- Now-former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee does not know for sure why he was suddenly ousted on Thursday as leader of the independent regulatory agency — but he has one theory.
- "I knew when I moved forward with Order 2222, convening the tech conference on carbon pricing, and ultimately moved forward with a proposed policy statement, that there was the risk of blowback," he said in an interview Friday morning. FERC announced Thursday evening that President Donald Trump had replaced him as chairman with Commissioner James Danly, a more conservative presence on the commission, though Chatterjee will remain on the commisison. "I knew that, [but] went forward anyway, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I don't know for certain that that is the reason that the action was taken ... but if it was, I'm actually quite proud of it. And it would have been totally worth it."
- The former chairman, who in recent months passed a landmark order intended to lower the barriers for distributed energy resources in the market, said he is not bitter about the apparent last minute decision, which he found out about Thursday afternoon. It's unlikely the decision came directly from the president, he said. "I would guess that no one in the president's inner circle was focused on FERC yesterday. My guess is someone on a lower rung at the White House, saw an opportunity to send a message and sent it. And it's totally fine."
Some analysts saw Chatterjee's moves in recent months as a signal that he was moving to more Democrat-focused priorities, though the former chairman, who plans to remain for the rest of his term as commissioner until June 2021, says these policies were totally consistent with his market-based approach to the energy transition.
Chatterjee maintains his actions received broad support across the political spectrum, adding that relatively few Republicans opposed recent FERC actions.
"I actually thought that there was widespread, wide ranging support from many business interests and allies of the White House," he said.
Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are in a heated race for the White House, though the scales have recently tipped in Biden's favor, according to reporting on Friday morning. Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to maintain its Republican majority, making any aggressive clean energy policy more difficult than some Democrats would like. Chatterjee says this configuration has him "perfectly positioned."
"If the election trend lines continue as they seem to be, I actually think this puts me squarely at the epicenter of the debate on the energy transition and climate change," he said, "perfectly positioned in between a potential Biden administration and a Republican majority Senate." There is still a chance Democrats could eke out a majority in the Senate, with two runoffs expected in Georgia.
Ultimately, Thursday's move doesn't change a lot for Chatterjee or for FERC under a Biden win, the former chairman said. Either way, Biden is likely to choose a Democrat to fill the chair seat in January — probably Commissioner Richard Glick, many in the industry say. So Danly's rule would likely last only a few weeks, and wouldn't change much on the commission's agenda.
"It really doesn't change a whole lot for me. I think the agenda I put in place for the next couple of meetings is going to go forward, regardless of who's in what chair," he said. "The reason I slept so well last night is this isn't really that consequential of a decision."
Danly has served as commissioner since March, and was previously general counsel at FERC, starting in 2017. He voted against Order 2222 and dissented in part on the commission's policy statement on carbon pricing, which affirmed FERC's authority to implement such a tariff if brought forward by a grid operator. Chatterjee said he wishes Danly well in his time as chair.
"James Danly's a friend of mine, and he's someone whose career and future ambitions I care about," said Chatterjee. "And even if he's only in the role for 10 weeks, or whatever it is, if that plays a small part in helping further his career, that's something I'm very, very supportive of."
The White House has not released a statement on the reason for replacing Chatterjee.