NGI The Weekly Gas Market Report
FERC Chairman James J. Hoecker announced last week during theCommission’s regular meeting that he will step down on Thursday(Jan. 18), ending his three-year-plus stint as chairman and morethan seven years on the panel. Before those words were evenuttered, the White House notified Commissioner William Massey thathe would take the baton from Hoecker beginning Jan. 19.
Massey, a Democrat, is the senior member at the Commission, and,therefore, was considered the logical choice to head up theCommission, at least until the Senate can confirm whomever theincoming Bush administration nominates for that post. Both he andHoecker were sworn in on the same day.
“My term will last at least 36 hours,” Massey joked to NGI,noting that President-elect George W. Bush will be inaugurated theday after he’s sworn in as chairman of the Commission. “My plan forwhatever period of time I am chairman is to act in the public’sinterest.”
Hoecker gave no reason for his decision to leave early, nor didhe say what his immediate plans were. His departure will leave onlythree seats filled on the five-member panel.
Given that Bush will be in office by the next FERC meeting (Jan.24), some believed Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr., the soleRepublican on the Commission, would be picked as temporarychairman. Hebert expects to be tapped as FERC chairman under a Bushadministration, but others aren’t so sure anymore.
“It was with some difficulty personally that I submitted [my]letter” to resign from FERC, Hoecker said, “but frankly I’m tootired today to be sad.” He sent the letter to the White House earlyWednesday following a marathon meeting at the Treasury Departmentlast Tuesday night on the crisis facing California’s electricitymarkets.
Hoecker’s resignation comes only a few weeks after he received arecess appointment from the White House that effectively extendedhis term on the Commission until the Senate adjourns next year, andalso re-designated him as chairman. The recess appointment,however, was conditioned on Hoecker, a Democrat, agreeing to stepdown as chairman when asked to by Bush, or prior to that, sourcessaid.
He did a “Don Santa type of thing” by resigning rather thanhaving to recuse himself from FERC cases while job hunting, onesource noted. “It’s a cleaner way to leave the FERC.”
Hoecker’s departure will leave the Commission with two vacancies— both of which would presumably be filled by Republicans to givethe incoming administration a majority. FERC, however, still hasthe quorum needed to conduct business.
Meanwhile, speculation continues about who will be the next FERCchairman in a Bush White House. Until recently, it seemed thatHebert, who has made no secret of his desire for the job, had alock on the nomination. But the latest reports in Washington saydon’t bet the farm on Hebert being tapped.
Hebert, who has close ties to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott(R-MS), may, in fact, not turn out to be the man for the job, asource indicated. “I think he came out of the gate a little tooearly.” Hebert has been actively lobbying for support for a year ormore.
Judging from Bush’s cabinet choices, the new president mightvery well pick a dark horse to lead the Commission, the sourcenoted. “Maybe he wants to put his own mark on FERC.”
At last week’s meeting, Hoecker delivered a swan song of sortsto a packed Commission room. “We have to in the near future nursesome wounded markets back to health, and we especially need to getRTOs up and running. It’s going to be left to others to make thathappen. But I think we have plotted a good course, and I amconfident that my fellow commissioners here at the Commission andcommissioners yet unseen…will make sure that this institutionremains vital to the American economy and the American energyconsumer. Now is clearly the time for me to say ‘it’s time for newleadership.'”
Hoecker had been a member of the Commission since 1993, andchairman since June 1997.
Lynne Church, president of the Electric Power SupplyAssociation, commended the chairman for his staunch support ofcompetitive power markets and his “steady hand at the helm. Hisleadership, particularly during the ongoing power crisis inCalifornia, is greatly appreciated.”
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