The process to nominate and confirm two new commissioners to FERC, which appeared to be nearing a significant milestone at year's end, reverted back to square one with the flip of the calendar.
Traditionally a five-member panel, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues to operate with only three commissioners five months after Cheryl LaFleur stepped down and more than a year after the death of former Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre.
James Danly, who is general counsel of FERC, was nominated by President Trump in October to fill one of the two vacant seats at the Commission, and his nomination was voted out of committee in November. The full Senate, however, failed to vote on the confirmation during 2019 and the nomination was returned to the White House Jan. 3. Trump will presumably restart the process, once again sending Danly's nomination back to the Hill for a second run through the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Danly's nomination was voted out of committee in November side-by-side with two other energy-related nominations, but has fallen behind them in the process. In separate votes, the committee voted through Dan Brouillette's nomination to become Secretary of Energy, Katharine MacGregor's nomination to become Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior and Danly's nomination to FERC.
Brouillette was confirmed by the Senate Dec. 2 and sworn into office by Trump days later. Like Danly, MacGregor's nomination did not come up for a vote in the Senate before the end of the year and was returned to the White House Jan. 3, but unlike Danly, her nomination was resubmitted to the Senate by the White House on Monday.
Danly's nomination may have stalled in the home stretch because of a simmering conflict over FERC's long-standing reputation for independence and the number of Republican and Democratic party members on the panel. By law, no more than three seats at FERC may be held by one political party.
FERC currently has two Republican members -- Chairman Neil Chatterjee and Bernard McNamee -- and one Democrat, Richard Glick. McNamee's term is set to expire June 30; Chatterjee's in 2021; and Glick's in 2022.
During the runup to Danly's nomination there were complaints from Democrats, including Joe Manchin (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the committee, that the White House had not also sent the name of a Democratic nominee. Danly's nomination broke with tradition by putting forward the name of a Republican to fill one empty seat without pairing it with a Democrat to fill the other, they argued.
Manchin and other Democrats have been lobbying for Allison Clements, a former senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to be nominated to FERC. Trump administration officials have met with Clements, Manchin told reporters this week.