Joseph Kelliher, head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), announced Wednesday that he will step down as chairman effective Jan. 20. Kelliher said that although his term as commissioner would not end until 2012, he would immediately recuse himself from FERC business and explore other career opportunities.
Kelliher was tapped by President Bush as the federal agency’s chair in July 2005, having served as FERC commissioner since November 2003.
Shortly after assuming his role, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a law that gave FERC its single largest grant of regulatory authority since the 1930s. The act essentially charged FERC with protecting the reliability of the interstate power grid and policing manipulation of wholesale power and natural gas markets.
“It has been an honor to serve as chairman of FERC at this particular time, with the expanded power granted the agency in the Energy Policy Act of 2005,” Kelliher said in a statement Wednesday. “This law gave FERC better tools to discharge its historic missions of guarding the consumer from exploitation and promoting the development of a robust energy infrastructure, as well as giving the agency new missions on grid reliability and enforcement. It has been a privilege to exercise this new authority and define these new missions.”
A FERC chairperson—the chief executive of the agency—directs management of its staff of 1,300 and its $260 million budget toward pursuit of the independent regulatory agency’s five core missions: economic regulation, energy infrastructure, safety, reliability, and enforcement.
Under law, three of the agency’s five commissioners represent the party of the president, while two are representatives of the minority party. On Jan. 20, President-elect Obama is certain to replace Kelliher as chairman and would be unlikely to reappoint him when his term expired, industry experts said.
The Obama administration is likely to replace Kelliher with Suedeen G. Kelly, a FERC commissioner from the Democratic Party, experts said.
In his resignation letter to President Bush, Kelliher said that the administration had made great progress in meeting the challenges that confronted it. “Eight years ago, the country confronted electricity blackouts in California, market manipulation, low grid investment, declining natural gas production, and other challenges,” he said. “Your Administration made great progress in the development of sound energy policy for this country.”
According his bio on the agency’s web site, Kelliher has spent his entire professional career working on energy policy matters, holding several positions in the public and private sectors, including those of senior policy advisor to the U.S. secretary of energy, majority counsel to the House Commerce Committee, and positions with corporations, trade associations, and law firms.