- President Trump today selected newly-sworn in Commissioner Neil Chatterjee to serve as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — but only until his top pick for the position is confirmed.
- Last month, the president nominated energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre to chair the commission. He is a Republican, and leads the energy practice at Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day.
- Chatterjee worked as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and was confirmed last week by unanimous consent, along with Robert Powelson, a Pennsylvania utility commissioner.
- The commission, lacking a quorum for months, has a backlog of cases, including electric rate dockets and gas pipeline infrastructure projects.
It was only last week that FERC had just one commissioner — Chairman Cheryl LaFleur. But after months without the three members needed to field a quorum, the commission could be fully staffed in the relative near-term.
Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson were both confirmed by the Senate last week and sworn in at FERC this week. Trump has now selected Chatterjee to lead the commission, replacing LaFleur until his top pick, Kevin McIntyre, is confirmed.
McIntyre and the final potential commissioner, Democratic senate aide Richard Glick, are scheduled for a committee confirmation hearing on Sept. 7. But there is no indication of when they might be confirmed by the full Senate.
Chatterjee served as energy policy advisor to McConnell prior to joining FERC. Before that, he was a principal in government relations for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and served as an aide to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio).
Chatterjee's first position in Washington, D.C., was with the House Committee on Ways and Means.
"I want to thank Chairman LaFleur for the tremendous work she's done in guiding the agency,” Chatterjee said in a statement. “The absence of a quorum was unprecedented, yet she rose to the challenge and created stability through her unwavering leadership."
John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he expects the commission to issue a wave of its "bread and butter" orders before digging into more controversial issues.
FERC has a backlog of cases piled up following six months without a quorum, including electric rate dockets and gas pipeline infrastructure projects. The commission is also examining wholesale market issues, including how state policies impact prices, but most likely that work will be put off until all five seats are filled.
"It will understandably take some time to get up to speed on FERC operations," Moore told Utility Dive. "But Chatterjee is a smart guy and I think he will focus on working through the backlog before he starts to spread his wings a little more...it takes time for any new chair to come on board."
Chatterjee has the confidence of former FERC commissioners too. Former Chairman Jon Wellinghoff called him "a great pick for chairman."
"He understands markets and has a tremendous appreciation for the power of markets in this country," Wellinghoff told Utility Dive on the sidelines of the Energy Storage North America conference in San Diego.
Chatterjee will take the helm at a tumultuous time in politics, but FERC has traditionally stayed above the fray. While the President appoints members, a balance is required (no more than three members from one party) and decisions in the past have largely been non-partisan.
President Trump campaigned on issues like revitalizing the coal industry, expanding energy exports and rapidly growing infrastructure. But Wellinghoff said that when new commissioners come to the agency, they understand "it's a very nonpartisan job in essence, and one that really is focused on making markets work as efficiently as possible."
Former Commissioner Colette Honorable echoed that idea, noting "while we all come to FERC through a political process," much of FERC's work is driven by stakeholders. "I am confident this commission will continue to lead in an independent way," she told Utility Dive.