O FERC: Where Art Thou?

Pappy O’Daniel: And furthermore, by way of endorsing my candidacy, the Soggy Bottom Boys are gonna lead us all in a rousing chorus of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Pappy O’Daniel:  Ain’t you, boys?

Ulysses Everett McGill: Governor, it’s one of our favorites.

Pappy O’Daniel: Son… you’re gonna go far.

 After what most, including yours truly, would characterize as a lackluster confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, it appears FERC is on track to gain two new Commissioners in the coming weeks.  An affirmative vote will return the quorum that is required for the Commission to act on substantive matters, and perhaps beginning the process of implementing a shift in certain high profile policy areas.  FERC has been acting without a quorum since February.  It has cancelled regular monthly scheduled Sunshine Act public meeting and has not been issuing orders that are the result of notational vote between open meetings.  Various parts of the FERC Staff have kept the agency afloat in certain areas, acting through delegated authority.  Even that action, however, has been subject to legal challenge.     

So, when Neil Chatterjee, a Congress policy wonk and former lobbyist that was sponsored by Senator Mitch McConnell, and Ronald Powelson, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission and current National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners president sponsored by Senator Patrick Toomey met the questions from the dais, what happened?  The short answer is that they both did a notably good job of demonstrating knowledge of key issues that FERC has or is considering, and a willingness to work toward consensus to carry forward work to address them.  Both Chatterjee and Powelson showed that they had done their homework and were familiar with key issues.  Topics including climate change, integration of renewables into the traditional power supply mix, development of markets, approval of infrastructure projects were all discussed.  In my view, no extreme views were expressed.  We do not seem to have climate change deniers, for example.  We seem to have polished experts that know the industry and the issues, and Commissioners that can hit the ground running on day one.

It is very important for the energy industry that FERC regain its ability to stand on the authority vested in the Commission.  I expect Senator Murkowski will get these two nominees up for a confirmation vote quickly, perhaps as early as next week.  From there, the Commission will stand at four of the five members, but only for a short period.  Commissioner Honorable’s term will expire in June, and she has already declared she is leaving.  That will leave a 3-out-of-5 person Commission with Current Chairwoman LaFleur, as the sole Democrat.  LaFleur by all accounts likes and wants to stay on the Commission (her term runs through 2019) even if demoted a second time from being the Chairwoman.  That leaves one Democratic and one Republican slot to be filled to return the Commission to full capacity.  The Trump administration has been vetting energy law pro Ken McIntyre of Jones Day as the third Republican, and I would speculate that no Democrat is in the works for slot #5 as partial payback for President Obama leaving two Republican seats on the Commission open since Phil Moeller left in the fall of 2015 and Tony Clark left in the fall of 2016.  Paybacks are….well, part of politics.

I am excited that we have two very good Commissioners in the works and for the prospect of promptly getting get back to the regular flow of business before FERC.

CWS 

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