FERC Chair: Hebert or Wood?

An underground battle was being waged last week over the FERC chairmanship, with several sources reporting that current Chairman Curt L. Hebert may be asked to step aside to make way for Pat Wood III, currently chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC). Wood was appointed to the PUC in 1995 by then-Governor George W. Bush and was a member of the Bush energy transition team.

Reports were circulating that the White House would announce its intention this week to nominate Wood as commissioner and appoint him as chairman of FERC. Also, it's believed the White House will announce its intent to nominate Joe Kelliher, special adviser to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, to fill one of the two vacant Commission seats.

"Chairman Hebert has always said he would serve at the pleasure of the president," said a FERC spokesman, when asked if the reports were true. "I don't have any comment beyond this."

Indications that Hebert may not have as firm a hold on the chairmanship as previously believed surfaced earlier last week when Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he supported Hebert for FERC chairman on a permanent basis. Many in Washington thought Hebert already was the White House's final choice for chairman. At a hearing of the committee's energy and air quality subcommittee last Wednesday, Tauzin called Hebert "fully competent and qualified" for the job.

A further indication that an underground battle was on came when a resolution was circulated last week at a meeting of natural gas representatives in Washington to endorse Hebert as chairman of FERC, sources said.

The White House notified Hebert, the only Republican currently on the Commission, on Jan. 24 that he was to take over from Democratic Chairman James Hoecker. But it was never clear whether Hebert's appointment was as "acting" or permanent chairman. Hebert indicated at the time that it was permanent, but the White House never has made any announcement to that effect and Hebert never moved into the chairman's suite of offices at FERC. Sources at the time gave conflicting accounts, with some saying the appointment was "conditional."

How quickly Wood could take over as FERC chairman would depend on how smoothly his confirmation moves through the Senate. It was not immediately known whether Hebert would stay on as a commissioner at FERC. Wood would not be a stranger to FERC, having previously served as a legal counsel to a FERC commissioner.

Susan Parker

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