Senate committee advances Trump's FERC nominees

Dive Brief:

  • A Senate committee today voted to advance four nominees President Trump has tapped serve in positions impacting energy policy, including filling vacant seats at the quorum-less Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources voted 20-3 on both Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson's nominations to serve as FERC commissioners. The five-member agency has lacked a quorum since Commissioner Norman Bay resigned at the end of January.
  • The Senate committee also voted in favor of David Bernhardt to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and Dan Brouillette to be Deputy Secretary of Energy.

Dive Insight:

It's been more than four months since FERC had the necessary three members to take up significant issues and approve major orders. While regulators delegated some authorities to staff, the commission's inability to make major decisions has held up $50 billion worth of energy projects. 

​In April, Acting Chair Cheryl LaFleur said the agency had gone from issuing 100 orders per month to about a quarter of that volume. 

"We normally issue about a hundred orders a month, and since losing quorum more than two months ago commission staff has been able to get you 58 orders under the new or existing delegating authority," she revealed.

But last month President Trump nominated Chatterjee and Powelson. If they are confirmed by the full Senate, it would give FERC the necessary three members — but just barely. Commissioner Colette Honorable intends to step down this month, when her term ends.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate energy committee, said it is "critical to restore a working quorum at FERC as soon as possible. ... I recognize that calendar space is limited, but am hopeful that we will be able to confirm all four of these nominees during this work period.”

Powelson is a member of the Pennsylvania Public Service Commission, and Neil Chatterjee is a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who helped write energy and environmental policy and coordinated challenges to the Clean Power Plan.

Previously, Chatterjee was a lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group for power co-ops that generally advocates for states' rights in energy policy. Powelson has served on the Pennsylvania PUC since 2008 and last year was elected president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a national advocacy group of state regulators. 

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against the nomination of Chatterjee and Powelson, largely on the concern they would not be independent enough from Trump's energy policies. 

In addition to the FERC nominees, the committee voted 14-9 to advance David Bernhardt to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Lawmakers voted 17-6 for Dan Brouillette to serve as Deputy Secretary of Energy.

Murkowski, who is supporting all four nominees, said Bernhardt and Brouillette need to be confirmed so that they can help "set strategic direction and run their departments on a day-to-day basis."

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Filed Under: Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: Flickr; BranderGuard