FERC: And Then There Was One

Behold, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC): Cheryl LaFleur, chairman and sole commissioner.

lafleur

Thanks to a largely feckless Trump administration, the five-member FERC now consists of only one member, leaving the commission, an important energy infrastructure agency, continued partially crippled for lack of a quorum.

FERC has been hobbled since early February, when Trump demoted Norman Bay, then the chairman, and elevated LaFleur to the chairmanship. Bay resigned. Both are Democrats. By law, the five-member FERC requires three commissioners to make up a quorum and the ability to conduct a full range of agency business. Bay’s departure left a commission consisting of LaFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable, another Democrat, who left the commission on June 30 when her term expired. She could have stayed on until replacements were in place, but that made no sense, given the lack of a quorum.

So then there was one.

FERC may be out of full-fledged business for months to come.

Someone in the White House understands FERC and its key roles in electric and gas transmission and markets. Three members must be from the party holding the White House; the other two from the minority party.

The administration belatedly nominated two Republicans this Spring—Neil Chatterjee, veteran energy advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission—both well-qualified and conventional FERC nominees. The Senate Energy Committee approved the nominations, but they have been unable to get attention from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a floor confirmation vote, as the Senate has been paralyzed by the Republicans’ inability to cope with health care legislation.

On June 28, the White House named Rich Glick to another vacant FERC seat. Glick is a Democrat and an experienced energy lawyer, serving most recently as the minority council for the Senate Energy Committee. He has a long record in Washington, where he was a key staffer to the late Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, a Democrat who served on the Senate Energy Committee. He was then an energy lobbyist and lawyer, before returning to the Senate committee.

Glick joined the Senate committee staff in February 2016, after lobbying for Iberdrola, and before that from PacifiCorp. He served as a senior policy advisor to the Clinton Department of Energy under Secretary Bill Richardson. In short, he’s a classic model of the modern FERC commissioner, further evidence that someone in the White House understands Washington energy politics.

But Glick will have to undergo Senate Energy Committee confirmation (almost certainly to be approved) before his nomination can move to the Senate floor. He may then join Chatterjee and Powelson in the holding pattern as the Senate returns from what is traditionally a long summer vacation, with the 10-day Independence Day recess followed closely by a month-long August holiday.

In the meantime, FERC’s Lafleur will continue to be on her own, and unable to move the commission in any particular direction other than serving routine business that does not require commission action.

There remains a fifth FERC commission seat without a nominee. That will go to a Republican, and most suspect that President Trump will pick one of the three GOP commissioners to be the real chairman, displacing LaFleur.

What will she do when that happens? There’s no scuttlebutt about that eventuality. LaFleur has now served two stints as acting chairman, since her FERC term began in 2010. Her current term expires in 2019.

Kennedy Maize is a long-time energy journalist and frequent POWER contributor.