Reid eyes confirmation vote in July as opposition looms

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014

The Senate will vote on President Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when the chamber returns following the Fourth of July recess, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office.

The Senate will also vote on Obama’s nomination of acting Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur to another five-year term, but a week for that vote has not been set, according to Reid’s office.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month voted 13-9 to confirm Norman Bay, Obama’s choice to lead FERC, with the understanding that the White House would allow him to ascend to the role of chairman after nine months. The Senate panel also approved the nomination of LaFleur by a vote of 21-1 to another five-year stint as commissioner. Under the agreement, LaFleur will remain chairwoman until Bay takes the agency’s helm.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the committee’s chairwoman, told reporters this week there are enough supporters in the Senate to get Bay and LaFleur confirmed.

“We have the votes to pass them,” Landrieu said.

Even so, Bay’s critics are wasting no time in mounting attacks and drawing attention to questions about FERC’s handling of manipulation cases.

This week, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial highlighting an order FERC’s Office of Enforcement issued last summer, demanding that Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC in Maine pay a civil penalty of $4.4 million and disgorge $380,000 in unjust profits.

Keith Van Scotter, who runs the mill, told the newspaper that the fine stems from the company’s participation in a demand-response program. The editorial contended that FERC didn’t provide enough clarity around the use of demand response or the operation of equipment in the program, raising questions about the fine.

The case has drawn the ire of independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who said he plans to vote against Bay.

“I was aware of some cases that happened to involve Maine where I thought his allocation or recommendation on penalties was disproportionate to the offense,” King said during an interview this week. “I think he’s a terrific prosecutor, but I didn’t think he was appropriate for the role of chairman of the commission.”

“People ask me, I tell them I’m against him,” King said.

Bay’s confirmation has also been scrutinized by special-interest groups like the pro-business Competitive Enterprise Institute and legal experts representing companies being investigated by FERC.

William Scherman, FERC’s former general counsel and a partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, has led criticism of the agency’s enforcement division — which Bay has headed since 2009 — for handing out excessive fines. Scherman, notably, has represented a host of companies that have faced investigations or reached settlements with FERC, including a trading division of J.P. Morgan.

Adding to the mix is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which took part in attacking former FERC chairman nominee Ron Binz last year before he pulled his name for the nomination.

Bay is also facing opposition among Republicans.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the Senate Energy panel’s top Republican, said making Bay chairman has been a priority for Reid, but she continues to question Bay’s energy chops and experience. Murkowski has also repeatedly questioned why LaFleur wasn’t nominated to lead the commission.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [Reid] bumped everybody else who’s been waiting in line to advance what he’s been trying to do,” Murkowski said.