President Trump will nominate Bernard McNamee, head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy, to fill a vacancy on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission set to open this Friday, Politico reports.
McNamee will take the place of departing Commissioner Robert Powelson, who will step down to head the trade group for America’s private water companies, three unnamed sources told the outlet. The White House, DOE and FERC did not respond to requests for comment.
McNamee helped roll out the DOE’s ill-fated coal and nuclear bailout plan that was unanimously rejected by FERC in January. That DOE bailout plan was a litmus test for potential nominees, according to Politico, but it remains unclear if McNamee's vetting is complete or when he will be nominated.
If confirmed to FERC, McNamee would likely fall more in line with the White House’s energy priorities than Powelson, who routinely criticized the administration’s efforts to save uneconomic nuclear plants from retirement.
McNamee helped pitch the DOE’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which would have provided cost recovery to plants with 90 days of fuel onsite, pumping the plan at regulatory conferences and defending it in front of Senate lawmakers last month.
"A lot of the organized markets have distortions in them that aren’t representative of an actual free-serving market, so the thought is you need to remove some of those distortions and get some more parity," McNamee said in response to a question from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
The argument echoes a frequent talking point from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry — namely that there is "no free market" in the energy industry, so saving uneconomic plants from retirement will not undermine market functions.
During the same hearing, McNamee also defended DOE’s authority to keep plants online using its emergency authority under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act, saying it has been used in a "variety of contexts," like the California energy crisis. McNamee’s perspective on 202(c) could be material, since FERC sets the rates for emergency cost recovery if a generator and regional grid operator cannot agree.
McNamee has only been in his current role as the head of DOE’s policy office since May. Before that, he headed the Tenth Amendment center at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with ties to Perry.
During his time there, McNamee wrote an Earth Day op-ed for The Hill extolling the virtues of fossil fuels, writing that "some suggest that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable resources to meet our needs, but they never explain how."
Prior to the Texas foundation, McNamee was a deputy general counsel at DOE, chief of staff to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and an aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
If nominated to FERC by the White House, McNamee would need to be confirmed by the full Senate after hearings and votes at the Natural Resources Committee. That process could take months, allowing Democrats to deadlock FERC votes in 2-2 ties.