Pacific Northwest Senator Puts 'Hold' on Kelliher FERC Nomination

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Monday placed a formal hold on the nomination of Joseph T. Kelliher to fill one of two vacant seats at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to the senator's office.

Wyden's "hold" essentially freezes the nomination process in its tracks, and prevents the full Senate from confirming Kelliher until "my concerns can be addressed," the senator said in a prepared statement.

A member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wyden said he took this action because "Mr. Kelliher has not convinced me he fully understands the impact of manipulation of West Coast energy markets on Northwest ratepayers or the problems the Commission's standard market design (SMD) proposal could create for the Northwest electric power grid."

The FERC position that Kelliher would fill is of "enormous importance to my constituents in Oregon who have had their energy prices soar through the roof during the past few years while the Commission has failed to serve as an effective watchdog over energy markets," he said.

By 17-2, the Senate Energy Committee voted out the nomination of Kelliher to the full Senate last week. Wyden was one of the two senators who voted against Kelliher, a Republican.

Kelliher, a senior policy advisor at the Department of Energy (DOE), is seeking the seat formerly held by Commissioner Linda K. Breathitt, whose term expired in December.

Last week the White House announced its intention to nominate former New Mexico regulator Suedeen G. Kelly, a Democrat, to fill the other open seat at FERC, a move that many believed would clear the way for Kelliher's confirmation by the full Senate. Key committee Democrats had signaled previously that they would block Kelliher's confirmation if Kelly wasn't nominated by President Bush. But a "hold" from Wyden wasn't expected, observers noted.

Committee Democrats, notably Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, want the Kelliher and Kelly nominations to move through the Senate at the same time. However, committee spokeswoman Marnie Funk indicated it could be six months before the Senate panel receives all the paperwork on Kelly, and her background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is completed.

This, along with Wyden's action, could potentially put the confirmation process for Kelliher on hold for months.

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