Clements sworn in at FERC, creating partisan split

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2020

Democrat Allison Clements was sworn into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late Tuesday, creating a partisan split of two Republicans and two Democrats.

Clements joins FERC Chairman James Danly (R) and Commissioners Neil Chatterjee (R) and Richard Glick (D) on the five-member panel charged with overseeing regional energy markets and large-scale natural gas infrastructure.

Along with Clements, a longtime energy lawyer, President Trump nominated Republican Mark Christie earlier this year. Christie’s swearing-in ceremony is slated for early January, raising questions about a temporary gridlock during FERC’s next meeting Dec. 17.

“There are some pending matters where the 2-2 split we have now will matter,” said Jeff Dennis, general counsel and managing director at Advanced Energy Economy.

For example, two large natural gas-fired power plant owners recently asked the commission to change power market rules in New York that they say are discriminatory, Dennis said. They asked the agency to fast-track their request.

“I would expect this to be the kind of proceeding where a 2-2 split, and no ability to get out a commission order, is likely,” Dennis said.

Other observers said, however, that it is unlikely Clements will be prepared to vote by this month’s FERC meeting.

“Typically, it takes a few days to a week, or more, to get staffed up,” said former Commissioner Tony Clark (R). “Then it takes awhile to dig into the actual dockets. It’s typical that in the first few weeks, [new commissioners] won’t participate in the proceedings.

“But there’s no law or rule that says you can’t,” he added.

Casey Roberts, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, said Clements can vote on any matter that she’s able to study closely. This means she could focus her efforts and vote on pending matters in December.

“The more complex or lengthy the record, the more challenging it would be to come up to speed,” she said. “But obviously, her joining the commission has the potential to shake things up — orders might move that otherwise would not, or vice versa.”

Travis Fisher, who worked on Trump’s FERC transition team and served as adviser to former Republican Commissioner Bernard McNamee, said it’s typical for new members to vote “present” for their first meeting, as getting caught up in time could mean reading 900 pages of dense legal documents.

“That’s a lot of stuff to be ready to debate in a matter of a couple days, and I’m not even sure she has staff yet” to help with research, he said.

“It might matter more for the January meeting, especially if Judge Christie votes present and Clements logs substantive votes,” Fisher added. “Then again, Christie and Clements might both be voting in January if Christie is hyper-ambitious about getting started.”

A FERC spokesperson said staff does not yet know whether Clements intends to participate in next Thursday’s meeting.

Once Clements and Christie are instated, Republicans are likely to hold the majority on the panel through next June, when Chatterjee’s term expires — barring the possibility that Danly steps down after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Biden is expected to appoint another Democrat to FERC once Chatterjee or Danly retires, but that candidate’s confirmation could depend on which party holds the Senate majority. Two Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia will determine control of the Senate.