Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), an avid critic of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), has placed holds on three nominations to the five-member agency.

“I am making no secret of the fact that I’m holding up the renomination of CFTC commissioners. And I am holding up new appointments to the CFTC until Congress gets to the bottom of this [energy market speculation] and we can get commissioners who are going to enforce the law on the books,” Cantwell said in a speech on the Senate floor prior to leaving for the August recess.

“We have a CFTC and an administration that is watching out more for Wall Street than for Main Street. It’s up to us to make sure that we are going to pass legislation that puts transparency and tough rules in place to make sure that the markets work for consumers,” she said.

Cantwell has long criticized the CFTC for what she believes is its lax oversight and regulation of the energy commodity markets, and has offered bills to bolster the agency’s authority. In late June Cantwell sought unanimous consent of a measure (HR 6377), which would have directed the CFTC to invoke its emergency authority under the Commodity Exchange Act to ensure that the market prices for energy commodities accurately reflect supply and demand forces (see Daily GPI, July 1). The House had passed a similar bill in June by a vote of 402-19 (see Daily GPI, June 27).

But Senate Republicans opposed the emergency measure with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) attempting to attach an amendment to open the closed-off areas of the federal Outer Continental Shelf to oil and natural gas drilling. This prompted Cantwell to withdraw her motion.

In mid-July Cantwell, along with Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced legislation to set position limits on all food- and energy-related contracts held by financial speculators, including over-the-counter (OTC) holdings and futures positions on foreign exchanges (see Daily GPI, July 14).

Failing to pass legislation on energy speculation prior to recessing, Cantwell placed holds on the renominations of Acting CFTC Chairman Walter Lukken and Commissioner Bart Chilton. She also is blocking the nomination of Scott O’Malia of Michigan, who was tapped by President Bush for a seat on the CFTC in April. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the three nominations in July. The holds would prevent the Senate from confirming the trio until Cantwell’s concerns are addressed.

Lukken was tapped by Bush to be CFTC chairman in June 2007, but he has been serving as acting chairman while awaiting Senate confirmation. He has been with the CFTC since 2002. Chilton in April was renominated by the White House for a full five-year term. His first term was brief, extending from August 2007 to April.

O’Malia was nominated to the CFTC for the remainder of a term expiring in April 2012. He currently serves as a clerk on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Previously he was a staff member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. O’Malia also was director of federal legislative affairs at Mirant Corp. early in his career. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

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