Obama Names Tony Clark to FERC

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., January 24, 2012 – President Obama yesterday said he will nominate Tony Clark, retiring chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, replacing departed commissioner Marc Spitzer in one of the two Republican seats on the commission.

Clark was first elected to the North Dakota utility regulatory commission in 2000 and reelected in 2006. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Clark earlier this year said he would not run for reelection to the state commission. His term ends at the end of this year. Clark’s FERC nomination was a result of lobbying the administration by North Dakota’s junior Senator, Republican John Hoeven, working Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Texas. Hoeven, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was North Dakota’s governor during most of Clark’s term on the PSC. He served a one-year term as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Before running for the PSC, Clark, 40, represented a Fargo district in the state legislature from 1994 to 1997, when Gov. Ed Schafer named him the state’s labor commissioner. He has degrees from North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota. He is a former eagle scout and has been active in scouting since.

Tony Clark

North Dakota has become one of the most important energy states in the U.S. with the development of horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The new approach to drilling for fossil fuels has led to a boom in both oil and natural gas production to the state. According to the Wall Street Journal, North Dakota in November pumped more crude oil than Ecuador, the founding nation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.  FERC has jurisdiction over siting of both oil and natural gas pipelines, which could represent a growing task for the commission, particularly as President Obama is said to be ready to make increased domestic energy production a feature in his State of the Union address tonight.

Clark’s nomination also has won support from the state’s senior senator, Kent Conrad, who is not running for reelection. “Tony has developed an expertise on a variety of energy issues,” Conrad said. “It will be an advantage to North Dakota and our vast energy potential to have Tony on FERC.”

Clark’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate, which could prove a problem as presidential election politics heat up. Recent FERC nominations have been held up in partisan dealmaking. The Bismarck newspaper noted that is unclear if Clark would have to resign from the state board; his term ends December 31 pending his FERC nomination.

By law, the five member FERC consists of three members of the president’s political party and two from the minority party. Spitzer, a former Arizona regulator and legislator, held one of the two GOP seats, with commissioner Philip Moeller the other.