President Obama has tapped FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur to be acting chair of the agency, taking over Monday from Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who will leave the Commission after seven years of service.

LaFleur, a Democrat, was nominated by Obama for the Federal Energy Regulatory Comission (FERC) in 2010 and confirmed by the Senate for a term that ends in June 2014. Prior to joining the Commission, she was the executive vice president and acting CEO of National Grid USA.

“It’s up to the White House” to determine how long LaFleur will stay in the position, said FERC spokeswoman Mary O’Driscoll. LaFleur said her priority at the Commission has been and will continue to be focused on reliability and grid security issues.

The president has not named a permanent successor to Wellinghoff since the flap over Colorado regulator Ron Binz, who was forced to withdraw his name from consideration when the appointment stalled in the Senate. One Democrat joined the 10 of the Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, making a majority in opposition to Binz’s appointment, and citing some remarks that were interpreted as being anti-fossil fuels (see Daily GPI, Oct. 2).

Wellinghoff, whose term expired in June of this year, could have continued to serve until Congress adjourns for the year. He had said in May that he would not pursue another term, but would serve until his replacement was confirmed (see Daily GPI, May 30).

However, the announcement by the law firm of Stoel Rives LLP last month that Wellinghoff would join its practice when he left FERC caused something of a stir. Usually, commissioners refrain from taking another job until they have left the Commission because of the possibility or even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Even if the commissioner recused himself from cases in which his new firm is involved, there is the possibility of influence on overall policy issues.

Stoel Rives, which has offices in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, has been recognized as one of the nation’s best law firms for renewables and alternative energy by independent research firm Chambers and Partners for four consecutive years, according to Stoel Rives.