Massey to Replace Hoecker as FERC Chairman

FERC Chairman James J. Hoecker announced last week during the Commission's regular meeting that he will step down on Thursday (Jan. 18), ending his three-year-plus stint as chairman and more than seven years on the panel. Before those words were even uttered, the White House notified Commissioner William Massey that he would take the baton from Hoecker beginning Jan. 19.

Massey, a Democrat, is the senior member at the Commission, and, therefore, was considered the logical choice to head up the Commission, at least until the Senate can confirm whomever the incoming Bush administration nominates for that post. Both he and Hoecker were sworn in on the same day.

"My term will last at least 36 hours," Massey joked to NGI, noting that President-elect George W. Bush will be inaugurated the day after he's sworn in as chairman of the Commission. "My plan for whatever period of time I am chairman is to act in the public's interest."

Hoecker gave no reason for his decision to leave early, nor did he say what his immediate plans were. His departure will leave only three seats filled on the five-member panel.

Given that Bush will be in office by the next FERC meeting (Jan. 24), some believed Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr., the sole Republican on the Commission, would be picked as temporary chairman. Hebert expects to be tapped as FERC chairman under a Bush administration, but others aren't so sure anymore.

"It was with some difficulty personally that I submitted [my] letter" to resign from FERC, Hoecker said, "but frankly I'm too tired today to be sad." He sent the letter to the White House early Wednesday following a marathon meeting at the Treasury Department last Tuesday night on the crisis facing California's electricity markets.

Hoecker's resignation comes only a few weeks after he received a recess appointment from the White House that effectively extended his term on the Commission until the Senate adjourns next year, and also re-designated him as chairman. The recess appointment, however, was conditioned on Hoecker, a Democrat, agreeing to step down as chairman when asked to by Bush, or prior to that, sources said.

He did a "Don Santa type of thing" by resigning rather than having to recuse himself from FERC cases while job hunting, one source noted. "It's a cleaner way to leave the FERC."

Hoecker's departure will leave the Commission with two vacancies --- both of which would presumably be filled by Republicans to give the incoming administration a majority. FERC, however, still has the quorum needed to conduct business.

Meanwhile, speculation continues about who will be the next FERC chairman in a Bush White House. Until recently, it seemed that Hebert, who has made no secret of his desire for the job, had a lock on the nomination. But the latest reports in Washington say don't bet the farm on Hebert being tapped.

Hebert, who has close ties to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), may, in fact, not turn out to be the man for the job, a source indicated. "I think he came out of the gate a little too early." Hebert has been actively lobbying for support for a year or more.

Judging from Bush's cabinet choices, the new president might very well pick a dark horse to lead the Commission, the source noted. "Maybe he wants to put his own mark on FERC."

At last week's meeting, Hoecker delivered a swan song of sorts to a packed Commission room. "We have to in the near future nurse some wounded markets back to health, and we especially need to get RTOs up and running. It's going to be left to others to make that happen. But I think we have plotted a good course, and I am confident that my fellow commissioners here at the Commission and commissioners yet unseen...will make sure that this institution remains vital to the American economy and the American energy consumer. Now is clearly the time for me to say 'it's time for new leadership.'"

Hoecker had been a member of the Commission since 1993, and chairman since June 1997.

Lynne Church, president of the Electric Power Supply Association, commended the chairman for his staunch support of competitive power markets and his "steady hand at the helm. His leadership, particularly during the ongoing power crisis in California, is greatly appreciated."

Susan Parker

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