Agency says Obama nominee would avoid potential conflicts if confirmed

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 3, 2014

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today said Norman Bay, the agency’s enforcement director, will avoid any potential conflicts if confirmed by the Senate as the commission’s new chairman.

“Norman will abide by the advice and counsel of the designated agency Ethics Officer on issues concerning the possibility that he might need to recuse himself,” FERC spokesman Craig Cano said in an email.

The issue of recusal has surfaced because Bay is at the helm of a number of ongoing investigations that will be either approved or rejected by the commission, sources said.

Cano said Charles Beamon, FERC’s ethics officer, has not made a recommendation as of yet.

President Obama last night nominated Bay, a savvy attorney with a lengthy legal career, to take the helm of FERC — a powerful agency that oversees interstate transmission of natural gas, oil and electricity.

Bay, a former U.S. attorney from New Mexico, has overseen high-profile investigations while working at FERC, including probes into Wall Street giants Deutsche Bank, Barclays and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which last year was fined a record $410 million for gaming the energy markets.

Obama initially tapped Ron Binz, a former Colorado regulator who drew the ire of the fossil fuel industry, for the FERC chairmanship, but that nomination fizzled before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2013).

Bay’s nomination has quickly drawn support from top Democrats, while also generating questions about why the president overlooked two sitting Democrats on the committee, including acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Bay’s market oversight unit at FERC has been critical to cracking down on Wall Street energy speculation and abuse that’s cropped up in California, calling him an “excellent choice” and a “champion for America’s energy ratepayers.” Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico also praised the pick

“We need a ‘do it all, do it right’ approach to ensure energy security and to build a strong energy industry that creates high-quality jobs, and FERC plays a strong role in shaping our energy policy,” Udall said in a statement. “I want to thank the president for recognizing Norman’s dedication to public service and his career of remarkable accomplishments.”

But Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), yesterday questioned why LaFleur and Democratic FERC Commissioner John Norris were overlooked.

“It is also curious that the president has for the second time this Congress identified someone he believes should jump over the sitting commissioners,” Dillon said.