McIntyre absent from FERC meeting as chief of staff controversy swirls

Source: By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive • Posted: Monday, September 24, 2018

  • The chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not attend the agency’s September open meeting, citing health problems.
  • Through a written statement, McIntyre said recovery from back and arm injuries sustained this summer prevented him from attending the meeting. His absence meant there was not the traditional news conference with the chairman after the FERC meeting.
  • McIntyre was likely to face questions about FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese, who critics say should step down over political statements and emails he wrote lauding far-right politicians. The chairman has defended Pugliese and was joined Thursday by Mike McKenna, the former head of President Trump’s Department of Energy transition team.

McIntyre’s absence from the September commission meeting raised eyebrows among FERC-watchers.

Regulators not able to attend an open meeting have the option to call in. The visibly uncomfortable chairman presided over the commission’s last meeting in July, only a few days after his accident.

In a statement read by Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, who presided over Thursday’s meeting, McIntyre wrote that his health situation has “impacted my mobility but not my ability to get commission work done.” He was also absent from the agency’s annual reliability conference at the end of July, RTO Insider notes.

“We’re full speed ahead,” McIntyre said, highlighting FERC’s recent Memorandum of Understandingon liquefied natural gas facility reviews with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In July, McIntyre revealed that he was experiencing severe back pain from fractures in two of his vertebrae and had injured his arm in a fall. The chairman also battled brain cancer last year, which he said was in remission in March.

FERC did not indicate why McIntyre was able to attend the July meeting but not the one on Thursday, referring Utility Dive back to the chairman’s statement.

McIntyre’s absence allowed him to avoid the customary press conference with the FERC chairman that typically follows open meetings. Chatterjee did not take post meeting questions in McIntyre’s stead, and the typical background briefing for reporters with FERC technical staff was canceled as well.

Since McIntyre’s last public appearance at the July meeting, his chief of staff has appeared on a Breitbart podcast and told a nuclear energy conference that FERC is working with the White House to identify critical power plants — the first step in a bailout proposal for coal and nuclear generators leaked by the administration this spring.

Those comments sparked concerns among former FERC regulators and staff that the commission — typically independent and nonpartisan — may be falling under the political influence of the White House.

Those worries deepened this week when E&E News published emails from Pugliese seeking a meeting with far-right British politician Nigel Farage and praising Italy’s populist deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.

In response, Alison Silverstein, a former staffer for Republican FERC Chair Pat Wood III, called on Pugliese to step down, saying it would “spare the Chairman from having to weigh the risks of Pugliese further compromising the agency’s integrity and reputation.”

When asked if Pugliese or the chairman had considered the chief of staff’s retirement, a FERC spokesperson referred Utility Dive to McIntyre’s appearance this month on the agency’s in-house podcast, where he defended Pugliese but said that he does not speak for the commission.

“He is highly qualified to serve as chief of staff because of his demonstrated leadership ability,” McIntyre said.

Allies of the Trump administration say Pugliese’s emails and comments don’t necessarily reflect a political influence at FERC.

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“Anthony wanted to get to know a few people for networking purposes, which makes him different than approximately no one in D.C. (most especially reporters) in that respect,” Mike McKenna, the former head of the Trump administration’s Department of Energy transition team, said via email.

McKenna pointed out that FERC, under McIntyre and Pugliese’s leadership, unanimously rejected the DOE’s coal and nuclear bailout proposal early this year, contrasting that act with FERC commissioners appointed by former President Obama.

“Right out of the gate that gives them more credibility than their predecessors who were appointed at the behest of Enron, or the direction of [former Nevada Sen. Harry] Reid, or who had served in the administration previously,” McKenna said.