The recent turbulence at FERC, including former Chairman Kevin McIntyre handing the reins to Neil Chatterjee, a potential fifth commissioner's Senate confirmation delayed by the upcoming midterm elections, and current membership at two Republicans and two Democrats, shouldn't stop the Commission from moving forward with its agenda, the new chief said Wednesday.
"I'm really not concerned about 2-2 lockups," Chatterjee said during a briefing with reporters at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington, DC. "The overwhelming majority of decisions we make at the Commission are unanimous…
“I remain optimistic that we will be able to achieve consensus and move forward with these things in an appropriate timeline, and I don't think the timing of the Senate confirmation process will impact that. I remain optimistic that we'll be able to achieve consensus on all of the work before the commission and continue moving forward."
Recent split votes, which have pitted Republicans McIntyre and Chatterjee against Democrats Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick, may "appear to be political," but "there are just genuine disagreements on policy," Chatterjee said.
"But my colleagues have been narrow and discreet in their dissents. I view that as an opportunity to try to build consensus. Because ultimately, the strongest policy statements aren't just among a full complement of commissioners, but a unanimous full complement of commissioners. That will have the longest durability."
Retaking the chairman's gavel last week when health issues forced McIntyre to step down from the helm to become a commissioner "is a difficult situation, both professionally and personally for me. Kevin McIntyre is not just my colleague, he is my friend. I think it is important that he is focusing his energies on his health and his family."
Chatterjee would not discuss McIntyre's health or a potential timeline for the former chairman's return to full time work at FERC.
"This situation is certainly not something I sought, and I most definitely do not relish it, but we have important work to do and Kevin wants me to be a strong leader for him and for the agency that he cares so deeply about. I am committed to working with my colleagues to live up to that expectation," Chatterjee said.
FERC won't be putting any issues aside to wait for the Senate to confirm President Trump's nomination of Bernard McNamee, Chatterjee said. McNamee's confirmation process appeared to be on a fast track when the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources promptly scheduled an Oct. 16 hearing, but those plans hit a speed bump when the Senate subsequently agreed to a recess scheduled to last until after the midterm election.
The committee rescheduled the hearing to Nov. 15, in the after-election lame duck time frame.
"There's so much on the Commission's plate right now that we need to take action on," Chatterjee said. "As somebody who spent the bulk of my career in the Senate and went through the confirmation process myself, it's an unpredictable one, and so I think my colleagues and I need to pull together and start tackling some of these issues. There's just too much on our plates to wait for the unpredictable Senate confirmation process."
Chatterjee said his top priorities as chairman will be the same he had as commissioner:
- Ensuring the reliability and the resilience of the grid;
- Processing liquefied natural gas applications;
- Addressing cybersecurity in the energy industry;
- Building the grid of the future; and
- Breaking down barriers to entry for new technologies.
And he said he would be focused on retaining the Commission's traditional independence from partisan politics.
Speaking at the Energy Bar Association Tuesday, Glick said in reference to recent controversial remarks by FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese that the Commission doesn't want to be seen doing the bidding of the Trump administration or of congressional Democrats either.
"I agree completely with Commissioner Glick that we should be separate and apart from any political influence on either side,” Chatterjee said. “if you look at the record under Chairman McIntyre's leadership, there's no evidence that there's been political influence or interference at the agency.
“Some people are pointing to these 3-2 votes that we've had. Those are clearly substantive disagreements, and I don't think they're being driven by politics…I've made very clear to all of the staff at the agency, including the chief of staff, that the agency's independence from political influence will continue."