Protests greet FERC commissioner McNamee at first meeting

Source: Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, December 21, 2018

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission today welcomed its newest member, Bernard McNamee, amid protests calling for his recusal over concerns he may not remain impartial with agenda items related to grid resilience.

McNamee’s first commission meeting today brought the panel to its full complement of five members, although former Chairman Kevin McIntyre was not in attendance for the last meeting of the year as he struggles with health-related problems.

There were three protests against McNamee — two within the commission meeting room and one heard from outside the room — over the roughly 35-minute-long meeting. A fourth focused on pipeline approvals.

McNamee did not participate in any votes. He said he was still working on putting together a staff and was not in a proper position to participate. That will likely change with January’s meeting, McNamee added.

“The work FERC does is vitally important in making sure our energy markets work, that rates are just and reasonable, and that infrastructure is built responsibly,” McNamee said. “But all these issues are complicated, multifaceted, and in order to keep an open mind, in order to make the right decisions, the key thing I want to do is listen.”

Earlier this month, McNamee completed a controversial confirmation process that resulted in a 50-49 Senate floor vote along party lines — a rarity for the commission celebrated for its impartiality and fuel-neutral stances.

Democrats took issue with McNamee’s previous work with the Department of Energy’s general counsel in advancing the administration’s failed policy proposal to financially aid struggling coal and nuclear plants.

They also fumed about previous comments he made against renewable energy and environmental group activism. In a video that surfaced last month, McNamee expressed skepticism about the science of human-driven climate change.

Those criticisms have followed McNamee to the commission, where a series of FERC watchers and environmental groups have filed briefs arguing he must recuse himself from matters related to the DOE grid resilience docket because of his previous work on the matter.

For his part, McNamee said throughout the confirmation process he would consult FERC ethics officials to determine which or any issues he would need to recuse himself from. Those sentiments were echoed by Chairman Neil Chatterjee in response to reporters.

“All I know is on his very first day at the commission, he went and received ethics training and sat down with our legal counsel at the commission to discuss these matters — as we all did here at the commission,” Chatterjee said. “I would refer those questions to Commissioner McNamee and the outstanding ethical legal office here at the commission.”

While not addressing McNamee specifically, Commissioner Richard Glick used his opening statement to urge the commission to do more to address climate change as part of its deliberations.

Glick’s remarks came in response to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s dire report from last month, but they also show the gap between the Republican and Democrat members of the panel on climate focus in decisionmaking.

“Congress has entrusted FERC, in some cases, to act as the guardian of the public’s interest,” Glick said. “In my opinion, there is no greater threat to the public interest than these existential risks posed by climate change.

“We must take those responsibilities seriously,” he added.