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Trump Reportedly Set To Name Three New FERC Commissioners

April 18, 2017

President Trump is reportedly focusing on three nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who – if approved by the U.S. Senate – would give the agency the quorum needed to advance a number of natural gas pipeline projects.

FERC has been short of a three-member majority since early February, when Norman Bay officially resigned as head of the agency after the president appointed Cheryl LaFleur as acting chair. That left only two commissioners in place, stalling not only the pipelines but also bringing a degree of uncertainty to at least one grid operator’s capacity auction.

The three potential commissioners Trump is considering “have deep experience in energy matters and would bring a balance of perspectives – business, regulatory and political – to (FERC),” according to Utility Dive.

Additionally, it adds that they are also an “obvious fit with Trump’s infrastructure and anti-regulatory agenda, and appear to have a preference for conventional energy sources” that is consistent with the new president’s support for fossil fuels.

The presumptive nominees are Kevin McIntyre, an energy lawyer; Neil Chatterjee, a onetime lobbyist and current Senate aide; and Robert Powelson, a state regulator.

Kevin McIntyre

McIntyre is viewed as a likely choice for FERC chairman. A partner and co-head of the global energy practice at the Jones Day law firm, he has substantial experience in federal regulatory policy and has advised clients on issues before the commission.

According to the firm’s website, McIntyre concentrates his practice on compliance and enforcement matters; energy marketing and trading; market-based rates and other competition issues; tariff compliance and administration; energy exports; and electric reliability standards.

In addition to his energy-related experience, McIntyre has an added advantage: Fourteen lawyers from Jones Day have been appointed to positions in the Trump administration, including Donald McGahn, who is the current White House counsel.

Neil Chatterjee

Chatterjee has the backing of one of Washington’s most powerful players: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom he has served as energy policy advisor since 2009.

He has been McConnell’s go-to aide on environmental and energy issues, helping to direct the senator’s support for the coal industry and his opposition to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Chatterjee also backed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and worked to end the ban on U.S. crude oil exports.

Before joining McConnell, he was a lobbyist with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, serving as the group’s congressional liaison and “advocating for ratepayers and pushing back against regulations that threatened to drive up the cost of electricity,” The Atlantic reported. Prior to that, he worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio, who chaired the House Republican Conference from 2003 to 2007.

Robert Powelson

A member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission since 2008, Powelson is expected to be a voice for the states at FERC. He served as chair of the PUC from 2010-2014, and played a key role in the commonwealth’s rise as an energy exporter through the development of natural gas.

In November 2016, Powelson was installed as president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. In that role, he sent a letter to Trump’s transition team asking the incoming administration to correct “recent federal agency decisions that have encroached on state authority and blurred the distinction between federal and state jurisdiction.”

He also previously served as president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners.

Pipeline progress stalled; uncertainty over PJM auction

The absence of a quorum at FERC has slowed or stalled progress on a number of infrastructure projects. These include Spectra Energy’s 256.6-mile NEXUS pipeline in Ohio and Michigan and plans by Enbridge for a 255-mile line that would bring Appalachian shale gas to markets in Canada and the Midwest.

It also has the potential to detour PJM’s May 10 base residual auction.

FERC staff approved a recent PJM filing that allowed the grid operator to apply new rules to the auction related to aggregated resources, demand response, and winter period capacity rights. But the lack of a quorum could make that approval temporary, as a full commission could review the case and reach a different conclusion.

Although the potential selection of McIntyre, Chatterjee, and Powelson has been widely reported, there is no timetable for their nomination, vetting, and final Senate approval. The confirmation process can take two to three months.

In the meantime, FERC’s vacancy issue could become an even greater concern: The term of Commissioner Collette Honorable, who along with LaFleur is a Democratic holdover, expires June 30 – leaving four rather than three seats that need to be filled.