There’s still no word from the White House about the Trump administration’s plans to fill the three vacant seats at FERC but, with a logjam of energy projects forming due to the lack of a quorum, rumors abound that at least one nominee will soon be forthcoming.
Among those rumored to be potential Federal Energy Regulatory Commission nominees are Neil Chatterjee, a senior policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Travis Kavulla, a member of the Montana Public Service commission and former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Janet Sena, director of public policy and external affairs for the North American Electric Reliability Corp., and Former Railroad Commission of Texas Chairman Barry Smitherman.
Other names floated include Patrick McCormick, chief counsel for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Robert Powelson, current president of NARUC, and Ellen Nowak, chairwoman of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, according to a report Wednesday by E&E News.
The White House did not immediately respond to an NGIrequest for comment.
The logjam at FERC began days after Trump’s inauguration, when he named Cheryl LaFleur acting chairman and Norman Bay, who had been at the helm since April 2015 submitted his resignation effective Feb. 3. It was the second time around for LaFleur who chaired the Commission for a time before Bay took over. Given the multiple issues and cases across FERC’s regulatory span encompassing oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, Independent System Operators, and hydroelectric and liquefied natural gas projects, it’s possible the president might leave the relatively non-partisan LaFleur in her post as chairman temporarily. That would give any new Republican commissioners time to get up to speed before one of them takes over as chairman.
Without a quorum, FERC can conduct routine business, but it cannot vote on important projects or rules. Trump has yet to nominate any new commissioners to fill the three vacant seats on the ostensibly five-member panel. Currently, the only commissioners are LaFleur and Colette Honorable, both Democrats. FERC can have no more than three commissioners from any one party. Industry groups have been lobbying the Trump administration to act quickly on FERC nominations, which would have to go through the sometimes lengthy Senate confirmation process before taking their seats at the agency. A background check by the FBI alone can take three to four months.
Dozens of members of the House of Representatives, including members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, have also called on Trump to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of commissioners.
Some environmental groups have objected to those letters, saying they’d rather see FERC remain without a quorum. According to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, they and 135 organizations have joined in rebuking House members for their letters to Trump. According to their letter, reestablishing a quorum “would re-open the floodgates for FERC approval of natural gas infrastructure and pipeline projects.”
In addition to the three empty seats waiting to be filled, Honorable will need to have her term extended or be replaced this year, since her term expires June 30. LaFleur’s term is due to expire June 30, 2019.
FERC canceled its Feb. 16 agenda meeting and suspended subsequent monthly meetings as the agency awaits appointment of enough commissioners to achieve a quorum.
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