LaFleur and ‘our wonderful staff’ keep the agency going

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 14, 2017

These are “odd” days for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s acting chairwoman, Cheryl LaFleur.

She’s the only commissioner on the five-seat panel, following the February resignation of Norman Bay and the departure last month of Colette Honorable.

“It’s not a status I ever expected to have,” LaFleur said in an interview.

She added, “I would describe it as odd.”

It’s likely she will have company soon, with nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson awaiting Senate confirmation. President Trump has also said he would nominate Democratic Senate aide Richard Glick. The commission needs three members for a quorum.

But LaFleur emphasizes that she’s not alone.

“Our wonderful staff is here,” she said. “The last five or six months have demonstrated even more than usual how they make the place go.”

She explained: “You have to be fairly dedicated to task to diligently draft an order … and send it upstairs even though you know nobody can work on it. People have worked hard to keep things as normal as possible.”

Without a commission quorum, FERC can do environmental reviews, dam safety inspections, audits and enforcement work. The agency in May halted work on a section of the Rover pipeline in Ohio after a drilling fluid spill (E&E News PM, May 10).

But most of the staff’s work is preparing for the arrival of new commissioners. LaFleur said the staff has been working to prepare orders and outline policy issues so new members can “hit the ground running.”

“We’ve tried to get things as ready as we can for consideration,” LaFleur said. Commission staff has been putting orders into batches to ensure that new commissioners do not just “go dabble” in whatever interests them.

How soon new commissioners start voting could be up to individual preference.

Honorable, for example, voted “present” for her first several weeks on the commission, while LaFleur started voting within days.

“I believe I was sworn in on a Tuesday … and starting Friday, started voting on notational orders,” she said. “I don’t think I realized that once you started voting, you had to vote on everything.”

Some key votes that await the new commissioners are on pipeline and other infrastructure projects. Industry leaders have been frustrated by delays caused by the lack of a quorum and are urging quick action once it is restored (E&E Daily, July 11).

LaFleur said various FERC offices have passed along proposals about what they think are the most urgent priorities. She noted that in addition to pipelines, there are also a large number of hydropower applications pending.

“Of course, some of those will be subject to early attention,” she said.

One other major piece of work LaFleur has seen expand as acting chairwoman and lone commissioner is her external duties.

“I’ve done a little more than one person because there’s no one to share it with,” she said. “Meetings with state regulators … with various people in the energy world, and the press.”

Overall, she said, “I haven’t felt less busy. I haven’t left before 7 any night. But it’s been a less satisfying way to be busy.”