Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) reportedly has refusedto sign off on a recess appointment that would enable FERC ChairmanJames J. Hoecker to stay on the Commission for another year untilthe end of the 2001 congressional session, according to industrysources in Washington.

As it stands now Hoecker’s term ends when the Congress adjourns.There will then be only three seats filled on the five-memberpanel.

Hoecker has conditioned his acceptance of a recess appointmenton receiving the approvals of two Senate Republican heavyweights onCapitol Hill — Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Lott, an industrysource said. Murkowski reportedly has agreed to sign off on arecess appointment for Hoecker, the source noted, but “Lott is notgoing to do so.”

Neither the White House nor Hoecker need the senators’ blessingsfor a recess appointment to go through, but “he [Hoecker] isphilosophically bent on getting both of their approvals before hedoes it” to avoid any ill-will on Capitol Hill.

“He doesn’t need it [their approval]. But I think he doesn’twant any heat. He doesn’t want a fight” over his recessappointment, the insider noted.

“We have no comment on the chairman’s status,” said a spokesmanat the Commission, when asked to confirm whether Lott had refusedto okay Hoecker’s recess appointment. A press aide for Murkowskialso was unable to confirm the reports because the senator wasenroute from Alaska Tuesday. Lott’s office failed to returntelephone calls.

Hoecker’s appointment would extend the three-Democrat majorityfor another year, denying a potential Republican president to rightto dominate the Commission since he could only name a Republicanfor the remaining vacant slot. The president could neverthelessreplace Hoecker as chairman with his own choice. The RepublicanSenate leadership, however, will have to contend with therepercussions of a much-diminished Commission facing this comingwinter.

Hoecker’s term expired at the end of June, and since then he hasbeen serving under a grace period which ends when Congress adjournsfor the year. At that time, the White House is likely to offerHoecker a recess appointment, enabling him to stay on theCommission until the end of 2001. The key question now seems to be:Will Hoecker accept it without Lott’s blessing? “My understandingwas that Hoecker was not going to move unless he had bothapprovals,” said the Washington gas source.

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