Acting chairwoman would like another term, more time at helm

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The acting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairwoman expressed interest today in being renominated and continuing as the agency’s leader.

Cheryl LaFleur was nominated to the commission by President Obama in 2010 and recently replaced Jon Wellinghoff, the agency’s longest-serving chairman. LaFleur’s term expires in June.

“I would like to be renominated for another term, I’d also like to stay as chairman; neither of those are up to me,” LaFleur told reporters at a round table at FERC’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. “I’ll let the White House speak for themselves. I’m just trying to get our work done month to month here.”

LaFleur, a former New England utility executive, is leading FERC at a time of great change in the gas and power markets.

Masses of polar air that have been blasting New England and the mid-Atlantic this month have also been triggering unprecedented price spikes in the natural gas markets. Two grid operators — PJM Interconnection and the New York Independent System Operator — have asked FERC to ease restrictions on electricity prices.

LaFleur said regulators will be investigating the price spike in coming weeks and months to ensure there was no manipulation. She also said FERC’s Division of Energy Market Oversight was monitoring the movement of gas on the region’s pipelines.

FERC is also reviewing 13 proposed terminals keen on exporting liquefied natural gas, and LaFleur addressed industry concerns about lengthy reviews. “I certainly hope we’re not a bottleneck,” she said.

LaFleur has already ushered in changes at FERC, including reaching a long-sought agreement with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to coordinate policing of energy markets just before CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler left his post (Greenwire, Jan. 3).

LaFleur, who signed the agreement to comply with the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, wouldn’t comment today on why it took so long to reach an agreement with the CFTC but said Gensler called her and she immediately focused on the issue.

FERC is still working with the CFTC to nail down the “final mechanics” of accessing large trader reports, she said.

“Right now they’re working out the mechanics of the next generation of access,” she said, adding it’s unclear when that collaboration will wrap up.

LaFleur has said legislation may be needed later to clarify the jurisdictional differences between FERC and the CFTC, and today reiterated that such a step would be useful but that she’s not actively pushing it.

“I’m not actively on the Hill lobbying for legislation to clarify the CFTC jurisdiction,” she said.

LaFleur did say she was interested in seeing legislation to ramp up information sharing and ensure one federal agency can take emergency action during a cyberattack, even if that agency isn’t FERC.

“I think that would be useful,” she said.