Senate confirms Powelson, Chatterjee to FERC
- The U.S. Senate voted to confirm two new regulators to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Thursday evening, restoring quorum to an agency that has been unable to make major policy decisions in six months.
- Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania utility commissioner, and Neil Chatterjee, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), were confirmed by unanimous consent. Both Republicans, they will join Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur at FERC, leaving just two vacancies on the panel.
- Earlier on Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee scheduled a nomination hearing for two other FERC nominees — energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre and Democratic Senate aide Richard Glick. Democrats hesitated to vote on Powelson and Chatterjee until Glick's confirmation process was officially set in motion.
The restoration of a quorum at FERC is welcome news to energy companies — particularly pipeline developers, whose projects have sat in front of a shorthanded agency for months.
The agency has been without its three-member minimum since Feburary, when former Chairman Norman Bay resigned after the White House replaced him as head of the commission. In June, Commissioner Collette Honorable stepped down as well, leaving only LaFleur to oversee the agency.
The two nominees proceeded easily through the confirmation process, passing out of committee by wide margins and receiving unanimous consent from the full Senate. Neither is expected to dramatically alter the status quo at FERC, which has been largely deferential to state energy authorities, particularly on infrastructure siting, and seldom rejects projects outright.
Powelson, the current president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, has advocated for expansion of energy infrastructure and in January sent a letter to Trump’s transition team outlining key concerns for the nation's state utility regulators.
Among those are infrastructure development and nuclear waste, particularly moving forward with the Yucca Mountain national nuclear waste repository that was put in limbo during the Obama administration.
The letter also called on the administration to remedy “recent federal agency decisions that have encroached on state authority,” particularly regulations that “bypass or undermine” state generation resource allocation choices. That could mean Powelson will be deferential to state actions to shape their resource mixes, such as renewable portfolio standards or nuclear subsidies.
As McConnell's aide since 2009, Chatterjee coordinated efforts against the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan and other air regulations. Before McConnell's office he was lobbyist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which also opposed the carbon rules and advocates for reduced federal oversight of utility companies.
In addition to a backlog of infrastructure projects, the new FERC commissioners are also expected to face important decisions about state energy jurisdiction and the future of electricity markets.
In May, FERC held a widely-watched technical conference on integrating state energy policies into wholesale markets, with generators warning that an influx of subsidized nuclear and renewable resources could threaten the market construct. Generators have challenged nuclear subsides in two states at FERC, and recent court decisions to dismiss legal challenges to the payments could put pressure on the commission to act.
"The fact is, it's all going to be back in their lap," former FERC Commissioner Tony Clark told Utility Dive last month. “The problem is, if it was easy and there was a silver bullet, they would have found it already,”
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