FERC's LaFleur to step down after push from Senate Democrats
Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur will not seek a third term at the agency and will depart later in 2019, she announced on Twitter Thursday.
LaFleur will serve out the remainder of her term until June 30, but could stay on the commission longer if the Senate does not confirm a successor by that time. Senate energy leaders said this month the White House had not yet floated potential replacements for LaFleur or former Commissioner Kevin McIntyre, who died Jan. 2.
LaFleur was confirmed to FERC in 2010 and was named acting chairman of the commission at the beginning of the Trump administration. In recent years, however, she had clashed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Democratic leadership called her on Tuesday to say she would not be renominated.
LaFleur’s departure will mean FERC loses its longest-serving member and the only regulator with experience at an electric utility — New England’s National Grid.
In a series of tweets Thursday morning, the veteran Democrat indicated she would have preferred to be nominated to a third term at the commission.
Today I am announcing that I am no longer seeking a third term at FERC, and will be leaving the Commission later in 2019. While this is not the outcome I had hoped for, I feel very lucky to have served on FERC for more than eight years (and counting).— Cheryl LaFleur (@CLaFleurFERC) January 31, 2019
LaFleur did not announce the reason for her departure. In recent years, the Democrat had taken a harder line on accounting for the greenhouse gas impacts of natural gas pipelines and export facilities — infrastructure the White House wants to expand. Before that, she had also clashed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over electricity policy.
In a phone call Thursday morning, LaFleur advisor Andrew Holleman said Senate leaders told the commissioner this week she would not be renominated, but he declined to detail the content of their conversations.
"She got a call from Senate leadership this week informing her," Holleman said. "She said all along it wasn’t up to her, but when she was made aware, she thought she would make an announcement as soon as possible."
Holleman later confirmed to Utility Dive that the call was from “Senate Democratic leadership” and came on Tuesday.
LaFleur was easily confirmed to a second term at FERC in 2014, but Schumer was one of the few senators to oppose her in the 90-7 vote.
That year, the New York senator personally urged LaFleur, who was serving as acting FERC chairman at the time, to abandon a plan for a new capacity zone in the Lower Hudson Valley. FERC unanimously approved the zone the year before.
"From start to finish FERC's approach to this unneeded and unwanted capacity zone has been arrogant, heavy-handed and disdainful of hard-hit ratepayers," Schumer wrote to the Poughkeepsie Journal at the time.
Schumer’s office did not return requests for comment Thursday.
LaFleur’s departure will leave FERC with only three sitting regulators — Democratic Commissioner Rich Glick and two Republicans, Chairman Neil Chatterjee and Commissioner Bernard McNamee.
No one political party can hold more than three seats on the five-member FERC, so the White House would have to nominate a Democrat and Republican to fill the two vacancies.
Leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees FERC nominations, told Politico this month they had not communicated with the White House about nominees for McIntyre’s seat. The offices of Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak., and Ranking Member Joe Manchin, D-W Va., did not return requests for comment Thursday.
If the Senate does not confirm a replacement for LaFleur, federal law allows her to stay on the commission until the conclusion of this Congressional session at the end of 2019. In her series of tweets, the regulator said she would stay on until the end of her term, "and probably longer, depending on my future plans and the possible appointment of a successor."
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated how long Commissioner LaFleur can stay on the commission if a successor is not confirmed.
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