The cards are stacked against two pending FERC nominees, Phillip D. Moeller and Jon Wellinghoff, receiving swift Senate confirmation this session, according to a top legislative analyst for the natural gas pipeline industry.

"The political environment isn't conducive to getting any nominees through [the Senate]," said Martin Edwards, vice president of legislative affairs for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). It has nothing to do with the qualifications of the two nominees, he noted. "If Mr. Rogers were nominated, it would be difficult to get him through" this year.

Edwards noted that it's "almost effectively the end of the session," with the July 4th recess just weeks away, to be followed by the month-long August recess during which congressional lawmakers will be gone until after Labor Day. When Congress returns, there are "so many issues jammed into the schedule" before lawmakers depart again in October for the November mid-term elections, Edwards said. And it's unclear at this point whether Congress will return following the elections to address unfinished business.

He said he doesn't see the Senate confirming Moeller, a Republican, and Wellinghoff, a Democrat, "unless some kind of special deal is made between the minority and majority leaders of the Senate." The fact that Wellinghoff was recommended for the FERC seat by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) "helps a little bit," Edwards told NGI.

In the meantime, Edwards said he "has not heard anything for a month" on who the White House is considering to replace FERC Commissioner Nora Brownell, whose term expires on June 30. Earlier it was reported that the White House was "giving the closest look" at Alan R. Schriber, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, as a successor to Brownell, but the chatter has since died down, he noted (see Daily GPI, May 17).

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over nominations for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, initially was waiting for the Bush administration to announce a replacement for Brownell so it could act on all three nominees at once. However, the committee got tired of waiting, and scheduled a confirmation hearing for Moeller and Wellinghoff this Thursday.

Edwards does not expect either Moeller or Wellinghoff to face any problems with the committee this week. Moeller, executive director of the Washington office for Alliant Energy Corp., has been nominated for a five-year term at FERC expiring June 30, 2010. He would fill the Republican seat vacated by former Chairman Pat Wood in July 2005 (see Daily GPI, March 9).

Wellinghoff, a partner with the law firm of Beckley Singleton in Colorado, has been tapped for the remainder of a term expiring on June 30, 2008. He would fill the seat of former Commissioner William Massey, a Democrat who departed the agency in December 2003.

If Moeller's and Wellinghoff's nominations should be held up, as Edwards predicts, the Commission still would have a sufficient quorum (three commissioners) to conduct business because Brownell would be able to stay on under a grace period that would expire when Congress adjourns for the year. The current political makeup of the Commission includes two Republicans (Brownell and Chairman Joseph Kelliher), and one Democrat, Commissioner Suedeen Kelly.

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