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Hebert Attack Raises Tensions at FERC

September 21, 1998
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Hebert Attack Raises Tensions at FERC

Tensions between Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr. and some fellow commissioners, which have been rumored to be running high over the past months, boiled over in the public meeting last week when the combative regulator publicly labeled as "disingenu[ous] and intellectually dishonest" the majority's decision in a hydroelectric dam decommissioning case.

Commissioner William Massey, who obviously was annoyed, questioned Hebert about whether the highly charged remarks were directed at Commission colleagues personally. "I want to get clarification on that because it's important to me in our future relationship, Curt, frankly," he said. "Disingenu[ous], if applied to the motivations of one of your fellow commissioners voting for this order, would be fairly harsh."

Hebert shot back that his attack wasn't personal, but rather was aimed at the order. "I think I've made that clear. Commissioner Massey, you and I have had a wonderful relationship, and it is my belief that we will continue to do so unless you choose otherwise...I'm certainly not attacking you personally. I know you're not looking for an apology and I'm certainly not going to give one because I do believe in my position."

Responding to Hebert's criticism, Chairman James Hoecker said the decisions "represent a high degree of intellectual integrity, and they do not represent a political agenda."

The war of words preceded the FERC majority's decision, by a narrow vote of 3-2, to uphold a November order calling for the decommissioning of a hydroelectric dam in Maine. Hebert, who supported vacating the controversial order, filibustered his position for nearly two hours, accusing the majority of overstepping its authority under the Federal Power Act by ordering the decommissioning of the Edwards Manufacturing dam. Commissioner Vicky Bailey sided with Hebert on the issue, but was much less vocal.

Afterwards, Hebert said "absolutely not" when asked if he thought the heated debate might have hurt his relations with the other commissioners. "I would hope that a professional debate wouldn't damage anyone's outlook on how we work together. I think he [Massey] appeared to be a little bit bothered, but I hope I straightened that out with the answer that it wasn't personal."

As a professional lawyer, Hebert said he's accustomed to doing battle with attorney-friends in the courtroom, and "then we go have lunch together and a cold drink after work that day. My experience is lawyers are good at that."

As a FERC commissioner, "I'm paid $118,000 a year to do my best job possible on the issues, and I tried to put $118,000 worth into [last Wednesday's] debate," he told NGI. Critics say "'Curt, your comments sure were lively.' But if we had vacated the order by a vote of 3-2, what do you think the other two would have said. I assure you their debate would have been as furious as mine was."

Susan Parker

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