FERC nominee denies ethics allegation

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Republican nominee to fill one of two vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission confidently pushed back this morning against allegations his office played a part in ethics advice under scrutiny from Senate Democrats.

James Danly, current FERC general counsel, said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing that neither he nor his office participated in decisions from the White House and FERC’s designated ethics officer that recently altered what dockets two commissioners could participate in.

“Nobody in our office, including myself, reviews his decisions, and we are not part of the discussions that happen between the [designated agency ethics official] and the person in the agency that is receiving his ethics advice,” Danly said. “So there is no role whatsoever for the Office of General Counsel in that process or in that program.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put forward the question about Danly’s alleged participation in “the inconsistent and inaccurate ethics advice” surrounding recent waivers to commission members in a letter yesterday to the Department of Energy’s inspector general (E&E Daily, Nov. 5).

Schumer called for an expedited investigation into Danly’s potential participation in those ethic proceedings before the Senate takes a final vote on the nomination.

A series of waivers secured by Republican FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee allowed him to participate in matters related to previous legal work for energy companies (Energywire, Sept. 13).

The waivers appear to have enabled FERC to maintain a quorum on several matters before the commission. President Trump picked McNamee for the panel.

Democratic Commissioner Richard Glick, however, had to recuse himself from matters, including a PJM Interconnection capacity market issue.

Danly clarified that under federal regulation his office has no role in the ethics process. That role, instead, lies with a designated ethics officer.

“The [designated agency ethics official] reports to only one person, and that is the head of the agency, and in our case that would be the chairman,” Danly said. “The Office of General Counsel does not oversee any activities of the [designated agency ethics official].”

The concerns from Schumer appear not to have affected Republicans — or even all Democrats.

“I think it was absolutely timed to throw a wrench in the works, and I think you saw how cleanly Mr. Danly disposed of it,” Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters after the hearing.

“This is not something that is within his level of oversight as general counsel, and he made that very, very clear,” she said.

“I thought is was a very poor and weak effort by Sen. Schumer to try to create some controversy with Mr. Danly’s hearing this morning,” she added. “I don’t think it worked at all.”

Murkowski said she wants to move the nominees forward expeditiously, but nothing is yet scheduled. She said a committee vote before the Thanksgiving holiday “would be nice if we could do that.”

Committee ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters after the hearing that his concern remained on matching a Democratic nominee to pair with Danly to fill out the commission.

“I have no doubt you will get confirmed,” Manchin told Danly toward the start of the hearing.