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

Reports were circulating that the White House would announce itsintention this week to nominate Wood as commissioner and appointhim as chairman of FERC. Also, it’s believed the White House willannounce its intent to nominate Joe Kelliher, special adviser toEnergy Secretary Spencer Abraham, to fill one of the two vacantCommission seats.

“Chairman Hebert has always said he would serve at the pleasureof the president,” said a FERC spokesman, when asked if the reportswere true. “I don’t have any comment beyond this.”

Indications that Hebert may not have as firm a hold on thechairmanship as previously believed surfaced earlier last week whenChairman W.J. “Billy” Tauzin of the House Energy and CommerceCommittee said he supported Hebert for FERC chairman on a permanentbasis. Many in Washington thought Hebert already was the WhiteHouse’s final choice for chairman. At a hearing of the committee’senergy and air quality subcommittee last Wednesday, Tauzin calledHebert “fully competent and qualified” for the job.

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

The White House notified Hebert, the only Republican currentlyon the Commission, on Jan. 24 that he was to take over fromDemocratic Chairman James Hoecker. But it was never clear whetherHebert’s appointment was as “acting” or permanent chairman. Hebertindicated at the time that it was permanent, but the White Housenever has made any announcement to that effect and Hebert nevermoved into the chairman’s suite of offices at FERC. Sources at thetime gave conflicting accounts, with some saying the appointmentwas “conditional.”

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

Susan Parker

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