Manchin Spat With FERC Chair Glick Splits Energy Industry Groups

Source: By Daniel Moore, Bloomberg Law • Posted: Monday, November 28, 2022

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Photo by Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times/Bloomberg

The energy sector is treading carefully in publicly choosing sides in Sen. Joe Manchin’s refusal to advance the renomination of Richard Glick, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, torn between two powerful figures with sway over electric and natural gas projects.

The lack of intensive and public lobbying on Glick’s behalf—particularly from oil and gas trade groups—dims hopes from his supporters that Manchin will change his mind. That risks leaving the commission split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans, a situation that energy lobbyists say would tie up approvals for many natural gas pipelines, transmission lines, and other vital projects.

The West Virginia Democrat—who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee— said this month he wouldn’t hold a confirmation hearing for Glick, whom the Biden administration renominated in May and who must leave his post at the end of the year. The White House would then have to renominate Glick or nominate someone else next year, a process likely to take months.

Manchin’s influence over energy policy and FERC’s oversight of electric and natural gas infrastructure have complicated the political calculus, energy lobbyists said in interviews. Glick’s record has angered fossil energy groups who viewed his push in February to look harder at the economic need and environmental costs of natural gas infrastructure as slowing down project reviews.

‘There’s Not Consensus’

“There’s not consensus among my membership” about supporting Glick, said Charlie Riedl, executive director for the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a trade association advocating for the LNG industry.

“I’ve got a number of members who feel strongly that a 2-2 split is going to further slow projects and a number of other members who sort of think, well, maybe a 2-2 split isn’t the end of the world,” Riedl said. “We were trying to figure out if we were going to make a push to support his renomination, and we ultimately have not taken any position on that.”

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, which last year pressed the Senate to confirm a Democratic commissioner, said it would “continue to watch over the next few weeks and into 2023 how the Senate handles confirmations for this important agency.” The trade group supporting gas pipeline development declined to comment further.

Many clean energy trade groups that support Glick’s push to overhaul electric transmission planning and lower barriers for renewable energy to connect to the grid declined to publicly comment.

Some fear choosing sides and running afoul of Manchin, who is pushing for permitting legislation that also aims to make it easier to build transmission lines. Other clean energy groups said they are still searching for fossil fuel groups that will partner on advocating for Glick.

Lobbying One Person

But precious days have passed on the Hill without coordinated action.

“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes consternation about what the next steps forward will be,” said a Democratic staffer familiar with the issue. “A lot of people have been holding back to see how the situation unfolds and read the tea leaves on what was Manchin’s actual rationale.”

Many FERC watchers “have registered their position, pro or con” with Manchin’s office, said Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies LLC who worked at FERC in the 2000s.

Manchin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I do think it’s a little quiet right now because, in this situation, there’s really only one person who matters—and that’s Joe Manchin,” Gramlich said.

Dispute Over Gas

Manchin has echoed the gas industry’s fury at the commission’s pace of approving natural gas infrastructure, a major industry in his home state.

Manchin castigated the commission for finalizing, by a 3-2 partisan vote, updated gas policies that take a harder look at the economic need and environmental impacts of proposed natural gas pipelines and LNG facilities.

Manchin called the commission before his committee in March to demand the Democratic majority change course, arguing Europe desperately needs US gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A few weeks later, Glick reverted the policies to draft form.

Manchin also criticized President Joe Biden’s recent remarks on shutting down coal plants and replacing them with renewable energy, saying the president’s “words matter and have consequences.”

Glick said this month the reasons Manchin opposed his hearing were “beyond my control” and he remains focused on his job as chair. FERC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Letters of Support

The silence on Glick stands in stark contrast to the lobbying campaign one year ago for Democrat Willie Phillips.

In November 2021, a coalition of 25 groups—including fossil energy groups and renewable advocates—pressed Senate leaders to confirm Phillips. When unanimously confirmed one month later, Phillips gave the commission a full complement of five members and Democrats a 3-2 majority.

“FERC works best when it acts based on the experiences and perspectives of five commissioners to provide the regulatory certainty necessary for investment in America’s energy infrastructure,” the groups wrote.

Many of those groups, when contacted by Bloomberg Law in recent days, declined to comment on the record on Glick’s renomination.

INGAA, in particular, recognized the desire for five members but didn’t commit to lobbying for Glick.

The group wants to “shield against a prolonged period without a full complement of commissioners at FERC,” Amy Andryszak, INGAA’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Two other fossil groups that signed the Phillips letter—the American Petroleum Institute and the American Gas Association—declined to comment on the record. The American Clean Power Association, which represents wind, solar, storage and transmission companies throughout the supply chain, also declined to comment.

High Stakes

Democratic lawmakers think confirming Glick is “the single best thing we could do” to connect more renewable energy projects, Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), a former clean energy entrepreneur, said in an interview.

“There are a lot of things FERC can do without a congressional mandate,” Casten said. “But there’s very little they can do when they’re constantly looking over their shoulder to see if they’re going to be a 2-2 or a 3-2 commission.”

Energy sector players, including utilities and labor unions, are “losing patience with people who are not expediting that decision,” Casten said. “If you have said publicly that you want to expedite permitting, and you are not working expeditiously to make sure that Mr. Glick is confirmed, you are the problem.”

Individual energy companies in both the gas and electric industry largely stay out of endorsements.

NextEra Energy, Inc.—with stakes in the Mountain Valley Pipeline running through Manchin’s home state and electric assets affected by FERC’s proposed grid rules—didn’t comment on Glick specifically.

“If there is a vacancy, we would urge the administration and Congress to move quickly in 2023 to consider and confirm a new commissioner as soon as possible,” said David P. Reuter, a company spokesman.