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US Senate committee backs two FERC nominees

06 Jun 2017 16:27 (+01:00 GMT)
US Senate committee backs two FERC nominees

Washington, 6 June (Argus) — Two Republicans nominated to serve on the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) won bipartisan support today in a committee vote, but the timing for a full vote by the US Senate remains uncertain.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 20-3 in favor of Neil Chatterjee, an energy adviser to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and Robert Powelson, a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, to vacancies at FERC.

Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mazie Harano (D-Hawaii) voted against the nominees, who faced relatively few difficult questions during a confirmation hearing last month.

The FERC nominations have taken on more importance because the agency is a vote short of the three-member quorum needed to approve construction of natural gas pipelines and LNG export facilities. US pipeline trade group the Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Association of America has estimated that $14bn in private capital is being held up because of the lack of a quorum, now ongoing for four months.

The 1.5 Bcf/d (42mn m3/d) Nexus gas pipeline, set to transport Appalachian shale gas into the Midwest by the end of 2017; the 2 Bcf/d Mountain Valley pipeline, scheduled to enter service in 2018; and the 1.5 Bcf/d Atlantic Coast pipelines, set to start operations in 2019, all face delays because of the FERC vacancies.

The Senate energy committee today also voted 14-9 in favor of David Bernhardt, a lobbyist who served under former president George W. Bush's administration, to become deputy secretary of the US Interior Department. In another vote the committee voted 17-6 in favor of Dan Brouillette, another Bush administration official, to be deputy secretary of the US Energy Department. The committee's ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) raised concerns Bernhardt would act in favor of companies he represented as a lobbyist.

The energy committee's chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she did not know when the nominees would receive consideration by the Senate, which this week has scheduled votes on an Iran sanctions bill and a separate bill related to veterans. It is possible Democratic leaders will seek to pair the FERC nominees with votes on other government vacancies, she said.

Murkowski today reiterated frustration with the White House's pace of making nominations to key positions.

Except for US energy secretary Rick Perry and US interior secretary Ryan Zinke, "these are the only four we have had come before our committee and the only four we have been able to move out of committee. I do not think that is an acceptable pace."