The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday managed a contentious 13–9 vote to approve President Obama’s nomination of Norman Bay to become head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Before the vote, the committee’s chair, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had agreed that acting FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur would continue to lead the independent regulatory body for another nine months after the full Senate votes to confirm her and Norman Bay. That vote is expected in the coming weeks.
The committee on Wednesday affirmed extending LaFleur’s tenure at FERC in a 21–1 vote. LaFleur’s term is scheduled to end on June 30.
Bay’s nomination has been opposed by Republicans, who say he lacks the experience and the background in energy policy to lead FERC.
Bay has served as FERC’s enforcement director since 2009. Before that, Bay worked as a law professor at the University of New Mexico, teaching criminal law, international criminal law, and national security law.
“I do not see what qualifies Norman Bay to be chairman of the commission. He has not served on the commission and does not possess a deep background in the policy areas that FERC is charged with regulating,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday. “When we need the best of the best running a commission, it is incumbent on all of us with oversight responsibility to make sure we are putting the best person in that position. I am not convinced that Bay has that experience.”
Murkowski has repeatedly voiced support for LaFleur’s nomination to a second term on the commission. She has also questioned why the president would demote LaFleur, the commission’s current chairwoman with more than 20 years of experience in the utility industry, to make Bay chairman.
“I am not interested in the chairman of the FERC doing on-the-job training, particularly when we have a woman—the only woman on the commission—who has been at the helm as the acting chairwoman, and by all reports from both Democrats and Republicans alike, she’s been doing a good job,” she said. “She has been fair. She has been balanced. She has the temperament that we need. She has the personal qualities of leadership that we look for. She has the experience.”
Bay’s nomination marks President Obama’s second attempt to propose a replacement for former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff, after the nomination of Ron Binz fell flat last year.
—Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)