Coalition calls on Senate to confirm FERC picks

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2020

A diverse coalition of 27 trade and labor groups is calling on Senate leadership to fill vacant posts at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the five-member independent agency charged with overseeing major natural gas pipeline projects and electricity markets.

“FERC cannot approve new infrastructure, review rate or service proposals, or perform other key functions without a quorum,” the groups wrote in a Nov. 19 letter. “We ask that you support our efforts to create a modern, clean, reliable, and affordable energy system by filling the vacant seats on the Commission as quickly as possible.’

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week advanced the nominations of Democrat Allison Clements and Republican Mark Christie, but Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said it was unclear whether the floor’s schedule would allow a vote on the duo next month (Greenwire, Nov. 18).

Members of the coalition include the American Gas Association, American Wind Energy Association, Association of Oil Pipe Lines, Edison Electric Institute, American Council on Renewable Energy and Association of Union Constructors, among others.

The groups are composed of a broad constituency representing builders and providers of equipment and labor for energy infrastructure projects.

“Our broad group relies on that infrastructure to produce and deliver the energy that powers America,” they wrote. “Prospects for these opportunities become uncertain when seats on the Commission are left empty.”

FERC is currently two commissioners short. Republican Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s term is set to expire in June, meaning that without additional confirmations, the panel would not have a quorum. Confirming Clements and Christie would ensure a Republican majority at the agency through June.

After Chatterjee departs, President-elect Joe Biden is likely to appoint a Democrat to take his place. Should Republicans hold on to control of the Senate, it’s unclear whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would move a hypothetical Biden nominee, leaving the independent agency in a 2-to-2 partisan gridlock.

Clements, a longtime energy lawyer, and Christie, who served a 16-year tenure as Virginia’s top utility regulator, are considered a noncontroversial pairing favored by Republicans and Democrats alike. Both Murkowski and ENR ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) agreed that the pair are qualified and should be confirmed.

Still, seven Republican lawmakers requested that their votes on Clements be recorded as “no” in committee, while Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was the lone Democrat to vote against Christie’s nomination.

The White House named the two in a surprise July announcement amid lingering questions about whether the president would address the FERC vacancies before the election (Energywire, July 28).