In his first public meeting as a member of FERC Thursday, Bernard McNamee cast a single, non-committal, "present" vote on the Commission's lengthy consent agenda.
"I was just sworn in just a little over a week ago; I'm starting to interview my potential staff, and I've determined that to make a judgment in these important issues before the Commission, that those judgments should not be rushed," McNamee said. "I expect to fully participate in the Commission's proceedings and decisions soon, but for now I just plan to listen."
Listening, he said, sums up his initial agenda at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"The work that FERC does is vitally important to ensuring that our energy markets work, that rates are just and reasonable, and that infrastructure is developed responsibly.
“But all these issues are complicated and multi-faceted, and in order to keep an open mind, in order to make the right decisions, the key thing I want to do is listen -- listen to the record, listen to what people have to say, and make the decisions based on the law and the facts," McNamee said. "I'm committed to doing that."
Even before the Senate confirmed the nomination of McNamee, a Republican, Democrats had called for him to recuse himself on grid resiliency and reliability issues that might come before FERC. They based those requests on McNamee's involvement in crafting a controversial Department of Energy (DOE) proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power. During his confirmation process, the energy sector attorney pledged to serve as an "independent arbiter" if he were seated at FERC.
McNamee was sworn in at FERC Dec. 11. The next day, calls for him to recuse himself from resilience issues at FERC were renewed by 17 Senate Democrats, who signed a letter in which they said McNamee's "positions and statements suggest a lack of independence and an inappropriate predisposition on a number of topics likely to be involved in proceedings that will come before you in your new role as FERC commissioner."
Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists have also called on McNamee to recuse himself from cases related to federal efforts to bail out the coal and nuclear industries.
“Consumers deserve fair hearings on these issues that directly affect their energy choices and the prices they pay on utility bills, but Commissioner McNamee’s prior work raises real concerns that he has already made up his mind that coal plants need to be bailed out to ensure reliability," said Sierra Club senior attorney Casey Roberts.
There was no mention of possible recusals during FERC's meeting Thursday. The only vote of the day, to pass a lengthy consent agenda, passed by a 3-0-1 vote, with McNamee voting "present" and Kevin McIntyre absent for the vote.
The three other members of the Commission in attendance welcomed McNamee.
"I've been impressed by the way that he's quickly jumped right into the issues, which from my own experience I know is no small feat," said Chairman Neil Chatterjee. "Commissioner McNamee brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Commission, and I've already enjoyed my time getting to work alongside him."