Ending months of speculation, FERC Chairman Curt Hebert Jr. informed the White House late last week that he will step down from the Commission at the end of August.

Hebert, who has served on the Commission since 1997, did not say what he plans to do after he leaves FERC. He was appointed chairman within a few days after President Bush assumed office in late January, but rumors have been rampant since then that the president intended to replace him with former Texas regulator Pat Wood III, who recently joined FERC as commissioner.

The White House has not yet announced who it will appoint as Hebert’s successor. Wood, who has close ties to Bush, was in the process of moving his family from Texas to Washington DC, and was not immediately available for comment. A Wood staffer replied “not to my knowledge” when asked if the commissioner had been in contact with the White House.

“I’m not surprised by the announcement. It just verifies what we’ve been talking about for months,” said Jerald V. Halvorsen, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). “I think he [Hebert] can hold his head up high” because he’s done a “damn good job of holding things together” throughout the past couple of months during the upheaval in the electricity and gas markets, he noted. Hebert came out “smelling like a rose in spite of taking some bumps” from the market.

“If the rumors are true, and so far they have been,” Halvorsen said he expects the White House to name Wood to take over at the Commission effective Sept. 1. He knew of no other potential contenders for the chairman’s post.

“…[I]t has been a pleasure and honor to serve this administration and the American people” during a “vital time” in the energy markets, said Hebert in a prepared statement yesterday.

With the departure of Hebert, a Republican, the Commission will be left with four members — two Republicans and two Democrats.

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