Who Will Be Next FERC Chairman?

With the Senate in semi-recess, a recess appointment by the White House to extend Chairman James J. Hoecker's tour-of-duty at FERC by another year has been put on hold until after next Tuesday's presidential and congressional elections.

In the meantime, the political in-fighting at the Commission has stepped up a notch or two as current Commissioners Curt Hebert, Linda Breathitt and William Massey are said to be jockeying to be the next chairman of FERC, should Hoecker refuse a recess appointment.

"If anyone that is sitting there [at FERC] tells you they're not interested in the job, they're lying to you," said an informed source. "Linda's working hard for it. Bill's working hard for it," and so too is Hebert. "Obviously, everyone would love to lead the agency."

"Yesterday, I found out that there is some noise from the White House about a potential...Hoecker appointment," he said. But Hoecker, a Democrat, has indicated he will not accept a recess appointment if Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) is opposed to it. Lott has made it "abundantly clearly" that he does not support a Hoecker appointment.

"The proof will be in the pudding" as to whether Hoecker will be true to his word and reject the White House's offer because of Lott's opposition, the source told NGI.

The true test will be next week's presidential election. "If George Bush wins next Tuesday, I would assume that [Hoecker] will not take a recess appointment" because he would be replaced as chairman when Bush is inaugurated in January. The Republicans "want to be able to fill those two [vacant] Commission slots, and have a majority at FERC," he noted.

In the remote chance that Hoecker would accept a recess appointment under a Bush administration, this would set the stage for a gridlocked Commission next year that would have a Democratic majority under a Republican chairmanship.

Lott has publicly said he will push for Hebert, one of the more vocal members of FERC, to be the next Commission chairman, according to the source. Lott, a long-time friend of Hebert's, was largely instrumental in getting Hebert named to the Commission in late 1997. Hebert is the only Republican on the FERC panel.

In the event Al Gore should cinch the presidential election, however, this would clear the way for President Clinton to offer the recess appointment to Hoecker, and for Hoecker to accept it. In addition, Gore could later nominate Hoecker to another term at the Commission.

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