FERC Chair Norman Bay resigns after Trump names LaFleur to top job
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Norman Bay announced his resignation yesterday, just hours after officially being replaced as head of the agency, indicating in a letter to the White House that he will step down on Feb. 3.
- President Trump officially tapped Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur as acting chairman yesterday, possibly signaling a new tack more sympathetic to energy industry interests.
- Bay's departure will leave the commission with just two members, which means FERC will be unable to convene a quorum or issue decisions until a new commissioner is appointed.
A few hours after the President formally promoted LaFleur to head the commission, Bay tendered his resignation in a letter touting accomplishments made under his watch, including "providing consensus-driven, bipartisan leadership."
Bay joined the commission in 2014 and took over as chair the following year.
"In 2015, the commission issued 1,243 orders. Of those orders, only 36 had a dissent," he wrote in his resignation. "In other words, the commission was unanimous in 97 percent of its orders."
FERC earned key victories at the U.S. Supreme Court during Bay's tenure, winning the Order 745 demand response case and backing a successful challenge to Maryland generation subsides in Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing.
FERC exercise its enforcement powers in the nation's wholesale electricity markets under Bay's leadership, most notably blocking income supports for aging coal and nuclear facilities in Ohio.
"We promoted competition, efficiency, and transparency, while furthering consumer protection and the integrity of the markets," he wrote.
While he touts a bipartisan approach, Bay's tenure also saw the agency become more politicized as it became the target of environmental protests. Anti-pipeline and climate change groups targeted FERC meetings and commissioners' homes to object to approval of new fossil fuel infrastructure, leading the regulators to close some meetings to the public.
Prior to coming to FERC, Bay was a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Considered a dark horse in the bid to replace outgoing Chairman Jon Wellinghoff in 2014, Bay was confirmed by a vote of 52-45.
Prior to becoming a commissioner, Bay headed the efforts at FERC to crack down on energy market manipulation as director of enforcement. Bay was seen as a less controversial pick after former President Obama's bid to nominate Ron Binz, a former chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, failed due to his support for renewable energy.
If Trump does not name a replacement before Bay steps down, FERC will not have enough commissioners to operate. Quorum for the five-person commission is three, and after Feb. 3 only two regulators would remain — LeFleur and Commissioner Colette Honorable, whose term expires in June.
LaFleur's tenure as chair may be temporary, as some media reports indicate she will only serve until new Republican members are confirmed. The former National Grid CEO is seen an uncontroversial pick in the power sector, but consumer groups see her as more sympathetic to industry than the outgoing chair.
Vacancies and Honorable's term limit will give Trump the opportunity to reshape FERC, but he won't be able to transform it completely. Under law, only three commissioners may be members of the same political party.
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