The Senate voted 52-40 Thursday to confirm James Danly to be a member of the chronically short-handed FERC.
Bernard McNamee has said he plans to leave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the end of his current term, which is set to expire June 30. Assuming Danly is sworn in before McNamee's exit, FERC would then have only three members -- Republicans Danly and Neil Chatterjee, who is chairman, and Democrat Richard Glick. By law, no more than three seats at FERC may be held by one political party.
Danly, who is general counsel at FERC, was first nominated by President Trump in October and the initial 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. Last month, Trump again nominated Danly to FERC, and it was again voted out of committee last week.
At each step of the labyrinthine process, Senate Democrats have complained that the White House has ignored the tradition of nominating one member of each party to fill multiple vacancies at FERC.
Prior to Thursday's vote, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he was "deeply disappointed" that the White House has remained mum on Democrats' proposal to nominate Allison Clements, a former senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The politics involved in this town is outrageous," Manchin said on the Senate floor. "Truly outrageous that even proper decorum, simple civility, just a little bit of procedure is not even considered anymore...The White House has had a highly qualified candidate to fill the Democratic seat for over a year. Totally vetted, gone through all the processes that we had, but the President and his staff have still not filled the nomination...
"By breaking the long-standing practice of pairing nominations and not sending the nomination, it undermines the structure. I said I would support Mr. Danly because he is well qualified, and I will vote to confirm him. Two wrongs don't make a right here, but this has got to stop and both sides have to stand up and say, 'Mr. President, this is a tradition. This is what we do. This is customary of what's been done, and it gives us a five-member FERC, which is extremely important for our energy, our country, and the reliability that we depend on."
Manchin said he will not support another Republican nomination from the White House unless it is paired with a Democratic nomination.
Before his appointment to serve as FERC general counsel in 2017, Danly was a member of the energy regulation and litigation group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. He previously served as law clerk to Judge Danny Boggs on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Danly has also worked as managing director for the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC, and served an International Affairs Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations. He holds a law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University. Danly also is a former U.S. Army officer twice deployed to Iraq.
"I have appreciated getting to know and work with James as my General Counsel, where he's already proven to be an invaluable asset to the Commission," Chatterjee said. "James has an exceptional ability to carefully and thoughtfully consider the legal and regulatory questions raised by matters before us, and I look forward to working alongside him as a fellow Commissioner."
FERC's next public meeting is scheduled to be held next Thursday (March 19), but a spokesman said the coming meeting, like so many others in recent days, has been reformatted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioners are still scheduled to meet, but the meeting will be closed to the public, the spokesman said, although it will be broadcast online.
Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) CEO Alex Oehler thanked the administration for nominating and Senate for confirming Danly.
"INGAA looks forward to continuing its work with FERC and Congress to promote the benefits of natural gas and the safety of our nation’s natural gas infrastructure. We encourage the administration and Congress to prioritize the remaining open seat on the Commission and work towards a full complement of commissioners," Oehler said.