the need for pipeline projects. She said basing certificate decisions solely on precedent agreements could lead to pipeline overbuild.
The fifth seat at FERC has been empty Since Robert Powelson's exit in August to become president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies. Earlier this month President Trump nominated Republican Bernard McNamee, who is currently executive director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Policy and previously served as deputy general counsel for energy policy at DOE. His nomination was based at least in part on his support for DOE's failed notice of proposed rulemaking to change the nation's grid reliability and resilience policies. Chatterjee has taken a similar stand, favoring incentives for continued coal and nuclear use.
McNamee's confirmation process appeared to be on a fast track when the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources promptly scheduled a hearing. Those plans hit a speed bump when the Senate agreed last week to a recess scheduled to last until after the midterm election, forcing the committee to reschedule the hearing to Nov. 15 in the after-election lame duck time frame.
McIntyre was nominated by President Trump in July 2017 to a term at FERC that expired June 30 and an additional term expiring June 30, 2023. He was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017.
Chatterjee was acting chairman prior to McIntyre's confirmation. LaFleur has been FERC Chairman on two different occasions.