Vice President Dick Cheney unofficially confirmed that Pat Wood III, who was sworn in as the newest member of FERC last Tuesday, soon will be named chairman of the Commission, replacing current Chairman Curt Hebert, according to a joint Frontline/New York Times television report.

Cheney made the disclosure off-camera during the filming of the joint presentation, “Blackout,” that addressed the energy crisis in California, said a Times reporter that narrated the program. Cheney’s office refused to comment Wednesday, saying that was up to the White House. The hour-long program, which was aired on PBS last Tuesday, included interviews with all the leading actors in the California drama from Gov. Gray Davis and the president of the California Public Utilities Commission to Cheney, FERC Chairman Curt Hebert, Commissioner William Massey and the top executives of Enron, Duke Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric and the Consumer Federation of America.

The broadcast zoomed in on the huge skycrapers owned by the leading market players on “Energy Alley” in downtown Houston. It flipped back several times to scenes of Enron’s trading floor with references to the large amounts of money changing hands in the energy business. Industry leaders were questioned repeatedly as to who was making the money from the high prices in California. The broadcast commentary also questioned whether it was in consumers’ best interest that a basic necessity, such as electric power should be subject to the hazards of the market.

The program strongly indicated that Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay, who was described as a “personal friend and big backer of President Bush,” and one of the “most generous contributors” to the Republican Party, had a hand in getting Wood appointed to the Commission, and possibly even as FERC chairman.

It’s “important to Ken Lay…that Pat Wood, who has backed his positions in the past, has been appointed to the FERC,” the Frontline/Times’ presentation said.

It sounds as if Lay might get his way at FERC if Wood is tapped as the new leader, the Times reporter said when he interviewed Hebert for the program. “He might,” Hebert conceded. “It would be the first knowledge I’ve had if Pat Wood is, in fact, to be chair,” the chairman added.

Reports that President Bush planned to name Wood, a former Texas regulator and close personal friend, as the new FERC chairman once he was confirmed by the Senate have been widespread in Washington D.C. for several months. Wood was confirmed by the Senate in late May, and was sworn in as a member of FERC in Austin, TX, last Tuesday.

Lay again denied allegations that he had telephoned Hebert and offered to support him for chairman-in effect lobby for him at the White House-if he agreed to force Southern Company to open up its transmission lines to Enron. He says Hebert initiated the call, seeking out Lay’s help to remain chairman.

Hebert, however, contends otherwise-that Lay initiated the call, that Lay offered to support him as chairman in return for certain favors, and that he flatly refused Lay’s offer. “I would never make that trade” with Lay, Hebert said during the Frontline/Times‘ program.

“I suppose Curt’s entitled to believe whatever Curt believes,” Lay said, dismissing the chairman’s account of the telephone conversation. He said he never sought any “quid pro quo” favors from Hebert. Further, Lay said he recalled telling Hebert that any decision about FERC chairman would be made by the White House-not Lay or Enron.

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