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Trump moves to fill vacancies at FERC

09 May 2017 15:24 (+01:00 GMT)
Trump moves to fill vacancies at FERC

Washington, 9 May (Argus) — President Donald Trump has nominated two Republicans to fill vacancies on the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and enable the agency to again approve gas pipelines and review tariffs.

Trump has selected Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission member Robert Powelson, who also serves as head of a state utility association, and Neil Chatterjee, an energy policy adviser to US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) for the five-member panel.

FERC lost the three-member quorum needed for major decisions affecting pipelines and the electric sector on 3 February, when the agency's former chairman Norman Bay resigned. Since that time, FERC has had only two Democratic members — acting chairman Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable. FERC for the past three months has been holding technical hearings, making small tariff adjustments and preparing larger decisions for votes once a quorum is restored.

Republican lawmakers and industry groups have been urging Trump to prioritize filling the open seats at the agency, fearing the possibility that some pipelines could be delayed for months. Work has piled up at the agency even after staff members rushed to push out a large number of orders in the week before Bay resigned.

The Senate will have to schedule confirmation hearings for the nominees and find time for a floor vote in a packed schedule. FERC nominations have become increasingly controversial in recent years, as environmental activists have taken a growing interest in targeting midstream infrastructure as a way of limiting natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing.

Assuming that Powelson and Chatterjee are confirmed, Trump will still need to fill an existing Republican vacancy at FERC.

Honorable does not plan to seek reappointment after her term expires on 30 June. Since no more than three FERC members can come from the same political party, Trump will need to nominate a Democrat to fill her slot.

Some Senate Democrats have worried Trump might depart from the historical practice of nominating officials who they recommend to fill the Democratic slots at FERC. Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and 15 other Democratic senators in March wrote a letter to the president urging him to honor this tradition.