As the White House ponders a successor for outgoing FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell, a municipal gas distributor group has called on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to act promptly on the pending nominations of Jon Wellinghoff and Phillip D. Moeller to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We strongly urge the Committee’s thorough and quick action towards the confirmation” of the two candidates, said Bert Kalisch, president of the Washington, DC-based American Public Gas Association (APGA), in a letter to Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM).

“Moeller’s experience as a senior legislative assistant to [former] Sen. Slade Gorton provides him with a strong background in energy policy issues. In addition, his experience as a utility employee has given him an excellent perspective on the gas and electric operations of a utility,” he said.

“Wellinghoff’s span of three decades of broad experience in energy industry advocacy that includes state and regional energy legislation, consumer fraud, power contracting, renewable energy resource development and public utility law practice provides him with a strong background in energy policy issues suitable to the nominated position,” Kalisch noted.

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.

The two FERC nominees will appear before the Senate energy panel Thursday (June 8). They are not expected to encounter any opposition, with most agreeing that the committee will vote out their nominations in short order. But the nominations could face some problems in the full Senate due to the abbreviated legislative session this year and crowded agenda (see Daily GPI, June 6). Congress will recess over the July 4 holiday and will be out all of August, returning after Labor Day. It then is expected to depart in October for the November mid-term elections, and it’s unclear whether it will return following the elections to address unfinished business.

“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, earlier this week. 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.”

Edwards 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 by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “helps a little bit,” he said.

In the meantime, the White House has been looking at three candidates to replace Commissioner Brownell, a Republican whose terms expires on June 30. They include: Marc Spitzer, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission; Alan R. Schriber, chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission; and Sandra Hochstetter, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Industry and Capitol Hill sources confirm that they have heard all three names mentioned as possible successors to Brownell, but they’re unsure at this point who is the front-runner.

If Moeller’s and Wellinghoff’s nominations should be delayed, as Edwards believes, 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 other FERC members include Chairman Joseph Kelliher and Commissioner Suedeen Kelly.

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