Democrats grumble as committee approves GOP FERC pick

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning approved James Danly for a Republican slot on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

But the vote was largely along party lines, with Democrats expressing outrage about the lack of a nominee to fill a Democratic vacancy on the commission.

“I think this is a sad day, and let me say that the FERC is not working,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) before the vote. “It has become a political pingpong match like everything else around here.”

The committee voted 12-8 to advance the nomination of Danly, FERC’s general counsel, to serve as a commissioner with a term ending in 2023.

The vote represented a replay of a similar committee roll call in the waning months of 2019. Because the full Senate did not act then, the panel had to take up the nomination again.

“It was regrettable that we could not agree to hold it over at the end of the first session,” Chairwoman Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska) said. “Mr. Danly did well before our committee. I think he will do well as a FERC commissioner.”

Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was the only Democrat to support Danly last year. The same happened this morning.

While Republicans have largely praised Danly’s energy expertise, the confirmation process has been consumed by Democrats’ demands that the White House pick someone to fill the Democratic vacancy left when Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur departed last year.

Democrats have identified energy attorney Allison Clements as their preferred choice for their slot. Clements heads the clean energy market program at the Energy Foundation. She previously worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council on FERC-related issues.

Lawmakers say the White House has met with Clements at least twice but has yet to make its intentions clear. Manchin noted that FERC nominees from the two parties have been paired in the past.

“It’s a shame that the politics have inserted into it and that they will not give us a pairing on this,” said Manchin. “It truly is a shame.”

Other members were more forceful in vocalizing their fears that this morning’s vote would dilute the committee’s influence in forcing the White House to deliver on a Democratic nominee.

“The Trump administration appears determined to overthrow any semblance of independence at the FERC,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said after this morning’s vote, “We gave up our influence five minutes ago.”

Manchin promised he would not support a new Republican nominee to fill the upcoming vacancy from the impending departure of Republican Commissioner Bernard McNamee unless there’s a Democratic pairing.

Murkowski said she could not go ahead with a nominee unless the White House picked someone. She promised to move quickly once the administration acts.

“We not only have this seat that needs to be filled, but as I mentioned, we have an additional one in just a matter of two months,” Murkowski said.